House suspends BBL hearings
MANILA, Philippines–Images of wailing widows and cold-hearted Muslim leaders have made the House of Representatives lose its appetite for talking peace with Moro rebels.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said the House had agreed to suspend indefinitely Monday’s hearings on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) until the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) surrenders Filipino terrorist Basit Usman and its members who participated in the massacre of Special Action Force (SAF) commandos on Jan. 25.
The chair of the ad hoc committee on the draft BBL said the suspension would allow the panel more time to read the fact-finding reports of Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, officer in charge of the Philippine National Police, and Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr., chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Rodriguez said he had no firm timetable for the resumption of the hearings.
He said his panel would also give way to attendance in the joint House investigation into the Mamasapano killings to be conducted by the committees on public order and safety, peace, unification and reconciliation and national defense.
Issues critical to the formation of the Bangsamoro police, military, defense and control of the interior secretary are likely to come up in the joint hearing and are material inputs in the discussions on the BBL, Rodriguez said.
As committee chair, Rodriguez tried his best to pursue the BBL public consultation, which has covered 75 percent of the provisions in 36 hearings and five executive sessions nationwide. But with the deaths of the police commandos in an operation to arrest international terrorists in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province, he said he was taking a cautious approach to the measure.
“I was really gung-ho in pushing this. But after what happened, if our policemen are dying even if they (MILF members) are not yet in the government, how much more if we give the entire government in the Bangsamoro area to the MILF?” asked Rodriguez.
State of mourning
“This country is in a state of mourning. Every time the people see the TV footage (on the massacre), people all over the country cry. Let us have justice take its course. We can’t just say this is all right,” he said.
Rodriguez said the MILF actions in Mamasapano raised questions on how the police from Manila and other regions in hot pursuit of criminals and terrorists would act if their targets go deep into MILF or Bangsamoro territory as they would be forced to coordinate with the MILF.
“After the incident, we did not immediately suspend [hearings]. We continued. But at the same time, it has reached a point where we have already to evaluate the reports that are coming in. We cannot be totally oblivious to these things. We have to stand down and wait. We cannot restart it if the MILF does not make actions to show that they are cooperating and that justice will be achieved,” Rodriguez said.
He noted that the MILF has yet to declare it will return the firearms looted from the commandos two weeks ago in the bloody Mamasapano mission.
“We also cannot say anymore when we can resume (hearings) because we don’t know when the committees of Congress will end their hearings (on Mamasapano) and when the DOJ (Department of Justice) will be able to finish its investigation and file charges. I hope they will be quick in their investigations,” Rodriguez said.
Part of the House’s conditions for the resumption of the BBL hearings is for the MILF to surrender the guilty MILF members and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) men who gunned down the SAF troops in a cornfield in Maguindanao despite appeals for a ceasefire.
Delays in BBL timetable
Rodriguez does not expect the MILF to complain about these setbacks, considering that it is up to its leaders to restore confidence in their sincerity in working for peace.
He said the MILF had patently broken the ceasefire agreement by harboring Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” and his Filipino accomplice, Basit Usman. “How can we talk peace, when in fact terrorists are staying there? They are there inside their territory,” he said.
Rodriguez said the least that the MILF could do after the Mamasapano clash was to surrender Usman or drive him out of their territory because if he continued to stay there, “that is harboring a [terrorist].”
The peace negotiators should never tolerate this behavior on the part of the MILF and that Congress would make sure that BBL provisions would not allow the MILF to stop the police in hot pursuit of terrorists inside their territory, he said.
He refused to call it treachery for fear of stoking the fire of public hatred against the MILF, but he described it as a clear violation of the ceasefire agreement.
With the suspension of the BBL hearings, Rodriguez said it would be impossible for the House leaders to approve the bill this month as originally planned. He said this would also delay the scheduled plebiscite for the BBL.
“This a major setback, 44 fallen policemen should always put a setback to any peace process,” Rodriguez said.
Originally posted: 8:24 PM | Sunday, February 8th, 2015
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