Spoiler alert
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva1 (The Philippine Star) - April 4, 2014 - 12:00am

 The timing came inauspiciously, if not suspicious: the reported arrest of a California state senator who got entrapped by an undercover agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) regarding a contrived illegal gunrunning deal supposedly with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The news about the arrest of California Sen. Leland Yee reached Manila last week, a day after the Philippine government inked a final peace pact with the MILF.

Dubbed as Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB), President Benigno “Noy” Aquino III and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, as third party broker of the peace talks of the Philippine government with the MILF, stood as witnesses to the signing rites held at Malacañang.

The international community, especially the countries which directly supported the peace process in Mindanao, including the United States, hailed the signing of the CAB. The peace pact came after almost 17 years of protracted negotiations between the Philippine government and the MILF.

The diplomatic corps here were in full attendance at the signing ceremonies held on a makeshift stage put up at the Palace grounds. After the ceremonies, the celebration was continued at the reception hosted by P-Noy at the Palace hall.

One of the ambassadors intimated to me everyone was in celebratory mood, including Mrs. Najib who gamely rendered an impromptu song. The ambassador could not remember what she sang but Mrs. Najib reportedly belted one of the popular hit songs of Bruno Mars. P-Noy, of course, did the singing for the Philippine side with his rendition of Dionne Warwick’s “That’s What Friends Are For.”

The much celebrated CAB is actually the third peace pact entered into by the Philippine government in the search for an end to the Muslim secessionist problem in Mindanao. Weeks and days prior to the signing of the CAB last March 27, there was much talk and concern about possible “spoilers” to thwart the concluding event for the peace pact.

But as it turned out, the spoiler came a day late: the botched gun deal allegedly involving an American state senator with supposed links to the MILF.

The allegations against Yee and 25 other co-defendants also entrapped in this sting operation were narrated in detail in the affidavit executed by FBI agent Emmanuel Pascua. In his affidavit, Yee allegedly offered to help the FBI agent get weapons worth $500,000 to $2.5 million, including shoulder-fired missiles, and explained the entire process of acquiring them from an unnamed Philippine military captain and MILF to bring them to the US.

Pascua, who apparently actively operated this FBI-led sting against the California state senator, claimed Yee mentioned factions within the MILF were unhappy with the peace process. Last March 5, Pascua said, they had a meeting in a hotel restaurant in San Francisco where a former Mindanao resident named Wilson Lim was identified as the US contact for the arms deal. “Lim’s associates in the Philippines were trying to overthrow the current government and needed money,” Pascua’s affidavit stated.

In yet another San Francisco restaurant, Yee introduced on March 11 the undercover agent to Lim who said his nephew would be the agent’s contact in Manila. A captain in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) would provide the guns to the nephew, Pascua stated.

“According to Senator Yee, the Philippine government was secretly funding some of the Muslim rebel groups in an effort to create a distraction so people would not focus on all the corruption within the Philippine government itself,” Pascua further narrated in his affidavit. Pascua went on: “Senator Yee explained there are several factions within the MILF who did not agree with the peace treaty. Lim reiterated the weapons would be provided by the Philippine military.”

Of course when confronted with this breaking news from the US, Mohagher Iqbal, MILF chief peace negotiator, vehemently denied any involvement in this alleged gun deal with Yee’s group.

Iqbal noted the news had been floated recently and that they did not have any chance to validate it. “Certainly, the MILF is not involved,” Iqbal swore. Asked if he received any information about the incident, Iqbal said: “What is certain is that MILF is not a party to that kind of situation.” He reiterated the MILF is talking peace and they are abiding by peace pact they signed with the Aquino administration.

AFP public affairs chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said they are ready to look into the supposed involvement of a military captain. However, he disclosed, they have yet to receive a formal complaint against the unnamed officer who was supposedly in cahoots with Yee.

The FBI sting operation against Yee and his co-accused reminded me of the Hollywood movie “American Hustle” that was recently shown in local theatres. Though a fictional period crime drama, the movie’s plot has some uncanny semblance with Yee’s case.

It is about an over-eager FBI agent who recruits a con man and his girlfriend into a scheme to ensnare corrupt politicians and gangsters. The FBI agent engaged the services of the couple who he caught earlier engaged in a loan scam. Under duress of being jailed, the FBI agent made the couple work with him to carry out the sting.

Another FBI agent posed as an Arab sheik to invest in casino project of the mayor. Initially caught in the FBI sting was the city mayor of New Jersey who was trying to bring investors to bankroll the casino operations to bring jobs and income to his constituents. But they have to bribe the members of their state Congress to grant citizenship requirement to qualify the mayor’s Arab investor.

But that’s Hollywood fiction. Life imitating art?

This FBI sting operation that dragged the MILF into this foiled gun trafficking deal came a day too late to become some kind of spoiler. But still, this is something that should not be swept under the rug. This is one spoiler alert we must wait for more developments to unfold.

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