FVR: Palace should prepare for BBL rejection

Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - March 19, 2015 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Aquino administration should come up with an alternative in the event the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is not completed within its term, former President Fidel Ramos said yesterday.

Ramos said preparing for a worst-case scenario would ensure continuity in the peace process even after President Aquino steps down in 2016.

“The leadership, whoever they are, including potential leaders, must start thinking of a worst-case scenario because the peace process might not end within the term of President Aquino,” Ramos said.

“Somebody should be planning something like this so that even if there is a new administration and the peace process is not completed, we will have continuity,” he added.

Ramos said the government should brace for the possible rejection of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and incidents similar to the Mamasapano tragedy, which left 44 police commandos and 18 MILF rebels dead.

The BBL will create a new Bangsamoro region that will enjoy greater political and economic powers. The measure is included in the list of Malacañang’s priority bills.

Ramos said the deliberations on the proposed BBL would take a lot of time.

He noted that after the House of Representatives and the Senate pass their version of the BBL, the measure would have to be reconciled in a bicameral conference committee.

The proposed law will then be submitted for the approval of voters through a plebiscite.

“For me the most difficult portion is the plebiscite. Is the plebiscite confined to people concerned in the proposed BBL or nationwide?” the former president said.

Ramos said Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chairman of the House ad hoc committee deliberating the BBL, had predicted “many long arduous debates” on the measure, which would implement the peace agreement signed by the government and MILF last year.

The former president also called for the creation of an agency that would pursue the gains achieved under the Aquino administration.

He said under the current setup, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) is a “creation of each administration.”

The next administration can reverse the gains that its predecessor has achieved, Ramos explained.

“You need a more permanent agency instead of just the negotiating panel under the OPAPP to do continuous peace process under the new administration next to this one,” he added.

Ramos said the government panel should consult with people who really know the situation on the ground as they are dealing with “battle-hardened warriors and veterans” of the MILF who are “very savvy and wise.”

“I’m not saying the ladies there in OPAPP negotiating panel are not good. They are good but they must realize they do not know everything. Nobody knows everything about a particular matter,” the former president said.

On the other hand, the Senate panel that probed the Mamasapano debacle has raised questions on the sincerity of the MILF in attaining peace in Mindanao.

The Senate joint committee led by Sen. Grace Poe reiterated the call on the Aquino administration to negotiate from a position of strength as regards the peace negotiations with the MILF.

In a 129-page committee report on the Mamasapano incident, the Senate panel said the OPAPP and members of the government peace panel are “suffering from a wanton excess of optimism.”

After the unfortunate Jan. 25 incident, several sectors have criticized the peace negotiations, which some of the President’s allies have been touting as his legacy after 2016.

“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 Senate report added.

Poe earlier pointed to the lapses of the MILF in the encounter when its fighters deliberately killed the policemen in Mamasapano.

The Senate report said the government peace panel should stand for the government and not for the MILF.

The Senate panel noted the challenges hurdled by the long-standing peace process with the MILF that commenced in 1997.

While the Senate joint panel appreciates the efforts of the government peace panel to enact a solution to the decades-old conflict in Mindanao, the committees expressed disappointment over Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles and government peace panel negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer in defending the MILF.

“But the Committees cannot abandon responsibility of questioning the acts of Deles and Ferrer in defending the MILF,” it said.

During the Senate hearings and in his press briefings, Sen. Ralph Recto noted the price of peace has been pegged at between P70 billion to P75 billion for 2015, reaching about P520 billion plus in budget for the next six years.

“Time and again, peace is the most potent agenda of the nation. Peace is for the marginalized. Peace is a tool for development,” the Senate panel said.

“The OPAPP and the government should start speaking for the country and for the government,” it added. – With Christina Mendez

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