MIND DA NEWS: BBL Cast in Limbo

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 10 Feb) – The urgent Mindanao peace measure, the Bangsamoro Basic Law bill (HB 4994, SB 2804), is not doomed; but House Ad Hoc Committee on BBL (AHCBBL) has cast it in limbo when its chair Rep. Rufus Rodriguez announced the indefinite suspension of its hearings on the remaining contentious issues. The House has targeted the end of March to pass HB 4994.

As reported in The Philippine Star (February 9, 2015: House suspends BBL hearings indefinitely) and the Philippine Daily Inquirer (February 9, 2015: House suspends BBL hearings) the hearings and deliberations will resume after the Congress has the full truth about “Operation Exodus” in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last January 25 and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has satisfactorily proven its sincerity in negotiating peace with the government.

Rodriguez said in the Star report: “We cannot meet our self-imposed deadline of endorsing our version of the BBL this month and having it passed by the House before our Lenten break next month because of this unfortunate incident in Mamasapano” – referring to the encounter between the Philippine National Police commandos and the Moro rebels last Janary25 that left 44 commandos, 18 MILF and four civilians dead.

In the Inquirer report, the hearings will be suspended “until the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) surrenders Filipino terrorist Basit Usman and its members who participated in the massacre of Special Action Force (SAF) commandos on January 25”.

The conditions to lift the indefinite suspension of the hearings cast the BBL in limbo:

First: The AHCBBL will determine the full truth about “Operation Exodus” debacle from (1) the reports of the Philippine National Police and of the Armed Forces of the Philippines; (2) the investigation of the Department of Justice to file charges against those responsible for the death of the 44 policemen; and, (3) the probes being conducted by the House and the Senate.

The PNP and AFP chiefs have already submitted their reports. The “(2)” and “(3)” having just started, they can really make the suspensions of the hearings “indefinite” gauging from how long congressional and DOJ investigations can drag on.

Second: Satisfactory proofs by the MILF of its sincerity in negotiating peace with the government can be “an exercise in futility”. (1) MILF explanations will be drowned in inveterate anti-Moro bias and prejudice. (2) MILF reports regarding the “misencounter” will have the “Chinaman’s chance” of prevailing against the PNP and AFP reports. (3) To expect the MILF to surrender Filipino terrorist Basit Usman and its members who participated in the killing of the SAF commandos is “barking at the moon”.

Both the first” and second” conditions are crucial in determining the position of the lawmakers on issues critical to the formation of the Bangsamoro police, military, defense and control of the interior secretary still pending for public hearings. These issues seen against the MILF involvement in Mamasapano, we believe, will, not just, “likely … come up in the joint hearing of House committees on public order and safety, peace, unification and reconciliation and on national defense”.

While the AHCBB has been holding closed-door sessions for the past two weeks, writing the House version after conducting 36 public hearings and consultations in Mindanao and other parts of the country, the indefinite suspension will indefinitely delay the passage of the bill. Rodriguez doubts “if we can finish our work in the committee before our annual mandatory adjournment in June. We are no longer following any deadline or timetable.”

Irony The wisdom and cautiousness of Congress must be respected. But the importance of the BBL and the Bangsamoro should be weighed against the satisfaction of the outrage the Mamasapano debacle has regrettably roused. Ironically, to cast the first in limbo is to invigorate the roots of the second – satisfying the outrage of the present is sowing more for the future.

Let’s glance back at the beginning of the Moro grievances since 1900. The Moros lost their sovereignty over Mindanao and Sulu and suffered injustices under the dominant Christian Filipinos tolerated by the Americans whom the Moros were trusting. These and the Moro struggle for freedom and justice were documented in the 1921 Sulu Petition, the 1924 Zamboanga Declaration, the 1934 Dansalan Petitions to address the grievances, and the 1935 Dansalan Declaration in response to the denial of the “Petition”.

The Manila policies and programs that perpetuated the injustices continued fueling the grievances since the establishment of the Republic in 1946. The efforts of the government to establish Autonomy for the Muslims under the Moro National Liberation Front starting from 1976 (President Ferdinand E. Marcos) to 1996 (President Corazon C. Aquino with President Fidel V. Ramos) were perceived insincere. Moro extremism in the forms of terrorism and kidnapping for ransom worsened the peace problem in Muslim Mindanao.

The 17-year negotiation with the MILF from 1997 (last two years of President Ramos) to 2014 (President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III) spanning four administrations yielded the most hopeful solution to the Moro Problem – the establishment of the Bangsamoro in which the Central Government (Christian Filipinos) will share sovereignty for the Moros to determine the Bangsamoro political, economic and social co-existence with the rest of the country in peace and justice.

The assumption in the Government-MILF agreement embodied in the BBL to establish the Bangsamoro is that once the Moro extremists would see that the Moro autonomy is right, they would abandon their arms and join the Bangsamoro in peace – thus, ending the futile efforts of the government to end Moro rebellions since Kamlon in the 1950s. The assumption is correct if pursued with sincerity.

The MILF have shown their utmost sincerity and cooperation. They sat down with the Office of the President to “refine” the BBL draft. They have commended the BBL to the wisdom of the Congress notwithstanding their desire for the Draft to have the slightest revision during the legislative process.

Yet, the MILF sincerity in negotiating peace with the government is now being questioned in the wake of the Mamasapano debacle. That is the focus of the outrage and of the AHCBBL’s indefinite suspension of the final hearings on the BBL. But on sober thought should it not be the sincerity of the government that should be questioned?

The prevention of armed encounters between the military and police on one hand and the MILF on the other is covered by the May 6, 2002 AHJAG (Ad Hoc Joint Action Group) Communique. Any military or police operation against criminal elements in MILF controlled areas must be coordinated with the MILF. The 6th Infantry Division that has jurisdiction over the six Lanao and Cotabato provinces has officially acknowledged the many successful military operations in coordination with the MILF.

In fact, some of the recent military operations were against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) whose areas of operation inter-lap with the MILF controlled areas – being a splinter group of the MILF. Marwan was with the BIFF in Mamasapano close to the MILF 105th and 108th Base Commands. The PNP-SAF chief said they did not trust the MILF – hence, the non-coordination. So the debacle! Who is insincere?

How long the BBL will remain in limbo and whether the BBL, if eventually passed, will establish the Bangsamoro which is the “right autonomy” as promised to and accepted by the Moros according to the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro will depend on whether the legislators will be or not be satisfied with the MILF sincerity.

The Congress will make the historical difference. The BBL is the bird in its hand. Let it live as it should and the Mamasapano debacle will be the last; kill or maim it and more will happen to no end.

[Author’s Note: Mind da News, the alternate of COMMENT, is a comment on current news. The author may be contacted at [email protected].]