Resistance to BBL grows in Congress
MANILA, Philippines–Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV on Sunday said the peace process could wait until the next administration, vowing that the Senate would not create “that monster” critics feared might become of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) if the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) were passed in its present form.
Trillanes, a key ally of President Aquino, said in a radio interview that Malacañang should not insist on its own timeline, especially now that emotions were high following the killing of 44 police commandos by MILF rebels and other Moro fighters in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, on Jan. 25.
Sen. Serge Osmeña III, another Aquino ally, urged the President to apologize for the fiasco, saying he had “lost the trust of majority of the Filipino people.”
“It would be better if he would say, ‘I am sorry,’ like what Gloria did,” he said over dzBB, recalling then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s own apology for phoning an election official in what later snowballed into the “Hello Garci” scandal.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez also said the House of Representatives would not vote on the BBL unless the MILF surrendered its people responsible for the brutal killings of the Special Action Force (SAF) commandos. “That’s really the deal breaker, if they will not cooperate to achieve justice in our country,” he said.
Trillanes said the Senate should not be rushed into passing the BBL, which would create a new Bangsamoro territory in Mindanao.
The massacre of 44 SAF troopers has raised fears over the powers the MILF stands to get under the BBL.
“We will make sure we will not create that monster that everyone is afraid of,” Trillanes said on dzBB, noting that the MILF should not be allowed to have its own security force “outside” of the Philippine National Police and the military.
Trillanes said he was consulting “privately” with the police and the military on how they felt about the BBL’s security provisions.
First look at BBL
The senator rejected the idea of the peace talks bogging down and hostilities erupting between the government and the MILF in case Congress did not pass a BBL version to the rebels’ liking.
“If they feel that the version coming out (of Congress) is not acceptable, it can be revised. Both panels can go back to the drawing board. Then (the talks) may spill over into the next administration for as long as the ceasefire, the peace talks are still in place,” Trillanes said.
In his Edsa anniversary speech on Wednesday, the President was adamant on the passage of the proposed BBL despite the Mamasapano fiasco, saying there may not be a similar opportunity later on.
“To tell you honestly, this is the first time that both houses of Congress will see [the BBL] and we will be the ones to approve it,” Trillanes said, noting that Congress was not consulted while the draft was being prepared.
“This is our job. We cannot be just rubber stamps here…. Lasting peace (in Mindanao) should have no deadline. It should be approached cautiously, carefully.”
Osmeña said calls for Aquino’s ouster for mishandling the Mamasapano operation were “a very serious matter” because “it means they’ve had enough.”
But he rejected the idea of an ouster, saying “it’s better for us to be patient and let democracy work.”
The senator said Aquino committed a “triple whammy”—first, by allowing suspended PNP Director General Alan Purisima to direct the operation to capture terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” and Basit Usman.
Second, he said, the President should have coursed instructions through the PNP’s chain of command, from the officer in charge, Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, to the SAF chief, Director Getulio Napeñas.
“No. 3 … how come (Interior) Secretary (Mar) Roxas and Espina were bypassed? That’s what I cannot understand. You don’t believe in them? They’re not trusted by your chain of command?” Osmeña said.
He warned against a “whitewash,” saying “the people would be angry at the Senate” in case the committee report on the Mamasapano incident skipped Aquino’s own accountability.
“Let’s see because they somehow control the Senate so there might be a whitewash. We will [be on the] lookout for that,” he said. “We have to be fair. There were many faults committed.”
Osmeña said the public would reject a whitewashed report on the Mamasapano incident.
“They have already decided on who were at fault here and unfortunately, you have to prove that you’re innocent now because you are already guilty as far as the Filipino people are concerned,” he said.
Demands for justice
Rodriguez, chair of the House ad hoc committee on the BBL, said discussions on the proposed Bangsamoro charter could resume, but the vote should only be made after the Department of Justice (DOJ) had filed a case against the MILF.
“The congressmen are really demanding that the wheels of justice should already start. If the MILF will not surrender their people, there is a big possibility that the BBL will lose in the House of Representatives,” he said.
“They (MILF) can see the report and they can see the witnesses, the forensic evidence, the documentary evidence. There is probable cause. It is their obligation if they want to continue with the BBL, to cooperate with the DOJ,” Rodriguez said.
He said that submitting its men to justice was the single biggest confidence-building measure that the MILF could do to bring the peace process out of limbo.
Last week, MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal rejected calls for the MILF to give up its fighters, citing the ceasefire agreement with the government that the MILF should impose disciplinary action on members involved in any violation of the truce.
But Rodriguez remained optimistic that the MILF Central Committee would eventually give in to the public’s demand for justice.
He noted that the MILF had also initially refused to return the SAF weapons and denied having any knowledge of the whereabouts of Filipino bomber Basit Usman.
“Then the next thing, they returned the firearms and Iqbal promised that MILF will help in getting Usman. They are saying they will not surrender (their men) but the proof of the pudding is in the eating,” Rodriguez said.
With the DOJ expected to come out with its case on Mamasapano by April, Rodriguez said there was very little chance that the BBL could be passed in the House and the Senate by June when Congress was scheduled to adjourn. Rodriguez suggested that President Aquino call a special session for Congress to meet and approve the BBL before the start of its third session in July.
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