GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 22 April) – A new wall to scale is rising in the path of Draft BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law – HB 4994, SB 2408)) even as imposing barricades still have to be dismantled to clear its way. Paradoxically, the members of the Congress while building the wall are holding the Moro Islamic Liberation Front responsible to have it discontinued.
The new wall: The renewed demand for MILF to surrender members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces involved in the killing of 44 Police commandos in the January 25 Mamasapano incident after the Department of Justice had identified the 90 BIAF officers and fighters criminally liable.
At stake in the failure of MILF to comply is the passage of the BBL (The Philippine Star, April 20, 2015: MILF refusal to surrender fighters jeopardizing talks).
AHCBBL chairman Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and independent bloc leader Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez have made the new call warning that “the continued refusal of MILF leaders to turn over their men is causing the further erosion” in the Congress for the support of the BBL.
They call the surrender “confidence building” on the part of MILF after “Filipinos have lost trust” in them. This is necessary to restore the trust of the House representatives into passing HB 4994. Right now the proposed BBL is floundering and the burden of giving it “a good chance of being approved” is on the MILF’s “confidence-building measures”.
This is, indeed, most unfortunate. The members of the Congress do not – perhaps, since they cannot – distinguish the BBL from Mamasapano in terms of the peace process. The first is part of the peace process; the second, the consequence of ignoring the peace process. They want MILF – their refusal at the price of the BBL – to atone for the fault of the National Police in ignoring the peace process.
Emergence of the Peace Process
The publication of Datu Udtog Matalam of his MIM (Muslim Independence Movement) in The Manila Times on May 1, 1968 triggered the unrest in Cotabato. This spawned the Blackshirt-Ilaga war that by 1970 was devastating Cotabato to soon spread to the Lanao and Zamboanga provinces. The six-day Buldon war in August 1971 was the precursor of the Moro rebellion that exploded in February 1973.
During the entire martial law regime, President Ferdinand E. Marcos negotiated peace with Moro National Liberation Front abroad and used the “carrot-and-stick” policy to contain the rebellion in Mindanao. The military wielded the stick; Malacañang offered the carrots through the Moro traditional leaders and surrendered rebel commanders under his rebel-returnee program. Peace was caught in a stalemate.
President Corazon C. Aquino established the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, a constitutional autonomy, as centerpiece of her peace program with the Moros. That did not break the stalemate.
President Fidel V. Ramos institutionalized the peace process by setting up in 1993 (EO No. 125) the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo modified this in 2001 (EO No. 3). The peace negotiations with the Moro and Communist rebels are parts of this peace process. Government and MNLF signed the 1996 Final Peace Agreement. The BBL and Bangsamoro are to be the end-pieces of the Government-MILF peace process since 1997.
By negotiating peace, Government recognizes the belligerent status of the rebels and puts relation with the rebels under certain agreed protocols and international laws.
BBL Distinct from Mamasapano
One protocol agreed by Government and MILF was the coordination of their forces’ movements through the mechanisms of the 1997 Ceasefire Agreement which was renegotiated and enhanced in 2001. This had prevented encounters. It is this protocol that was violated by the Philippine National Police; the tragic and pyrrhic Mamasapano incident was the consequence.
The BBL is the Basic Law or Charter or Organic Act that will establish Bangsamoro to give the Moros more autonomy than what has been granted under the ARMM. This will normalize the peace conditions the Bangsamoro region; the MILF fighters, no longer revolutionaries, will live normal lives under Bangsamoro and Philippine laws.
Envisioned in the establishment of Bangsamoro is the return of peace so that no more Mamasapano will happen again. Ironically, the contrary will be ensured should the BBL be scuttled because of Mamasapano.
Under What Law
Unfortunately, however, many if not most members of the Congress do not see this distinction. They do not see the MILF as revolutionaries; if by chance they do, they do not acknowledge the protocols agreed by Government and MILF. They evidently do not recognize that the MILF, for having belligerent status, are distinct from the ordinarily normal Filipino citizens.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima could not tell what crime to charge the 90 MILF rebels. Only after a preliminary investigation can their crime be determined. But, first, they should be arrested.
Unless MILF surrenders them, how can they be arrested? Hence, the demand under the threat of not passing the BBL. Lawyer Emmanuel Fontanilla, spokesman of the MNLF, opines that because of the belligerent status of MILF, the arrest and prosecution of the 90 MILF rebels would violate the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro. (The Philippine Star, April 20, 2015: MILF refusal to surrender fighters jeopardizing talks)
Inquirer columnist Randy David, in his column last Sunday (Public Lives: Crimes in the context of war), cited the Government Peace Panel as saying if the 90 had to be charged it should be under the 2009 “Republic Act No. 9851—the Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and other Crimes Against Humanity.” This law, promulgated only in December 2009, “lays down the norms governing offenses committed in the context of armed conflicts”.
Spared the BBL
By all means apprehend and prosecute the 90 BIAF officers and men if applicable laws warrant. But don’t take hostage the BBL to compel MILF to turn in their fighters whom they believe are innocent; MILF will not. The BBL is unrelated to Mamasapano.
Give justice to the 44 PNP SAF commandos. They died because the peace process had been violated. Who were the violators? Just the 90 BIAF officers and men identified? Identify them all.
Certainly, the BBL did not violate the peace process – did not cause the Mamasapano debacle. To the members of the Congress, pass the BBL; discontinue the new wall you are building.
(Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)