Belmonte: House supports Bangsamoro bill but trust ‘eroded’
MANILA, Philippines—Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. on Wednesday said the trust of the House of Representatives on the Bangsamoro basic bill was somehow “eroded” following the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF) attack on state troopers in a botched operation that killed 44 elite cops.
In an interview on Wednesday, Belmonte however said the lower chamber remained supportive in passing the Bangsamoro basic bill despite the carnage that was blamed on lack of coordination and downplayed as a “misencounter” with the MILF.
“One thing is for sure, the support for (the bill) has been somewhat eroded by this incident. That incident has got to be properly explained to us,” Belmonte said.
He said the lower House continued to have the numbers to pass on time the bill that sought to implement the peace deal between government and the MILF.
He said no representatives had formally withdrawn authorship of the bill, unlike in the Senate, where Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and JV Ejercito backed out their support.
“I’m emotional myself. I’m not cool about this. But it is my duty as head of the House to be steadfast,” the Speaker said.
The MILF attack posed a stumbling block on the passage of the bill that seeks to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with a more politically autonomous Bangsamoro entity.
Belmonte said despite the attack, the House leadership believed the Bangsamoro bill was the solution to finally end violence in the region.
“If we go ahead with the Bangsamoro bill, there’s the hope and expectations that peace will prevail,” he said.
The House leader said the chamber did not mean to offend the families of the 44 Special Action Force cops who were killed by continuing with the congressional deliberations, albeit closed door, on the bill.
“Let us use common sense. We have limited time. Let’s go on with what we can do,” Belmonte said.
The veteran lawmaker said he did not want to see a declaration of martial law because of the carnage.
“Remember we had been at this. I remember at the start of martial law, when violence in Mindanao flared up. I wouldn’t want to see that. I’d like to see this administration and I as head of this chamber contributing to an end to that sort of violence,” Belmonte said.
The attack happened on Sunday in Mamapasano, Maguindanao, where members of the police Special Action Force were in an MILF area to serve arrest warrants on a wanted Jemaah Islamiyah member and a bomb expert.
But the elite cops were fired at by members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and armed elements of the MILF 105th Base Command.
Authorities had called the attack by MILF a misencounter and a result of lack of coordination. MILF lead peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal meanwhile said the attack by MILF was only an act of self-defense as the police commandos were in an MILF territory.
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