MANILA, Philippines – A former Armed Forces chief of staff on Thursday, March 5, warned that the failure of the government to "win" the peace process in Mindanao would encourage extremists from neighboring countries to seek refuge in conflict areas here.
"The threat of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) is far away from us but it will soon be over. When ISIS is defeated in ISIS and Iraq, where do you think will those who joined ISIS from Malaysia and Indonesia go?" Bautista said.
"They have nowhere to go. There is no conflict in Malaysia and Indonesia. Where else will they go? In places with conflict. Note that Marwan is Malaysian," Bautista added.
Bautista made the remarks during the "Implications of Mamasapano on the Peace Process: Moving Forward" forum in Makati on Thursday.
He clarified that there are no confirmed reports of Filipinos joining ISIS from the Philippines.
Bautista's father, Brigadier General Teodulfo Bautista, was gunned down by Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels in Sulu at the height of the armed conflict in the 70s.
Calls to drop the peace accord with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and declare an all-out war against rebel groups in Mindanao became louder in the aftermath of the Mamasapano clash that killed 44 elite cops, 18 Moro rebels and 3 civilians. (The MILF broke away from the MNLF in the 70s due to leadership differences.)
On January 25, close to 400 police Special Action Force troopers entered Mamasapano, Maguindanao, a known MILF bailiwick, to arrest Zulkifli bin Hir, better known as Marwan, and Abdul Basit Usman, but they were surrounded by armed rebels, believed to be from the MILF and breakaway group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on their way out.
The political fallout that followed the incident left the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in danger as hearings on the measure were suspended. (READ: Mamasapano and Aquino's crisis management style)
Aside from the erosion of support amid a tight deadline, the bill also faces constitutional questions.
A product of the peace deal between the government and the MILF, the BBL aims to entrench a new autonomous government with more teeth than the current one in place in a bid to end the decades-old war in the South.
Proponents of the BBL said the public must look at the impact of the law beyond Philippine shores.
Government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said the Mamasapano incident showed how "parochial" Filipinos are.
"We are in a world terribly enmeshed in a war, a war with different ideologies," Ferrer said.
Ferrer said the public should stop generalizing Muslims in the frame of terrorism.
"The notion of the global war against terrorism certainly has a different notion. The way it has been applied is within the simplistic frame of lumping all Muslim groups into one," Ferrer said.