COMMENT: BBL Innocent Victim?

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 5 Feb) – The 12-hour encounter, more or less, between the Moro rebels and the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) in Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao from 2:30 a.m. (4:00 and 4:30 a.m. in another report) to dusk on January 25 was regrettable and unfortunate. The 44 SAF members killed (64 in an MILF report) were the tragic victims; the Bangsamoro Basic Law, an urgent bill pending in the Congress, can become the innocent victim.

A contingent of 392 PNP-SAF commandos was dispatched to Mamasapano to capture dead or alive the Malaysian bomb-terrorist Zulkipli bin Hir alias “Marwan” and Moro terrorist Abdulbasit Usman. After a small team had allegedly surprised and killed Marwan in his hut in Pidsandawan at around 4 a.m., it withdrew toward Tukanalipao where a blocking force had been deployed. It was in Tukanalipao where the 44 members of the blocking force were slain.

The outrage from the Mamasapano fiasco has entangled the BBL by stoking the anti-Moro prejudice, rousing the hibernating Christian distrust for the Moro, and revving up the fanatical opposition to the peaceful solution of the Moro Problem. The BBL, the fruit of the 17-year negotiation between Government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which will establish the Bangsamoro has nothing to do with the Mamasapano fiasco. Yet, it is being held hostage to compel the MILF leaders to admit guilt and make amends.

BBL Entanglement

Where are reason, fairness and truth in implicating the BBL and Bangsamoro? How the BBL is being entangled – held at gun-point, maligned – is outrageous. That’s bearing false witness against one’s neighbor.

It is being argued that the Mamasapano massacre showed the insincerity of the MILF in negotiating peace with the government. It is being asked why, if there is an existing peace agreement, the MILF attacked the SAF commandos who, being on legitimate mission, they were supposed to support. They, the MILF, betrayed the government.

The attack against the SAF commandos showed the Moro hostility to non-Moros in their controlled areas. Once the Bangsamoro is established, the Moros will restrict the entry of the non-Moro elements in their region.

The MILF must show their sincerity. They must surrender their commanders and fighters who killed the SAF commandos. They must return all the guns, other battle gears, shoes and other personal belongings stripped from the 44 dead SAF commandos. The BBL bill must be reviewed or better still if scuttled.

It must be asked: Why blame the MILF for the Mamasapano fiasco? Does the BBL embody the alleged MILF insincerity? Will the Bangsamoro be hostile to non-Moros?

Deliberate Evasion

Who is responsible for the Mamasapano debacle? Where must the buck stop?

Among the voluminous media reports since January 26 and still going on are the facts that deliberate evasions doomed the SAF operation to get Marwan and Usman. (Read in particular: Philippine Daily Inquirer reports of January 29, 2015: SAF chief: I am responsible; February 1: SAF chief: My men still alive at noon but no reinforcements came (1) and Army, MILF harmony turns fragile (2); February 2: ‘Don’t blame the military’, AFP to submit report finding SAF leader at fault; MindaNews, February 2, 2015: In pursuit of Marwan, deaths in the marshland; and, The Philippine Star, February 3, 2015: AFP ends inquiry, clears itself on SAF deaths).

The facts: (1) Police Director Getulio Napeñas, the SAF chief, by-passed his immediate superiors in command; (2) the military had been kept in the dark until the operation had been launched and the SAF forces, pinned down, desperately needed support; and, (3) there was no coordination with the MILF. When Napeñas admitted, “I am responsible”, he meant that the buck should stop with him.

Napeñas told Arlyn de la Cruz, Inquirer correspondent at large (PDI 2/1.1 above) that “his not coordinating the operation with his superiors ­– Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, the PNP officer in charge, and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas – delayed the arrival of reinforcements, which cost the lives of his men”. He said “he just followed orders” without revealing whose orders he followed.

Reports point to suspended PNP Director Alan Purisima as the one who gave the go-signal. There are insinuations the President did. The plan to get Arwan was hatched in 2010 with Purisima in the lead role. The President in his televised address to the nation last January 28 said he had been continuously briefed about the plan. In another report, it was said he clarified that Purisima’s involvement ended on the day he was suspended by the Ombudsman.

Did Napeñas mean that because he did not coordinate with his superiors they, in turn, did not coordinate with the military? In the reports, it was the military reinforcements that arrived too late.

Had air, artillery and troop support started coming at 6 a.m. when the beleaguered SAF forces in Tukanalipao began calling, the blocking force could not have been wiped out by the MILF fighters. But the most fatal mistake was the non-coordination with the MILF according to the ceasefire agreement. Had there been coordination between the PNP-SAF and the MILF the Tukanalipao close fight – by the book, a “misencounter” – could not have happened.

The coordination between the AFP/PNP and the MILF through the AHJAG (Ad Hoc Joint Action Group) is spelled out in a Joint Communique signed on May 6, 2002. Armed encounters – okay, “misencounters” – between the military and MILF forces had always been due to “lack of coordination”.

In his article (PDI: 2/1.2 above) Karlos Manlupig cited the Army 6th Infantry Division’s spokesperson, Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, as confirming the effectiveness of the military and MILF coordination through the AHJAG. Among the many instances – from security to military operations – she mentioned seven from 2012, the latest of which was the fall of the main camp of the BIFF 2nd Division in SK Pendatun, Maguindanao, town just across Liguasan Marsh from Mamasapano.

