MIND DA NEWS: Lessons still unlearned

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/27 Nov) — For the last two weeks, reports in the media about what happened in Al-barka, Basilan on October 18 have been crowded out by the Arroyo super sensational events.

The International Monitoring Team (IMT) and the government and MILF ceasefire mechanisms have yet to begin their investigation on Al-barka.

But on November 9,  philstar.com (The Philippine Star) reported, “CIDG files multiple murder charges vs 13 MILF commanders.” The 13 included “fugitive Dan Laksaw Ansawi”.  Also charged were “300 other John Does” involved “in the killing … of 19 soldiers and wounding of 15 others.”

On November 17, Luwaran, the MILF official online publication, headlined: “All males in Albarka village, Basilan charged with murder” – clarifying that in Cambug the village or barangay referred to. there are only 604 registered voters more than half of the number comprised of women. The males charged must have been aged 18 and above.

According to the Luwaran report, the complaint was filed on November 4 by the Western Mindanao Command legal division before the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office in Basilan which “issued a subpoena to 8 MILF members and 300 other John Does”. The 308 were led by Commander Laksaw Dan Ansawi. Obviously, these were the same people charged by CIDG of the Philippine National Police.

What do these reports show? Government agencies cannot get their acts together and they don’t follow agreed procedures. And, worse, they have not learned lessons from similar missteps in the past.

Why did the military and the police file separate murder charges against the same respondents — except in the number of MILF commanders involved?

Why did they preempt the investigation to be conducted by the International Monitoring Team and the Joint Coordinating Committees on Cessation of Hostilities? Both the MILF and the military have filed against each other complaints of violations of the Ceasefire Agreement through their respective CCCHs.  The outcome of the probe will determine what to charge and who to be charged.

Was the October 18 military-MILF encounter in violation of the ceasefire agreement? If so, the determination will be strictly according to the provisions of the 1997 Ceasefire Agreement reaffirmed in 2001. Under No. 5 of the “Ground Rules” (Article III), “The GRP and the MILF will make appropriate actions on their respective forces who violate these Implementing Guidelines and Ground Rules.”

Were non-MILF members involved? If there were, they are the only ones to be charged before the regular criminal courts according to Philippine criminal laws.

If the October 18 incident was not in violation of the ceasefire agreement, what was it? The IMT-JCCCH probe will determine this.

The military and the police should have kept in mind the July 10, 2007 similar encounter in Guinanta also in Al-Barka where eleven of the Marines killed were beheaded.  In the ensuing investigation by the JCCCH and Bantay Ceasefire, the Abu Sayyaf – not the MILF rebels – were found responsible for the beheading of the Marines.

However, by the time the probe team report came out, the MILF commanders including Asnawi and also hundreds of John Does had already been charged in court with warrants of arrest issued against them. Despite the probe team’s report, the charges against Asnawi and the other MILF commanders and men were not withdrawn.

Later Asnawi was arrested while boarding a plane in Zambanga City en route to Mecca for pilgrimage. He and others jailed in Basilan escaped. For that, Asnawi is a “fugitive” and “rogue MILF”. Asnawi’s being such to the military and the police and the staunch defense of Asnawi’s innocence by the MILF have triggered and complicated the last October 18 Basilan incident. MILF will not surrender Asnawi despite AFP’s vehement demand.

AFP and PNP should have not preempted the joint IMT-JCCCH probe of the October18 Basilan incident. Ignoring the lessons from the July 10, 2007 incident will only fuel more military-MILF rebel confrontations in Basilan in violation of the Ceasefire Agreement. (Patricio P. Diaz, General Santos City. [email protected])