What now after the Maguindanao clash?
MANILA, Philippines – At least 44 policemen are dead. Hearings on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law are stalled at the Senate. Now, what?
Despite continuing support from certain Congress leaders and other sectors such as the Catholic Church, the ongoing peace process in Mindanao lost key numbers in the Senate after the Maguindanao clash, casting doubts on the future of the peace process.
In the midst of strong emotions, even former president and incumbent Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, in an interview with ANC, said the Maguindanao clash – which government officials are calling a "misencounter" – only shows that he was right in declaring an all-out war against the MILF back in 2000.
After the euphoria over the signing of a final peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in March 2014, all 17 years of negotiations between the government and the MILF and close to half a century of armed conflict now hit another crossroad.
In Congress, lawmakers are demanding to know how and why over 40 policemen were killed after they entered an MILF-controlled area in Maguindanao in a bid to arrest wanted terrorists. (READ: PNP-SAF commander relieved over 'misencounter')
Will the incident jeopardize the peace process? If the statements of government officials after the attack is any indication, then the government's stand is clear: the peace process with the MILF will continue.
On Tuesday, January 27, government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer told reporters in several interviews that the scheduled meeting in Kuala Lumpur on the last week of January to finalize the protocol on decommissioning of arms is pushing through.
The government will continue to talk peace with the MILF despite the clash in Maguindanao between the very parties involved in the process.
It's a reality that some lawmakers cannot seem to reconcile. What's the point of having a peace agreement and passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law if violence continues to persist? Can the MILF be trusted?
The same questions have been asked many times in the past.
Remember Ipil and Al Barka?
In April 1995, around 200 armed men clad in fatigues wreaked havoc in the municipality of Ipil, looting from banks and establishments. The incident resulted in the death of 53 individuals, including civilians.
The Ramos government at first pinned the blame on the Abu Sayyaf. It later became evident that combined elements of the Abu Sayyaf, a breakaway faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and members of the MILF staged the attack.
What happened in Ipil and Mamasapano operated in different contexts but contained the same elements – terrorism, displacement of residents, an ongoing peace negotiation with another rebel group, the MNLF.
The same questions were raised back then – should the ceasefire agreement with the MNLF be suspended? Can the MNLF still be trusted to talk peace?
Back then, Ramos said the military can maintain pressure on the Abu Sayyaf and other terrorist elements without jeopardizing the peace talks. Even the deputy army chief at the time was quoted as saying the peace talks must go on.
Months later, Nur Misuari rose to power as governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and a peace accord between the government and the MNLF was signed. What happened next is another story.
It was in 2011 when the last big encounter between MILF and government troops happened in an incident that left 19 soldiers and 6 MILF members dead in Al Barka, Basilan.
There were conflicting accounts of what the military mission was for. The MILF claimed the military carried out a deliberate attack and intruded into an MILF area. The army, meanwhile, said they stayed at least 3 kilometers from the MILF area but were fired at, forcing them to fight back. (READ: Fiasco in Basilan)
President Benigno Aquino III, back then, resisted calls for an all-out war. He said it was easy to close the door on negotiations but the government would rather pursue "all-out justice."
Peace talks were at the early stages then. This time around, the landscape is different. A final peace accord is already at hand and the government, as well as the MILF, are bound by what they have signed.
Since the Al Barka incident, military sanctions have been imposed on officials responsible for the incident. Meanwhile, MILF sanctions have not been revealed to the public.
Grand gestures needed
It would take "grand confidence-building measures" on the part of the MILF to win back the public's trust, said Senator Ralph Recto. This measure would entail helping the government capture wanted terrorists.
“The BBL, the peace process have become collateral damage of Sunday’s massacre. The fastest way to recover from the setback is if the MILF will partner with the government in arresting [Zulkifli bin Hir, better known as] Marwan and [Abdul Basit] Usman,” Recto said. The two are reputed to be bomb-making experts.
Davao City 1st district Representative Karlos Alexei Nograles, a member of the ad hoc panel on the Bangsamoro, said the incident raises concerns that the MILF leadership is not in full control of its followers.
Nograles said the MILF must surrender their erring members to authorities.
"This is a test case for the BBL. If under our present system we cannot serve justice, how can we be assured that the Philippine justice system will work once the BBL is passed? This is a question of trust, which is the underlying principle that must govern the BBL," Nograles said.
Meanwhile, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, a former navy lieutenant, called on his colleagues not to "overreact."
"We need to await the results of the investigations, both through the mechanisms of the peace agreement and the internal investigation of the PNP. Until then, let’s suspend any judgment," Trillanes said.
Institute of Autonomy and Governance executive director Benedicto Bacani said people should understand that the peace process is complex and involves two parallel tracks – politics and security.
The political aspect involves the creation of the new autonomous region with greater political and fiscal powers than the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
The security aspect involves the decommissioning of rebel firearms.
Under the final peace agreement, the decommissioning of rebel firearms would happen in batches, in exchange for political commitments toward the creation of the Bangsamoro, including the passage of the law.
While this type of accord pressures both sides to keep their commitments, it also has its pitfalls.
"The reality is the political track is slow and weak for changes and political reforms. That's why when people think the process is over because there's already a peace agreement, that's not correct," Bacani said.
Going a step further should deliberations in the Senate resume, Bacani said another issue is the final outcome of the proposed law, which Congress has the liberty to change.
"It will be passed but the problem is, what will be its final form and would it be acceptable to the MILF?" Bacani said. (READ: Two schools of thought on the Bangsamoro bill)
Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, one of the two senators who withdrew his support for the Bangsamoro law, warned that the BBL is in "severe danger."
He said the Maguindanao clash could be the "cause of death" of the proposed law.
"Ang advice ko sa gobyerno at MILF, rather maghugas kamay, ipakita niyong peace ang gusto niyo," Cayetano said. (My advice to the government and the MILF, rather than wash hands, show peace is what you want.)
At least 4 separate resolutions have been filed in the House and the Senate to probe the Maguindanao clash.
President Benigno Aquino III is set to address the nation Wednesday, January 27, at 6 pm. Will it put uncertainty over prospects of peace to rest? – Rappler.com