In her report (PDI: 2/2 above), Cynthia D. Balana cited a military source who said that had the mission been coordinated with the military, the outcome would have been different because the military has many contacts in the MILF and that there had been no encounter between the Army and the MILF since 2010, “which means the MILF is faithful to the peace agreement”.

Yet, the MILF is insincere in negotiating peace; the BBL is maligned.

Inevitable Consequences

The Mamasapano mission or “Oplan Wolverine” was doomed right on the starting block. Secrecy without the necessary coordination proved suicidal. No amount of owning the responsibility, of finger-pointing, of passing the buck, of washing hands and of eulogies and honor awards could hide the betrayal of the 44 fallen SAF commandos by their superiors and others in the chain of command. As in classical tragedies, the tragic plot was irreversible.

To sum up the inevitable:

Unfamiliar with the terrain, the 80 (73 in the military report) commandos who went in were trapped. Did unfamiliarity explain why the rest of the 392-force did not enter to the rescue? In its investigative report, the military could only wonder.

The 6th ID had support and reinforcement ready by 9 a.m. But the lack of proper communications tied down the military. They could not launch artillery or air support without the precise coordinates; the troops did not have the exact location of the pinned down commandos. The military finally located the commandos to recover their corpses.

The AHJAG members were in Iligan City when contacted. They arrived at the scene together with the IMT (International Monitoring Group) at around 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. Only then was a ceasefire ordered – too late for the SAF blocking force trapped in the cornfield. Yet, firing did not cease.

The SAF supreme commanders could only blame themselves. And, of course blame the MILF jointly with the outraged of the government and the public through the media.

The widows of the slain are now crying for justice.

Understanding Mamasapano

Among the few open-minded, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte commented on the Mamasapano incident in simple clear common sense (Luwaran, February 1, 2015: Government violated peace deal: Mayor Duterte). He said:

He, as part of the government, used the “tayo” or “we” point of view. “Pumasok ang SAF sa isang territory ng MILF, which in the first place, hindi tayo dapat pumasok. How can you correct that? Ikaw ay pumasok sa bahay ng isang tao, hindi ka naman imbitado. This is covered by a document signed by the Republic of the Philippines.”

Understanding the MILF view: “Sasabihin nila, kayo ang pumasok dito, kayo ang naghahanap ng away. May kasulatan tayo na hindi kami papasok dyan at huwag kayo papasok dito until after the peace process has been completed and there is a formula for peace already.”

In a nutshell: Despite their agreement to mutually respect each other’s home, the government entered the MILF house looking for a fight. So, fight it got.

While understanding the MILF, Duterte also blamed it together with the government. But instead of maligning the BBL and joining the voices to abort it, he urged that it be passed expeditiously. Meantime Government and MILF must “sort out things” and in response to the cry for justice, let justice fall on whom it should.

The Burden on the Congress

Members of the Senate and the House of Representative immediately responded with anger. They questioned the sincerity of the MILF in negotiating peace with the government and the wisdom of creating the Bangsamoro. The final hearings of the BBL in both Houses were partially suspended.

In the latest reports, the final hearings will remain suspended until the AFP and the PNP can submit their investigation reports. Monday, February 9, is the new deadline. These will weigh heavily on the fate of the BBL.

Ad Hoc Committee on BBL Chair Rufus Rodriguez said, “The report is crucial to help members make a decision on the BBL. Without the facts, we cannot move forward. There is a strong feeling among members for justice and more sincerity on the part of the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) to cooperate and return the firearms they took away from our SAF.” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, February 2, 2015: Lawmakers want full report on massacre by Monday) (Bold italics ours)

The legislators, we believe, will ascertain from the military and police reports the culpability of the MILF to bolster, rather than change, their present thinking based on media reports. The BBL should be deliberated according the wordings and construction of its provisions. Why tie it to their perceptions of the sincerity of the MILF based on the Mamapasano incident that, in the first place, was launched without coordinating with the MILF according the long-existing, trustworthy agreement? It doesn’t augur well!

The Senate and House leaderships have given the assurance that support for the BBL has not changed and it will be passed as recently schedule – the House, by the end of March. How binding is the assurance to the individual senators and representatives? How the Mamapasano fever has influenced their judgment, especially the uncommitted, will be seen during the plenary debates and the voting. In the Senate, two have withdrawn their sponsorship of SB 2804. Statements to the press of some others were not reassuring.

Even without Mamapasano, the BBL is being saddled with constitutional issues. After the final hearing of her committee on constitutional amendments, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said, “The BBL cannot be passed as a mere piece of legislation at the Senate. It has to be done by revision or amendments” of the Constitution to pave way for the creation of a Bangsamoro government.

Under this circumstance, the BBL will be passed by a two-third vote of all members of each House of the Congress, not by a simple majority of the quorum; and, it will be ratified in a national plebiscite, not just by the Bangsamoro constituent core areas. If this happens, the BBL will have to leap over very high hurdles. However, if the leaderships can have the BBL passed by simple majority, the questions of constitutionality and plebiscite may be elevated to the Supreme Court. Hope remains alive.

But if the vote count will show that BBL is brought down in either or both the Senate and the House by the Mamapasano fever, it will be the innocent victim of the misadventure of the PNP-SAP and no hope can be expected from the Supreme Court. The aftermath will be enigmatic.

(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