MANILA, Philippines – The deadly clash between special police forces and Muslim rebels on Sunday, January 25, in Maguindanao prompted lawmakers and public officials to cast doubts on the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), triggering discussions on whether Congress should continue deliberating the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
But others maintained Congress should not give up on the process. They argued that long-term solutions towards lasting peace should not be derailed by a single incident.
A day after the clash that killed at least 43 Special Action Force (SAF) troops, Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, head of the main Senate committee tackling the bill, cancelled all scheduled consultations in Mindanao. Hearings in Manila set for the coming weeks are pushing through.
The House ad hoc committee on the Bangsamoro suspended their afternoon session on Monday, January 26. The House committee is holding executive meetings on the proposed law until the first week of February.
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Governor Mujiv Hataman called for calm and cautioned stakeholders against knee-jerk reactions.
“Our direct communication with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) played a key role. Personally, I’m appealing to everyone to not ride on the issue and make ongoing peace talks turn sour, ” Hataman said.
The government described the incident as a “misencounter.” The MILF said SAF failed to coordinate their operations before entering an MILF area to arrest wanted terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir, better known as “Marwan,” and Basit Usma. (READ: Dead or alive? Top terrorist was cops’ target)
Lawmakers are tasked to pass the proposed law that aims to install a new autonomous region in Mindanao with greater powers than the current one in place.
What are they saying about the clash in relation to the peace process?
Marcos said he is awaiting feedback from the government and the MILF before deciding on how to proceed with hearings.
His counterpart in the House, Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez is more categorical. He said the House will continue to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law despite the incident.
“This is the product of 17 years of negotiations, and this cannot be stopped by this occurrence. We continue to have an executive session starting today up to February 4, and hopefully we approve the draft committee report on February 9. On the 16th of February we will be able to send it to the plenary so that by march it will be with the Senate and with the President,” Rodriguez said.
Authors raise doubts on BBL passage
Some lawmakers said they find it difficult to reconcile the carnage that happened in Maguindanao to the peace process between the government and the MILF, which – under the current proposal – will lead the transition government towards the Bangsamoro.
After attending the hearing on the constitutionality of the Bangsamoro Basic Law under the committee of Senator Miriam Santiago Monday, Senator Pia Cayetano, one of the authors of the bill, posted the following tweets:
What's the point of the peace agmt and our hearings on the Bangsamoro Basic Law when the MILF just attacked and killed 50 PNP-SAF men? #BBL— pia cayetano (@piacayetano) January 26, 2015
As a member of the Senate I have been exploring ways to pursue the peace process thru the #BBL, but these recent events kill the spirit.— pia cayetano (@piacayetano) January 26, 2015
I never give up on peace. But loss of life is always painful @yenipenny: I really hope that senators aren't first to give up..— pia cayetano (@piacayetano) January 26, 2015
Her brother, Senator Alan Cayetano, asked the same questions and did more: he withdrew his authorship of the proposed Bangsamoro law.
He said he is “disgusted” with what happened and doubts whether the law will be passed.
“The basis of a peace agreement is to have a framework to ensure the rule of law. But if you’re going to say that they did not coordinate with us, what if it happens to them? What if MILF fighters enter an area and there is an encounter and they are killed? Can we say that you did not coordinate with us?” Cayetano said.
Senator JV Ejercito later withdrew his co-authorship of the bill as well.
The support of all 13 authors of the Bangsamoro Basic Law in the Senate is crucial. With Cayetano’s decision to withdraw his authorship, the proponents of the law are no longer assured of a majority vote – 13 votes already comprise majority of the 24 members of the Senate.
Senate President Franklin Drilon, however, said the “unfortunate incident and and the deaths of our policemen, condemnable as it is” should not stand in the way of peace efforts.
“I therefore call on authorities to conduct a comprehensive investigation and get to the bottom of this tragedy that killed 50 of our policemen. Our nation deserves an explanation as to why dozens of our brave policemen doing their duties had to die in such a manner,” Drilon said.
Calls for probe
At least two separate resolutions in the House and the Senate were filed a day after the Maguindanao clash that killed at least 49 special police forces and 5 MILF members.
The so-called Saturday Group, composed of former military officials such as Representatives Romeo Acop, Leopoldo Bataoil, Samuel Pagdilao, Gary Alejano and Francisco Ashley Acedillo, said the House of Representatives should suspend deliberations pending the result of an investigation by a “multi-agency govenrment panel.”
Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate likewise condemned the incident and called for a probe.
Meanwhile, Senator Grace Poe wants to know why special police forces were sent to Mamasapano in the first place. (READ: PNP probes Maguindanao ‘misencounter’)
What’s the mood among lawmakers?
Ifugao Representative Teddy Brawner Baguilat Jr sums it up:
Lot of hard questions need to be asked to salvage peace talks n BBL. Still believe in peace. But the mood has been shrouded w/ pessimism.— Teddy B. Baguilat (@Teddy_Baguilat) January 26, 2015
The government and the MILF signed a peace agreement in March 2014 that is now the basis of the proposed law pending in Congress.
Since signing a ceasefire agreement in the late 1990s, there have been complaints from both sides on possible breaches but the Mamasapano incident is the worst breakdown of the ceasfire. – Rappler.com