MILF told: Explain SAF attack
Christina Mendez, Marvin Sy (The Philippine Star) - January 27, 2015 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Wounded policemen were finished off while the dead were riddled with more bullets as they lay on the ground, a survivor of last Sunday’s attack on Special Action Force (SAF) members in Maguindanao said yesterday.

 The brutality of the attack and the high death toll prompted the Senate yesterday to suspend deliberations on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and demand an explanation from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). 

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., chairman of the Senate committee on local government, said the MILF should explain the “horrific” killings of 49 SAF members when they walked into an ambush last Sunday by members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who were later joined by the MILF.

Marcos said he decided to stop the hearings on the BBL until the MILF gives a satisfactory explanation for what the rebel group described as a “misencounter.”

An ad hoc committee at the House of Representatives also announced it would suspend hearings on certain provisions of the BBL, specifically those involving security and armed forces.

“We cannot, in conscience, proceed with these hearings while a cloud of serious doubt hangs over the security situation in the south,” Marcos said.

“A peace agreement cannot be legislated under the threat of such extreme violence. Violence has no room in a civilized society,“ he said.

A survivor in the fighting whose identity was withheld told GMA News he witnessed rebels finishing off his wounded comrades. He said gunmen fired multiple rounds at dead or wounded policemen belonging to the elite Special Action Force (SAF).

He said the incident threatens to derail the ongoing peace negotiations anchored on Congress’ approval of the BBL.

Lawmakers are working overtime to pass the BBL in time for the scheduled plebiscite on the measure by October. Discussions on constitutionality and security issues were being done in three Senate committees.

“And if we have been driven to the first step in that process wherein we have not put our guns down, then there is a distinct problem in negotiating that,” Marcos said, referring to the peace agreement.

“How is that (peace talks) now going to be affected by the fact that one of the parties to this peace agreement has had this action killing government forces; that there is one side of the table wherein there is still military and violent action being undertaken against government forces. How will that affect our discussions here?”

Marcos also wanted to verify reports that the SAF team was on a mission to serve a warrant of arrest on a “high-value target,” Malaysian explosives expert Julkifli bin Hir alias Marwan.

The MILF leadership should “tell me how exactly this happened and how will this affect what we are doing,” Marcos said.

“Because it is very difficult to negotiate a peace process when one party is still at war. And I think the very first premise is that we lay our guns down, we talk, we come to an agreement and we implement that agreement,” Marcos said.

He said the use of excessive force against a group of law enforcers was unacceptable, considering that they were supposedly on a mission to arrest terrorists reportedly hiding in rebel camps.

BBL support withdrawn

Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said he is withdrawing his support for the BBL in response to the Maguindanao killings.

“With the recent events involving the slaughter of our policemen in Mindanao, there is reason to doubt the commitment of the MILF for a framework peace and development in Mindanao,” Cayetano said.

“What’s the BBL for if they can’t control the area and if they would blame ‘lack of coordination’ for the killing of 50 policemen? So I’m withdrawing my co-authorship of the BBL and I seriously doubt if the peace agreement will ever survive,” he added.

Sen. JV Ejercito said that he is also mulling over withdrawing his signature from the bill for the same reasons.

“I’m also contemplating withdrawing my signature because of what happened to our police officers. We need to be more careful and I think we need a thorough study with the Bangsamoro. So I’m contemplating on withdrawing my signature,” he said.

Sen. Grace Poe said that she would file a resolution calling for an inquiry into the incident to determine if proper procedures were followed by the SAF men in carrying out their mission.

Poe said that she wants to find out if the SAF members who were sent to go after the terrorists were familiar with the terrain and if their movements were properly coordinated.

She said that there would be a hearing by the Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs on the PNP Modernization, which she heads, on Feb. 11 and that the issue of the bloody encounter could also be taken up.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago also cautioned proponents of the BBL against rushing its approval.

“We are going to pay a very high price for Mindanao whether or not we pass the BBL in the form of an ordinary law or in the form of constitutional amendment or revision. That’s the first point,” she said.

“And second point is that there is a possibility that with or without the BBL, that Bangsamoro territories might decide to secede because of developments after the Bangsamoro action has been taken,” Santiago added.

Santiago pointed out that the measure would not stand legal scrutiny and that it would be questioned immediately before the Supreme Court once Congress approves it without deleting some questionable provisions.

“If the BBL proponents remain adamant about the issues raised today by the legal eagles of our country, that will certainly lead to Supreme Court adjudication,” she said.

“It will also not help solve the problem of the outburst of violence in Mindanao, for example, because it will only delay the process,” Santiago added.

She also shared the sentiments raised by some legal luminaries that the Bangsamoro government cannot be under a parliamentary system since the country is under a presidential form.

“The Philippines enters negotiations with a group that is motley, they represent one of the factions of those fighting in Mindanao,” she said, referring to the MILF.

Santiago convened the Senate committee on constitutional amendments yesterday despite the bloody encounter in Maguindanao.

“It will be counter-productive to postpone the public exchange of ideas regarding the constitutionality of the provisions in the BBL,” Santiago added.

