DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 26 April) — The Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and the chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) on Wednesday urged police officers to coordinate with the ceasefire mechanisms when they conduct law enforcement operations in conflict-affected areas in the Bangsamoro, to ensure the primacy of the peace process is upheld and in the words of GPH Peace Implementing Panel chair Irene Santiago, to avoid a “micro or macro Mamasapano.”
At the Forum on the GPH-MILF Peace Process, Secretary Jesus Dureza, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, urged the audience of top police officials from the conflict areas in the Bangsamoro and neighboring regions to always remember “the bigger goal” which is to “build peace in the land.”
“Yes we have operational targets, but hopefully we don’t run roughshod over the gains we have already achieved in the peace process,” he said.
“Consult, consult, seek advice, seek advice. In case of doubt, you ask questions, ayos?,” Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa said, as he assured them it does not matter if coordination will affect the success of the law enforcement operations (LEO) “basta importante hindi tayo masisi sa bandang huli” (what is important is that we will not be blamed in the end).
“Ibalik natin yung pagsasangguni, pag coordinate. Yun ang pinakaimportante. (Let’s bring back consultation, coordination. That is the most important). Coordination. Coordinate, coordinate, coordinate. Bahala nang makakaapekto yan sa success ng ating operation basta importante hindi tayo masisisi sa bandang huli di ba?” (Never mind if that will affect the success of our operations. What is important is we won’t be blamed in the end), he said.
Dureza said the forum, initiated by the PNP and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) was proposed by Santiago “to re-emphasize that as we engage the bad guys on the ground, there is a bigger higher consideration which is seeing to it that our engagement with those on the ground especially in the community level is the one given importance and priority.”
Lessons from Mamasapano
Santiago proposed the Forum following the April 11LEO in Sultan Kudarat Maguindanao that resulted to the killing of Mohaimen Abo alias Boy Bangsamoro, brother of Ghazali Jaafar, 1st Vice Chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), concurrent chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, the 21-member joint government and MILF body tasked to drafting the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
“I wanted an institutional response so that we don’t have a micro or macro Mamasapano again,” Santiago told MindaNews.
A major lesson in non-coordination was the Mamasapano Tragedy of January 25, 2015 when the PNP’s Special Action Forces (SAF) conducted a LEO in Mamasapano without coordinating with the ceasefire mechanisms or the Army in the area and left 66 persons dead, 44 of them from the SAF, 17 from the MILF and five civilians.
Santiago told MindaNews she met with dela Rosa and his staff as well as OIC Local Governments Secretary Catalino Cuy in dela Rosa’s office on April 20 to reiterate the need for an institutional response. At the end of the meeting, the they agreed to hold the forum to orient, re-orient the police on the peace process mechanisms.
Jaafar expressed dismay on the police action that killed his youngest brother, whom he described as a bona fide member of the MILF’s armed wing, the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF).
Operatives from the national and regional police went to the house of Abo, also known as Boy Bangsamoro, to serve warrants of arrest against him for murder, robbery, frustrated murder, kidnapping for ransom and kidnapping with homicide but Abo reportedly fired at the operatives.
“You know, if the government has pending case and would want to conduct law enforcement operation, there is a ceasefire mechanism that works for it, which government and MILF have agreed upon,” Jaafar said.
No coordination was made by the operating units with the ceasefire mechanisms of the government and MILF: the Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG).
Urgency of the situation
Dela Rosa said he spared time to come even if he is very busy due to the ASEAN Summit, “because I see the significance of this forum to be conducted as soon as possible.”
“The MILF is questioning the neutralization of that suspect,” Dela Rosa said, referring to Jaafar’s brother. “Kahit na sabihin mong 1,000 yung kanyang warrant of arrest, kahit na gaano kadami pang kaso nya, but still the other side is claiming that we have violated some provisions of the peace process, then merong disconnect sa ating efforts towards achieving peace,” he added.
He said he called on the officers to “revive what needs to be revived, replenish what needs to be replenished, refresh what needs to be refreshed in our minds, in our knowledge, in what we are supposed to know as far as the peace process is concerned.”
He said he understands the situation of the police on the ground but they need to ensure there will be no more misunderstanding.
In mixed English and Filipino, dela Rosa said “That’s okay for you who are from Luzon because you still have Luzon. But we in Mindanao, we’re from here, we have no other choice but to live and die here in this island Mindanao. If a big war erupts here, we will be the first to suffer, that’s why we really need to fix this.”
He said he fully understands the difficulties of the police on the ground to do a balancing act. “You want to enforce that law without fear or favor. You want not to be accused as having double standard in implementation of the law and gusto ninyo, gusto natin na talagang tatatamaan yung dapat tamaan but at the same time, meron tayong peace process na ino-obserba,” he said.
Shift energies towards peace
He urged them to “shift their aggressive energies.”
“This is the right time for us to shift some of our energies towards dito sa kabila, sa peace process,” dela Rosa said, reminding them that “you can never go wrong if you ask, you can never go wrong if you consult” those involved in the peace process, including those on the presidential table who spoke on various aspects of the peace process.
Santiago gave updates on the GPH-MILF peace process, Brig. Gen. Earl Baliao, chair of the GPH-CCCH presented an overview of the CCCH mechanism while Police Chief Supt. Pierre Bucsit, GPH-AHJAG chair, talked about the AHJAg mechanism.
Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Western Mindanao Chief, Brig. Gen. Ariel dela Vega Commander of the 6th Infantry Division, and Director Carlos Sol of the Combined Secretariat for GPH CCCH and AHJAG shared their experiences on the benefits of coordination.
Galvez, a member and later chief of the government peace panel’s CCCH before he became 6th Infantry Division chief and eventually the WestMinCom chief, also stressed the need for soldiers and the police to understand the historical and cultural contexts of the conflict.
Dela Rosa urged police officials to “please feel free, feel comfortable to ask for guidance, to ask for advices” if they are conducting LEO “para di natin maulit yung ganong problema” (so we do not repeat the problem).
He acknowledged the mission of the police on the ground is “napakabigat” (very heavy), particularly on ensuring the primacy of the peace process is upheld and at the same time implementing the law.
“We can do that if we ask, if we consult so there will be no blaming the end. No blaming. You won’t regret .. that for that one wrong decision I made… the entire Mindanao is in trouble,” he said, adding it will be a bigger problem if they do not coordinate and they are blamed for the outbreak of war.
He said he wants to make the forum a periodic activity “para di makalimutan” (so t you wont’ forget).
He also urged them to cascade what they learned at the forum, in their respective areas because “I don’t want to hear grumblings from the other side.”
Dureza asked the key officials from the PNP and the Army to a meeting at the OPAPP in mid-May to tackle the suggestions that were proposed by the police officials during the forum on how best to ensure the law is implemented and the peace process is upheld. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)