Senate hits peace panel
MANILA, Philippines–The senators who investigated the Jan. 25 Mamasapano incident found the government peace panel “suffering from wanton excess of optimism” and said its members “should start speaking for the country and for the government.”
The government peace negotiators should also take a more critical look at the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the senators said in the investigation report drafted by Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the committee on public order that led the inquiry on the Mamasapano incident.
The report indicated that Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles and government chief peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer may be too hopeful in their dealings with the MILF that they were promising too much at the expense of the government.
In their report, the Senate investigators noted flaws in the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). Twenty senators, including Poe, have signed the report, which will be presented to the plenary when the Senate returns from Lenten break in May.
While the pursuit of peace in Mindanao is to be appreciated, the report said the committee could not abandon its responsibility of questioning Deles and Ferrer for defending the MILF.
The Mamasapano incident refers to Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) operation to capture Malaysian terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” and Amin Baco, alias “Jihad,” and their Filipino associate, Basit Usman, in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, on Jan. 25.
Marwan was killed by the SAF commandos, but the mission backfired and ended with 44 troopers getting killed in a daylong gun battle with guerrillas from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Justice for Islamic Movement (JIM).
Seventeen MILF guerrillas and three civilians were also killed. Usman and Baco escaped.
The operation was deliberately kept away from the military, which learned about it when the SAF commandos were already taking heavy fire, and refused to provide artillery support because it would break a ceasefire agreement between the government and the MILF.
The deaths of the SAF commandos had drawn widespread public anger, with lawmakers in both the Senate and the House of Representatives suspending hearings on the draft BBL, the proposed charter of a new autonomous region for Muslims in Mindanao, the establishment of which would complete the peace process between the government and the MILF.
Excess of optimism blinded them
“In the process of achieving peace in Mindanao, we should not overlook the seeming inadequacies of our partner in this process, the MILF, such as their lack of control over their ground forces and their disrespect for legitimate government operations,” the report said.
“The [Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp)] and the peace panel, while advocating peace on a high ground, as it should, are suffering from a wanton excess of optimism,” the report said.
This excess of optimism “blinded” them in negotiating a fair agreement for the government, it said.
The draft BBL is an example of this, it said, given its provisions that would seemingly create a substate in Mindanao and pour too much money into the Bangsamoro region to be created.
“The BBL, in fact, is an exemplar in this regard: While founded on a noble vision of harmony for Mindanao, indications show that there are major areas, including but not limited to the largesse found in its high cost of appropriations, and allegedly allowing the creation of a substate,” the report said.
The Opapp and the government peace panel should also pursue justice and bring the guilty MILF members to account for their roles in the killing of the SAF troopers in Mamasapano and the killing of 19 Marines in Al Barka, Basilan province, in 2011, the report said.
“Let not the Opapp or the [Department of Justice] be remiss again this time in their sworn duty to protect the interest of our people in the quest for justice for all our fallen heroes,” she said.
Peace based on justice
For the peace efforts in Mindanao to succeed, the people must accept and support this, the report said. Peace must also be based on justice, it added.
“The peace that we seek must be based on justice, where the rule of law reigns supreme, and where criminals are brought before the bar of justice and punished. The blood and heroism of the fallen SAF 44 should not be dishonored by inaction. Our people will accept nothing less,” it said.
The report also said the peace negotiations should not be exclusive to the MILF and should include other groups such as the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the lumad or indigenous people.
Before the government grants concessions to the MILF, the report said, it must first ensure that the peace sought would be both permanent and all-encompassing and that it would be achieved without compromising the country’s sovereignty or violating the Constitution.
The Mamasapano incident, which Poe described as a “massacre,” showed that the peace arising from the agreement with the MILF was “fleeting and temporary,” the report said.
“All that was needed to break the peace was a police law enforcement operation at or near a territory controlled by the MILF,” it said.
The peace agreement with the MILF was not all-encompassing, it noted, since the MILF is not the only group fighting government troops in Mindanao.
Lessons from past
There is a need to learn from lessons of the past and include other groups in peace negotiations, the report said.
It noted that when the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was established following the agreement with the MNLF, many thought it would bring lasting peace to Mindanao. But this has not been the case.
“Perhaps, this failure lies in the fact that the creation of the ARMM was the product of negotiations undertaken by the government with only one of the several armed groups in Mindanao,” the report said.
That part of the report agrees with the view of Ateneo School of Government dean Antonio La Viña that the BBL must conform to the final peace agreement with the MNLF that continues to subsist.
“The MNLF must accept the Bangsamoro as the successor entity of the ARMM that is an implementation measure of the [final peace agreement]. Otherwise, the same will be another line to legally impugn the BBL,” the report said.
Lumad should be brought into the talks as well, especially since the natives have long been marginalized and excluded from peace talks, it said.
“The lumad have their own historical narrative that is as legitimate as that of Bangsamoro people because the lumad, too, are legitimate stakeholders and inhabitants of Mindanao,” it said.
The report also said the “silver lining” to the incident in Mamasapano was that it brought focus on the BBL.
“As we go through the process of deliberating this proposed piece of legislation, all these factors will weigh heavily on our minds and on our consciences. While our country grieves for all those who died at Mamasapano, combatants and civilians, their deaths have brought these issues to our consciousness as a nation,” it said.
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