MANILA, Philippines – “I don’t know about dying but it is in a coma.”
Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr warned that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) might be the next casualty of the Mamasapano clash that killed 44 elite cops, at least 17 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and some civilians.
In several interviews and statements, the chairman of the Senate local government committee said many lawmakers and the public are not keen on passing the BBL, and it is time to find an “alternative” way to ensure peace.
“If both houses of Congress vote today, I dare say not only this version but maybe any version [will not pass] because of course, emotions are running high and it is against the MILF because of the atrocities committed against our policemen,” Marcos said on Wednesday, February 11.
While saying he is not giving up on the peace process, Marcos pointed to a “glaring weakness” of the process revealed by the January 25 encounter.
“The way forward is to take a change of perspective and not think only BBL. People had counted BBL as the solution, the be-all and end-all. For as long as we pass the BBL, this ends our problem. It looks like that’s not the case,” Marcos said in an interview on ANC Tuesday night.
A priority measure of the Aquino administration, the BBL aims to create an expanded region with more powers than the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The BBL is part of the historic deal the MILF and the government signed in 2014 after 17 years of negotiations. The initial target was to pass the bill by March.
Yet the mission to arrest top terrorists in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, puts at risk the peace process, intended to be a key legacy of President Benigno Aquino III. (READ: Mamasapano: What I wish Aquino said as president)
Under question is the sincerity of the MILF, which faces allegations of an “overkill.” The rebel group in turn blames the heavy toll on the police’s failure to follow existing coordination mechanisms under the peace process.
The son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos was the first to suspend BBL hearings in the Senate, and his counterparts in the House of Representatives followed suit. Lawmakers said they will not tackle the measure until parallel investigating bodies uncover what happened in Mamasapano.
One of 11 remaining co-authors of the BBL in the Senate, Senator Juan Edgardo Angara saw the suspension of the hearings in a positive light. Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano and Senator JV Ejercito withdrew authorship of the measure after the clash.
Supporters of Bbl should be happy discussions on the bill have been suspended. Not the ideal environment rt now, gives time 2rebuild trust— Sonny Angara (@sonnyangara) February 11, 2015
Why fund ‘police killers?’
Marcos identified several factors behind the “weakness” of the BBL and the peace process:
- The supposed lack of “good faith of the MILF”
- The alleged absence of mechanisms to expedite coordination between the government and the MILF
- Chain of command issues
- Questions on the constitutionality of the BBL
- Questions on the relationship between the MILF and its breakaway group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which opposes the peace process.
Even before Mamasapano, the BBL was already contentious. Marcos said the issues were:
- Why the national government will fund the Bangsamoro from money coming from other local government units
- The issue on power-sharing between the central government and the Bangsamoro government
- Administrative problems
- Questions on who will control the police forces assigned in the Bangsamoro
Yet after the clash, the senator said the public questions all the more why the national government must spend for the creation of the Bangsamoro region. He said people have become “less tolerant” of the MILF.
“Before Mamasapano happened, people said it’s okay to spend money from public coffers just to have peace. But now, people are saying, ‘We will make a new government for them (the Bangsamoro) and then this is what they will do? They will kill our policemen?’ That is the issue that must be addressed,” Marcos said on radio dzRH.
Marcos said all the issues boil down to trust. He said the MILF leadership’s decision not to appear for now before congressional inquiries into the Mamasapano encounter aggravated the trust issue.
He again cited the letter of MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal saying that the MILF remains a “revolutionary organization.” Marcos called this a “provocative statement.”
“Eh marami na nga umaayaw sa BBL, eh papano ngayon natin ipagpapatuloy ang peace process kung parang nanduduro pa?” (Many are already giving up on the BBL but how can we continue the peace process if they are even disrespecting us.)
‘Help MILF drag the other foot’
Government peace panel chairperson Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said that Iqbal’s statement should not be interpreted to mean that the MILF is still at war with the government.
Ferrer explained that since the peace process has yet to be completed, the MILF is still transitioning from being a rebel group to becoming a member of Philippine society.
“The decommissioning has not yet happened. Our peace roadmap is not yet complete. Once they participate in elections, and become a government, that’s when they are no longer a revolutionary group. So nothing changed except they have commitments and responsibility,” Ferrer told reporters on Tuesday.
Ferrer again pointed out that the ceasefire mechanisms under the peace process actually worked, as the government and the MILF were able to restore the ceasefire on the same day of the clash.
“The MILF is still in the middle, in transition. That’s why Mr Iqbal says his one foot is outside but the other is still inside. We need to bring both feet outside. They have to drag the other foot,” Ferrer said.
She quoted Iqbal as saying, “Help us drag the other foot.” – Ayee Macaraig/Rappler.com