Pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law now

Sylvia Estrada Claudio

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When our leaders bring us war, we must insist on peace

I too am angry and upset. My heart breaks for the families and friends of the Fallen 44 SAF soldiers who died in battle last January 25 against the combined forces of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). But my heart also breaks for the families of the slain 17 MILF combatants. And lest anyone forget, there were civilian casualties, some of them children. There were also dozens wounded. 

I want to scream in frustration because this mess happened at a time when we are closer than ever to bringing peace to Mindanao. The delayed enactment of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, a result of years of peace negotiations, is already bringing strains to the peace process.

This incident has strengthened the hand of those who prefer war, beginning with the scuttling of the BBL. And many of those elements who wish to scuttle this law are as repugnant as the bunch of self-serving incompetents who contributed to this disaster. These include those who adhere to violent and extremist interpretations of Islam, a disgraced former President who insists his disastrous all-out war policy should be revived, members of the local elite in Mindanao whose interests would be threatened by Bangsamoro devolution, and enemies of the Aquino government, who for their own selfish reasons, would like to see him fail.

Facts without explanations

Days after the incident, we are as yet to be given any explanation as to why the beginning peace has been shattered. What we know is that Malaysian bomb-maker Zulkifli bin Hir, or “Marwan,” who was listed in the US Federal Bureau of Investigation list of Most Wanted Terrorists, was in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. Abdul Basit Usman, a Filipino, also on the terrorist list, was there too. We are told that the information was given to the Philippine government by the US government.

It is also clear that government violated clear provisions and mechanisms put in place as part of the peace process. It did not notify the MILF that almost 392 members of the  police special action forces were going to Mamapasano to serve warrants of arrest on Marwan and Usman. Director Getulio Napeñas, the sacked SAF commander, admitted that he did not coordinate with the MILF because he did not trust the MILF. 

A Rappler report tells us that the SAF entered the area at around 3 am. By 6 am the fighting had started between the SAF and the combined forces of the MILF and the BIFF.

Army Brigadier General Carlito Galvez was informed about the clash at around 6:30 am and immediately convened the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH). CCCH is the body tasked to maintain the ceasefire as the two parties finalize the peace process. He and his MILF counterparts called up the forces on the ground. Despite the MILF commanders’ instructions to de-escalate the battle, the MILF forces would not because “mainit na sila” (they are in the heat of battle). 

CCCH members had to rush to the battle site in order to finally put an end to the hostilities at around 3 pm.

Unanswered questions

Other than these bare facts that come mostly from news media, the government and the MILF have not given us cogent and verifiable explanations.

In the absence of the truth, rumors run wild and free. Doubt, suspicion and mistrust that are corrosive to the processes of peace are the coin of the land.

Who ordered the operation to be carried out with such stealth? It is said that the local police and military, who know the terrain better, including the position of MILF and BIFF forces, could have told the SAF that they were walking into a killing zone. Furthermore, without adequate information, the military could not come to the aid of the SAF when they were finally asked to help. News reports have it that neither Interior Secretary Mar Roxas nor Philippine National Police officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina were informed. Instead it is reported that suspended Police Chief Alan Purisima worked with the President.

Why did Director Napeñas make the decision that the MILF and the military were not to be told against the expressed orders of the President? This disobedience by a high ranking and higly trained professional seems incredulous. 

How far was US involvement in this disaster? Does it go only as far as giving the information on Marwan?

On the other hand, why was Marwan in Maguindanao?

News reports state that he had been in the area since 2002. It is therefore understandable that the authorities were reluctant to inform the MILF of their plan to capture him. The MILF, on the other hand, has denied charges they were coddling Marwan, pointing instead to the BIFF as the one providing sanctuary for the terrorists. But the relationship between the BIFF ad MILF is often a fraternal one, as evidenced by their joint action in the firefight that killed the SAF policemen.

Furthermore, why was there overkill? Why could the MILF commanders of CCCH not rein in their forces? Why did they kill the SAF medic in violation of human rights conventions? Why was he stripped of his personal belongings as were other dead troopers? Did the BIFF and the MILF desecrate the bodies of the killed policemen?

Staying the course for peace

If only Mindanao were populated by war freaks I would say, “to hell with the BBL.” Scuttle that law and let them shoot each other. All those calling for all-out war, the blood thirsty who shoot a medic and desecrate the body of a fallen enemy, and all the incompetents who ordered this carnage may please be sent to the war zone. That, I suppose, would be justice. And in this simplistic fantasy of mine, peace would come to Mindanao once all these cretins valorizing their battles are gone. 

But that has already been tried in Mindanao. War starts from the premise that if enough people are killed, peace will come.

War also ignores the fact that those who suffer most are not the combatants, but the innocent. The women and children who are killed or wounded. The families who lose their fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters. The communities ravaged by poverty and lost opportunities.

In truth the peace process is for the ordinary folk of Mindanao and the rest of the country.

And so, it is for the people of Mindanao, for the ordinary citizens of the country, that we must stay the course in the peace process.  

We must fight for an independent truth commission that will ascertain where wrongdoing occurred and who were responsible. Those accountable for this fiasco should be held accountable. Then justice would have been served to all those who died on both sides. Holding those who erred accountable has now become a part of the justice that is needed for a lasting peace. But some judgments can already be made now. It was the peace mechanism of the CCCH that eventually stopped the killing.

For the entire country to have the justice it deserves, we must somehow find it in ourselves, yet again, to bring our collective power to bear on our leaders so that the Bangsamoro Basic Law will push through and the peace process continue.

The German poet Bertolt Brecht once wrote that when leaders talk of peace, then the people should prepare for war. I say, when our leaders bring us war, we must insist on peace. –






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