Allies, critics in Congress weigh in on Aquino-formed peace council | Inquirer News
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Allies, critics in Congress weigh in on Aquino-formed peace council

/ 06:23 PM March 27, 2015

Allies lauded President Benigno Aquino III’s plan to form a council of leaders to help the public understand the peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as well as the Bangsamoro basic bill.

But this did not stop critics from giving their two cents on the matter, saying the formation of the council may have come a little bit too late, or may be another layer to the bureaucratic red tape.

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Aquino, in an address to the nation in Malacañang on Friday, said the independent conveners would be composed of Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, Howard Dee and Muslim Princess Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman.

The council of leaders from seven sectors would help the public understand the peace process, and consequently the Bangsamoro bill, which seeks to implement the peace deal with the MILF to create a more politically autonomous Bangsamoro entity.

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READ: Tagle, Ayala lead Aquino-formed peace council

Hihimayin nila ang (Bangasamoro bill) sa mahinahon at risonableng paraan na hindi mag-uudyok ng mga galit at kawalan ng pag-asa (They will dissect the proposed law in a calm and reasonable manner that will not incite anger and hopelessness),” Aquino said.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., vice chair for Aquino’s Liberal Party, said the council “would contribute to a more balanced evaluation of the Bangsamoro basic bill by the public in general.”

“It would contribute toward a more favorable outlook within Congress,” Belmonte said in a text message.

Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat, who is vocal about the unconstitutionality of the bill, said the council should have been formed when the government and MILF were drafting the bill.

“The Catholic Church, business sector, or convenor council cannot replace Congress. This should have been done before the signing of the comprehensive agreement of peace,” Lobregat said in a text message.

“Is this now an admission that there was no genuine and proper consultation done by the Opapp (Office of the Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process) and the (government peace panel)?” he said.

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Minority member 1-BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III found the move a little bit too late.

“He should have involved all sectors and stakeholders in the process by harnessing this convenor council from the very start. I just hope it’s not too late,” Bello said.

Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon said the council may be a “completely baseless bureaucratic layer to pass the (Bangsamoro bill).”

The criticisms did not deter Aquino allies in Congress from backing the President in his announcement.

‘Pulse’ of Moro people

Quezon City Rep. Winnie Castelo, an LP member, said the council “will effectively crystallize the controversial issues surrounding the (bill).”

“(This so that) the arguments for and against the law will be ventilated clearly in a wider audience,” Castelo said.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who chairs the ad hoc Bangsamoro committee tackling the bill, said the council would help the panel get the “pulse” of the Moro people who will be affected by the creation of another region to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

He said the council would help the public understand the peace process especially after it was overshadowed by the involvement of the MILF in the Jan. 25 debacle in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao, that cost the lives of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos, 18 MILF fighters and five civilians in a botched antiterror raid.

The operation was meant to take down Malaysian international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias “Marwan” and Filipino bombmaker Basit Usman but ended in a slaughter of the SAF commandos by Moro fighters.

“I laud and support the convening of the President of a council at this time when there’s closer scrutiny and more interest in the bill because of the Mamasapano … Their positions will be objective and fair and with the interest of achieving peace in Mindanao,” Rodriguez said in a phone interview.

The Mamasapano operation was botched due to lack of coordination with the MILF about the raid on one hand, and with the military for reinforcement on the other.

Though there was a ceasefire in place, the MILF said it merely acted in self-defense.

Rodriguez said the Bangsamoro panel will wait for the position paper of the council on or before April 20 when the committee is set to resume its hearing over the bill, the discussions of which had been suspended in the aftermath of the Mamasapano debacle.

He said the panel will invite the peace council “to shed light on the pulse and positions of the people of our country.” RC

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TAGS: Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman, Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, Celso Lobregat, Feliciano Belmonte Jr., Hilario Davide Jr., Howard Dee, Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, peace council, Rufus Rodriguez, Silvestre Bello III, Terry Ridon, Winnie Castelo
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