Aquino hits 2 'anti-BBL senators' at PMA graduation

BAGUIO, Philippines – In his last hurrah before the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), President Benigno Aquino III did not hold back from hitting "two senators" who, he said, got in the way of a long-awaited peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Standing onstage alongside family and friends of the PMA Gabay-Laya Class of 2016 and ranking officials of the military and government, Aquino highlighted the hard life of the uniformed services in times of conflict.  

"Alam po natin ang kasabihan, ang kasundaluhan ang huling magnanais na magkaroon ng kaguluhan. Sila nga ang unang sasabak sa hidwaan, sila ang unang mag-sasakripisyo at sila ang unang malalagay sa peligro," Aquino said on Sunday, March 13, during his address at the Class of 2016's graduation in Baguio City

(We're all familiar with the saying that it's the armed forces that desire conflict the least. They're exposed to war, they're the first to sacrifice, they're the first to be put in danger.) 

The Aquino government, said the President, took measures to end decades of conflict in parts of Mindanao. 

"Nariyan po ang panawagan ng Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), kasama na ang Framework Agreement at Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. Hangad natin: maghatid ng katarungan, kapayapaan, at kaunlaran sa Bangsamoro. Ang masakit po, may dalawang miyembro ng Senado na tahasang hinarang ang BBL," Aquino said.

(There's the BBL, the Framework Agreement, and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. Our goal: to bring justice, peace, and development to the Bangsamoro. Unfortunately, two members of the Senate actively blocked the passage of the BBL.) 

The proposed BBL would have paved the way for the creation of a new autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao, the result of years of negotiations between his government and the MILF. Both the Aquino government and the rebel group had said its passage would lead to peace in war-torn areas of Mindanao. 

Aquino had hoped – and vowed – that the proposed measure would pass before his term ended, a timeline that seemed possible up until January 23, 2015, when more than 60 Filipinos, including 44 elite police commandos, died during clashes in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao. 

Police forces were pinned down in hours-long clashes against MILF fighters, members of the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and private armed groups. The Mamasapano clash triggered anti-BBL sentiments among lawmakers and the public, and cast doubt on the MILF's role in the peace deal. (READ: With BBL 'dead', Aquino to strengthen Mindanao peace gains)

Up until Congress was adjourned, the Aquino administration had hoped for the measure's passage. (READ: Blame absentee, indifferent lawmakers for failed BBL)

"Dito ko naalala ang mga sinasabi ng mga matatanda – sige, maliwanag na ayaw mo. Ano naman ang gusto mo? Ang dalawang miyembro ito ng Senado naiwan nalang sa ayaw, na walang nilalatag na mas mainam na solusyon. Kayo na nga po ang humusga kung sino sa atin ang nagkulang at sino naman ang tumotoo sa inyo," added the President.

(During times like these, I remember what old people say: Okay, you don't like this. But what do you want? These two members of the Senate left it at 'I don’t want it' but didn't even offer an alternative. I leave you to judge who failed and who fulfilled his promise to you.) 

Aquino did not name the two senators but could have alluded to a handful of members of the Senate, most of which happen to be candidates in the 2016 national elections.

There's Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who chairs the Senate committee on local government. At least two senators – Alan Peter Cayetano and Joseph Victor Ejercito – withdrew their signatures from the bill in the aftermath of the clash. (READ: Cardinal Quevedo on BBL: 'Peace on the altar of politics'

Senator Grace Poe, meanwhile, chaired the committee that probed the deadly clash. The draft committee report questioned whether the government should continue its deal with the MILF, noting that the group "refuse(d) to submit the findings of its internal investigations into the incident or disclose the identities of those involved in the massacre." 

The MILF eventually released the findings of its probe into the clash but has thus far not released a list of names of members involved. 

Marcos and Cayetano are vice presidential candidates while Poe is running for president. (READ: Next administration must push BBL – Deles)

Aquino was in Baguio City on Sunday for activities related to his two jobs – as the sitting president and the chairman of the ruling Liberal Party. In the morning, Aquino graced the PMA graduation and in the afternoon, led a proclamation rally of his anointed candidates – bets of the LP-led "Daang Matuwid" coalition – in the city. 

Aquino's anointed candidate, LP standard-bearer Manuel "Mar" Roxas II, is also in the region for a series of campaign activities in Benguet province, Mountain Province, and Baguio City. – Rappler.com