BAGUIO CITY (MindaNews/12 March) — Questions on security issues concerning the proposed Bangsamoro region dominated the roundtable discussion on the status of the peace process at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) here on Wednesday.
Among the questions posed by PMA cadets was whether government would retain authority over the Bangsamoro in terms of peacekeeping functions.
Another question dealt with organizational and operational systems for the Bangsamoro police and the central leadership of the Philippine National Police.
Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chair of the government (GPH) panel in peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) clarified that peacekeeping will remain a function of the Central Government.
Government and MILF peace panel chairs Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and Mohagher Iqbal hand over some books on the Bangsamoro and the Bangsamoro peace process to Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Superintendent Maj. Gen. Donato San Juan III and this year’s top PMA graduate, Kristian Daeve Gelacio Abiqi during a forum on the Bangsamoro peace process on March 9, 2016 at the PMA in Baguio City. MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO
“In terms of national defense, that remains a reserved power of Central Government so there is only one armed forces of the Philippines and the commander in chief si the President of the Philippines,” Ferrer said.
“In practical terms, pag may national security situation, siempre national security concern yan but you know this is not martial law. The AFP cannot simply barge into any place na hindi man lang sila mag-coordinate sa mga local government units doon,” she said.
The Bangsamoro police on the other hand is under the command and direction of the Philippine National Police (PNP) chief and the administrative control and supervision of the National Police Commission.
Ferrer explained that those who wish to apply as police officers have to follow the requirements set by the law creating the PNP.
Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace panel was asked what the rebel group would do with its camps once the peace process is concluded.
Iqbal said the MILF has abandoned “fixed camping” after the all-out war in 2000.
He said the all-out war, where they lost Camp Abubakar, taught them the lesson that as a guerrilla group it is impractical to maintain camps.
“Let’s be frank about it, the AFP is a conventional army. If we fight them using conventional methods, we are no match against them,” he said.
The Annex on Normalization signed by government and the MILF on January 25, 2014 provides for the transformation of six previously acknowledged MILF camps into “peaceful and productive communities.”
Iqbal added MILF fighters and weapons will undergo a decommissioning process that will be commensurate to the implementation of political milestones in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).
The CAB was signed on March 27, 2014, ending 17 years of peace negotiations that started in 1997, during the administration of former president Fidel V. Ramos.
Iqbal admitted the difficulty of telling the Moro to part with his gun but assured the MILF will follow the terms of the decommissioning process.
He said the non-passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law has brought frustration to the Moro people but that the organization was trying to manage such frustration.
He cited the recent clashes in Butig, Lanao del Sur between the military and an armed group with suspected links to the ISIS as proof of the people’s frustration.
Ferrer said that despite the clashes in Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao the ceasefire with the MILF was holding.
“Security cooperation between the government and MILF has been good,” she said.
She emphasized that once the peace process with the MILF was concluded, “malaking tinik ang mawawala” and the AFP could focus on addressing the Chinese threat in the West Philippine Sea.
Around 250 PMA cadets and 80 journalists attended the roundtable discussion.
Organized by MindaNews in partnership with The Asia Foundation and the Philippine Information Agency, the forum aimed to provide the media and the cadets, some of whom will be assigned in Mindanao, an overview of the peace process and its historical nuances. The media forum was held at noon, after the forum at the PMA. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno / MindaNews)