MANILA, Philippines – What would convince Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr to resume hearings on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law under his committee following the Maguindanao clash?
Both the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the government must first fulfill a number of “confidence-building measures,” the senator, who chairs the local government committee, said in a press conference Monday, February 2.
“We have not abandoned this peace process…. Again, we need to know the facts of what happened from both sides. Until we have the facts, I would like to propose that there be confidence-building measures between the MILF and the government that can be seen by the Filipino people,” Marcos said.
On the part of the MILF, Marcos said these confidence-building measures include:
- ‘simple gesture’ that MILF forces return the arms, equipment, and personal effects of soldiers,
- that MILF forces help in the hunt for Abdul Basit Usman
- for the MILF to start the decommissioning process following signing of protocols in Malaysia on Thursday, January 29
- for the MILF to provide the government a list of their commanders whose units were involved in the firefight
- for the MILF to explain its true relationship with breakaway group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters
On the part of the government, Marcos said suspended PNP Chief Alan Purisima should explain his role in the operations.
“There is a loss of trust on both sides. The people are questioning what the intent of the MILF is, and the MILF is also asking what really happened and we have not gotten the full story from the govenrment,” Marcos said.
Despite the suspension of hearings under Marcos’ committee, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago on Monday pushed through with hearings on the constitutionality of the proposed law that seeks to create a new autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao.
After the hearing, Marcos was seen approaching MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal.
Marcos said he and Iqbal agreed to meet this week to talk about how the process can move forward after the clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, that killed at least 44 elite cops, 17 MILF members, and 7 civilians. (READ: Inside story: SAF kept military out of the loop)
In a national address days after the incident, President Benigno Aquino III made similar requests for “concrete action” from the MILF. This included returning the personal effects of fallen soldiers and not standing in the way of security operations in the hunt for Usman.
On Sunday, January 25, some 392 SAF commandos entered Mamasapano town in Maguindanao, a known bailiwick of the MILF. They were targeting two “high value targets,” one of them alleged Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir, better known as “Marwan.” (Mamasapano: Sleepy town roused by SAF-MILF clash)
The government said the SAF commandos were able to kill Marwan during the operation, but combined forces of the MILF unit in the area and breakaway group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) allegedly surrounded them on their way out of Mamasapano. (READ: Dead or alive? Top terrorist was cops’ target)
Marcos said the MILF must clarify its relationship with the BIFF once and for all.
“Because if the BIFF is continuing to fight the government, we cannot possibly have peace. If the BIFF…is a separate group from the MILF, should we not include the BIFF in the peace talks?” Marcos said.
He added: “If they are together…if the BIFF and the MILF are in fact working together, then it will be a sign of bad faith on their part. That has to be determined. That is an extremely important point. Because we do not know who we are dealing with at this point unless this is clarified.”
After the Maguindanao clash, it emerged that acting PNP Chief Leonardo Espina and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II were kept out of the loop during the operations. President Aquino admitted knowing about the general details of the matter, but refused to answer whether he made specific orders for the January 25 operations.
A ceremonial turnover of 20 crew-served firearms and 55 high-powered firearms marking the beginning of the peace process is set be held in February, according to peace panels of the government and the MILF.
Under the firearms pact of both sides, the MILF agreed to turnover a specific number of their firearms for every stage of the process toward the creation of the Bangsamoro government. This includes the passage of the Bangsamoro law in Congress and its approval in a plebiscite.
In the midst of public outcry for justice over the Mamasapano clash, the MILF is conducting its own probe into the incident. The police and the International Monitoring Team overseeing the ceasefire agreement of the government and the MILF are also conducting their own probes.
The House of Representatives deferred its investigation into the Mamasapano encounter pending the final police report. Meanwhile, the Senate is conducting its own probe on February 9 and 10. A number of lawmakers on Monday called for the creation of a truth commission to look into the incident.
Will the MILF help hunt for Usman? The MILF has so far refused to make a categorical commitment. In a press conference in Kuala Lumpur Saturday, January 31, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said it is not their position to do so. (READ: MILF: We didn’t coddle Marwan, Usman)
The suspension of hearings in the Senate is threatening to delay the passage of the law.
The MILF hopes to install the transition body for the Bangsamoro by June to give them at least one year to be in position before the election of the first batch of officials in May 2016.
But Senate President Franklin Drilon himself has said the Senate may not reach the deadline to pass the law by March, while his counterpart in the House, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr, has admitted that support for the bill was “somewhat eroded” following the incident.
The MILF signed a peace deal with the government in March 2014 after 17 years of negotiations that aims to end close to half a century of armed conflict in the South. – Rappler.com