“In fact, the hearing should continue with even more rigor because nothing will affect the hearing, not the unfortunate incidence of violence, for example,” she said.

No justification

Santiago said the bloody encounter “cannot be used either as argument that we must act very, very quickly on the BBL because that would be to railroad a law at the very least, a constitutional amendment at the very best.”

“And the product of any juggernaut is always regrettable,” she said.

Former senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said that while the intent of the BBL is to bring peace, progress and development, “its intent, as borne out of its content, must conform with the Constitution.”

Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chairman of the government panel; presidential adviser on the peace process Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles and Undersecretary Jose Luis Martin Gascon, meanwhile, continued to defend the BBL.

“Madame chair, the word substate is not even a legal term. It is merely a descriptive word pertaining to one part or unit of a state. How can we judge legality or illegality, constitutionality or unconstitutionality, by mere mention of the word?” Ferrer asked.

Ferrer pointed out that “independence” was never on the negotiating agenda of the government. “The whole idea of the negotiation was precisely to keep the country intact,” she said.

Ferrer admitted that the Maguindanao incident was a temporary setback.

“There is a security consideration, the situation as of now is under control. But it is still the prerogative of the Senate committee chairs to decide on the action schedule,” she said.

Ferrer said the ceasefire mechanism is working despite the violence in Mamasapano town.

“As far as we know the Armed Forces of the Philippines ceasefire committee has not been informed of this police operation, and to that extent we have experience on that kind of problem,” she added.

She said her panel would leave it to the PNP to explain the circumstances behind the incident.

“We don’t stop because we have temporary setbacks, but we see greater reasons to continue and strengthen our mechanism, including security mechanism and in time to address the criminality in the region involving terrorist cells as well as legislating the Bangsamoro Basic Law,” she said.

Gascon said the BBL, now under Senate bill 2408, fully recognizes and preserves the territorial integrity of the Philippine government.

“Nothing in the legislative measure is incongruent with the time-honored principle of territorial integrity because of the bill,” he said.

House suspension

At the House, the ad hoc panel agreed to suspend discussing four BBL provisions upon the filing of House Resolution 1834 by Muntinlupa City Rep. Rodolfo Biazon.

The committee put on hold discussions on the provisions on national defense and security; the creation of a separate armed forces command for the Bangsamoro region; the powers of the autonomous region’s chief minister over the PNP unit in the area, and normalization.

“After what happened, it cannot be business as usual,” Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat, one of the vocal critics of the BBL, told reporters.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chairman of the committee, said the suspension was also in sympathy for those killed in the ambush.

“We will make changes in accordance with the results of the investigations to prevent such unfortunate incidents from happening again,” Rodriguez said.

Biazon said the committee wants the results of the investigation to be detailed, including the identities of those responsible for the ambush, and a listing of possible violations of the law and ceasefire agreements.

“The results of the investigation will influence our decision on the four issues I raised,” he said.

He warned of more deadly incidents if the government does not learn its lesson from the ongoing peace process and the previous agreements with other rebels groups in Mindanao.

Misamis Occidental Rep. Henry Oaminal, vice chairman of the panel, however, stressed they will continue work on the BBL in support of the peace process.

Recruitment continues

Also at the House, former Sulu governor and now Vice Gov. Abdul Sakur Tan has told the House special committee on the draft BBL that the MILF has not stopped its recruitment of fighters.

“These groups are claiming they belong to the MILF. We cannot understand why they are showing off their weaponry and scaring people,” he said as he presented several photographs of the armed men.

He said the armaments included machine guns, grenade launchers and anti-armor personnel carrier weapons.

Tan’s son Abdul II, who is governor of their province, confirmed his father’s statement.

Another Mindanao governor, Antonio Cerilles of Zamboanga del Sur, informed the Rodriguez committee that, “the MILF has been recruiting young people in our province.”

“I don’t know why they are doing that, since our province is not part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM),” he said.

He said he did not know if the recruits were being drafted to fight the government or to become members of the new political party the MILF has formed to participate in future regional elections.

Rodriguez said Mohaguer Iqbal, who heads the MILF peace panel, has promised to verify the governor’s complaints.

“They can recruit for their newly formed political party within the ARMM but not outside it such as in Zamboanga del Sur. I cannot understand why they are recruiting in Zamboanga del Sur,” he added.

The Mindanao officials also wanted an assurance from the MILF that it would not return to fighting if the Supreme Court declares the BBL as unconstitutional.

“The MILF should respect any decision the Supreme Court would make on any question raised against the BBL,” Cerilles said.

Tan said the MILF should stick to the path of peace, whatever happens to the BBL.

“We are not lawyers, but our lawyers have informed us that the BBL is full of constitutional infirmities. We urge the special committee to cleanse it of these questionable provisions,” he said. – Paolo Romero, Edith Regalado, Jose Rodel Clapano, Jess Diaz, Eveyn Macairan, Sheila Crisostomo

 

BANGSAMORO BBL COMMITTEE GOVERNMENT MAGUINDANAO MILF MINDANAO PEACE SUPREME COURT
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