Peace panel: Where were you then, Alan?
MANILA, Philippines–Where were you then, Alan?
Members of the government peace panel on Thursday said they did not remember seeing Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano at their Senate briefings on the peace process, even before the blueprint for the peace agreement, the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB), was signed in October 2012.
Peace negotiators Yasmin Busran-Lao and Senen Bacani also told the Inquirer in separate interviews that it was for government intelligence agencies to validate Cayetano’s claim that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) had coddled Zulkifli bin Hir, an international terrorist also known as “Marwan.”
Lao and Bacani said they could not understand Cayetano’s tirades against the government peace negotiators, the MILF and the peace process, as he was mostly silent throughout the peace negotiations.
“If I remember it right, he [was not] very active during the executive sessions the panel had with the senators when we were still having the talks (with the MILF) in Kuala Lumpur,” Lao said.
In fact, Lao said, she was quite surprised when Cayetano cosponsored the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
“As members of the peace panel, I don’t think we would allow ourselves to negotiate with the MILF if there was deception involved. Will we fool ourselves while negotiating when we have invested our minds, hearts and souls in this? This is about self-respect and our personal integrity,” Lao said.
Bacani said that it was for the National Security Agency (NSA) to determine the validity of Cayetano’s allegation that he based on purported e-mail correspondence of Marwan with his brother Rahmat where the terrorist claimed that MILF commander Wahid Tundok was coddling him in Mindanao.
“We were in constant consultation with the Cabinet cluster on security as well as the entire Cabinet during the course of the peace talks. It was not a few times but many times, because we needed guidelines from them and, of course, the President himself. Even if we wanted to hide (the claim about Marwan and Tundok), there would be other people who would tell the President. That’s something very difficult to hide from the President,” Bacani said.
In a privilege speech on Wednesday, Cayetano criticized the government for ignoring information that the MILF coddled Marwan, the principal target of a Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, on Jan. 25.
The SAF commandos killed Marwan, but 44 of them were killed when they were set upon by Moro rebels, including MILF fighters, as they withdrew from the town.
Cayetano also urged President Aquino to replace the members of the government peace panel with negotiators who would represent the country’s interests and not side with the MILF.
But Malacañang said on Thursday that President Aquino would not dismiss Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles and government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer.
Questioning only now
“The President stands by the competence and integrity of those comprising our peace panel, from Secretary Teresita Deles to Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, as the chairperson of the panel, as well as its members,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said.
“I don’t recall him (Cayetano) appearing in our sessions with the senators even before the FAB was signed. And we were in constant touch with many people. In fact, after every annex was completed in Kuala Lumpur, we would post it on our website, talk to the media, to the lawmakers,” Bacani said.
Not in any of these instances did Cayetano show interest in discussing the peace process with the peace negotiators, he said.
Lao and Bacani said it was now difficult for them to reply to every accusation made by Cayetano against them and the MILF.
“It’s a Catch-22 question,” Bacani said, in response to Cayetano’s allegation that the government panel knew that the MILF coddled Marwan.
“If we say no, we are defending the MILF. If we say yes, we are admitting it. It is not a fair question anymore because if we give the usual response, he (Cayetano) wouldn’t listen anymore,” Bacani said.
For Lao, it is puzzling why Cayetano is now “questioning everything.”
“It’s not as if we kept the contents of the BBL secret. I really don’t understand where he’s coming from… You cosponsor [the BBL] then you, because of Mamasapano, make a 360-degree turn? What was the reason why you signed [to cosponsor the bill]? That meant you understood it and read it. Now you are attacking it,” Lao said.
Responding to Cayetano’s attack, Tundok, leader of the MILF’s 118th Base Command, said the senator’s claim was a “fabrication.”
Tundok said he had never met Marwan.
“I wouldn’t even recognize him if I had the chance to meet him,” Tundok said.
He said his camp, located in a remote village in Datu Saudi town in Maguindanao, was far from Mamasapano, where Marwan was killed by the SAF commandos early on Jan. 25.
“If I was his protector, he should have been in our camp that day,” Tundok said.
He said he could not protect terrorists because he adhered to the MILF position in relation to the peace process.
“We will not make any move that will compromise the ceasefire with the government,” he said.
MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said the MILF leadership would not comment anymore on Cayetano’s “baseless” tirades.
“I don’t want to answer the senator’s accusations point by point. I trust in the Filipino people to determine whether Cayetano is on the right track or not,” Iqbal said.
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