PEACETALK. Why hold the Bangsamoro Basic Law hostage to the Mamasapano inquiry?

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/18 Feb) — Government policy on “the primacy of the peace process” cannot be run down or its continuity turned around without addressing the root causes of violence. A criminalization-pronged policy means to class Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as unrepresentative group defying the will of the majority population. This would prove to draw away MILF from the negotiating table and attract those engaged in using force for violent politics with the support of close-knit communities.

In an ironic sense, to equate the key dynamics of legislation with coercive “criminal interdiction” is not to repel the global power magnet of extremists. Violent armed groups many of whom are interested in the perpetuation of the Mindanao armed conflict combined with other forms of organized crimes that drive(Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) apoplectic. This security-pronged policy and the separatist veto sow seeds of war.

Congressional inquiry into the commando gun battle at Mamasapano that claimed the lives of 18 MILF mujahideens and 44 Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police (PNP-SAF) has but highlighted operational tactics of armed services pursuing law enforcement. It is a misnomer to tag “it” a “misencounter” which takes place between friendly forces. “Whodunit?” is trite. It is a distortion, a distortion indeed, to label it a “massacre”. This anti-terrorism operation against high-value targets like Marwan and Usman has further given evidence to varying US-backed security doctrine of peacebuilding mission and anti-terror enforcement.

Presidential instruction intrinsically accompanies what is called “actionable intelligence”. President Aquino can always invoke executive privilege in the ongoing legislative investigation. Congress has an oversight responsibility to the Commander in Chief. It can invite the President (and Cabinet members) to the House Question Hour to explain what the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is seeking for truth in the battle for peace. After all the Secretary of Defense Gazmin, AFP Chief of Staff Catapang, suspended and recently resigned Philippine National Police Director General (PNP DG) Purisima and OIC PNP DG Espina have offered unsatisfactory explanations with extraordinary display of emotions and shedding of tears.

At the Senate inquiry, representativeness of Filipino citizens of Islamic faith looked pathetic glaring in publicity before TV cameras: no single Muslim voice and singular discourse. Articulations of Senator Marcos served to hold in abeyance the passage of BBL. How can he push for a BBL that will command the allegiance of all? That, too, has reverberated Marcosian archetypes conspiracy (say, never again to Jabidah massacre!) against Bangsamoro and amid rumors of upheaval at the power center.

Mindanao’s first Cardinal Quevedo admonished to defer hearing the BBL until “wiser minds” can deliberate on the draft bill. Cardinal Tagle of Manila who perhaps relished more the success of the recent Papal Visit has lent support to the overall pro-peace line. Albeit the overt security of Pope Francis, how come anti-peace process cynics managed to foster distrust and block the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). Assassination plot against the Pope linkingMarwan is what’s thickening the backdrop to the Mamasapano story. The Vatican Security, however, cited the report of sacked SAF director Napenas on the alleged assassination plot as “unfounded.”

Meanwhile, anecdotal reporting goes on to portray the dramatis personae yet social media does little to present MILF peace partners in a benign light. It is far from a coherent picture in the press along with narrative of explanations that could restore the basis of mutual trust.

There is lack of trust in Congress because not all members can be confided with state secrets. What is more high-handed than Senator Santiago curtailing Iqbal’s right to respond to one truth? How about Senator Escudero curtly cautioning OPPAP Secretary Deles when she was “trying hard” to shed light on the MILF side? Saying “marunong na sila” (they know), this chauvinist lawmaker sarcastically added: “if they can enter into an agreement”. Arrogance at corridors of central power, in effect, left no room for Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) chairman Iqbal to tread along pragmatism of the political path.

We know by now that at the negotiation table legal thinking and counseling became less viable in those Government-MILF-Facilitator executive sessions. This modality moved the peace process until (Government peace panel) Chairman Leonen got appointed to the Supreme Court which prompted changes in interpretive frames and construction. The error of their analysis was in my view compatibility of MILF panel appointments to BTC. It was an approach designed to preclude “constructive ambiguity” by fixing proximate “back-channel” facilitation. Negotiators overnight can become postmodernist believing there are many “truths” or narratives. This mode of discourse surfaced at the Senate hearing.

Internal arguments held out MILF top leaders to take their own counsel over contested constitutional issues. Amid the decommissioning tough talks, our Study Group discerned it as a powerful lever to keep up the struggle and look into where we are going in the next decades to end the cycle of violence and participate in the electoral process. A fait accompli that worked to remove contentious issues from the agenda of BTC required on the part of GPH legal due diligence within “the flexibilities of the Constitution.” And a communication strategy was envisaged to sway Congress even though there may be disagreements with the subjective and political framing of their legal reasoning.

Can this be the hallmark gender-sensitivity trend to the new thinking of conflict transformation for the Deles-Ferrer tandem in partnership for peace with Iqbal? At least, there was a humanitarian dimension to the remarks of Senator Grace Poe (presiding) and Senator Pia Cayetano (probing) about “mothers and children of armed conflict” that somewhat mitigated the bereavement of widows of the fallen SAF (and orphans of the MILF/BIFF combatants, too)?

Important questions about MILF revolutionary status alarmed some legislators. Yet the jurist-minded Senator Santiago put “failure of coordination” informed by the gnawing gaps between AFP and PNP as the catalytic crisis. And her expose of coup plotters remind us that some past gruesome episodes were attributed to coup attempts led by colonels now sitting solons. Military revisionist policy came out of Senator Honasan’s doctrinal comments and Trillanes’ queries on operational lapses. Transforming the military profession into a “constabulary force” when contextualzed in BBL is by no means out of date.

The current setback in GPH-MILF peace process underlines the revolutionary path that MILF has as preferred reference. This is clearly stated in the Letter of Chairman Al Haj Murad to Rep. Rodriquez dated December 29, 2014. Why? The change has to be in the way Congress regarded MILF, because Islamic resistance is not averse to risk should the state security line pursued by Senator Legarda take its course at the International Court of Justice (ICC). Be careful with what your honors embrace for the security force: there is no text without practical context. MILF leaders would have to respond to a political agenda that is not of their undoing.

My take is that questions about operational time-log in terms of “prior coordination” have shifted the directional changes at Government-MILF Peace Process. By this, we are able to distinguish precisely between policing (PNP) and soldiering (AFP) roles.

Talks of token decommissioning can easily become merely “a political ploy” for the approval of BBL. The MILF could wait fully armed while the Annex on Normalization of FAB and CAB hinges on this core issue. At this juncture, there should be sufficient basis for the legal opinion of Secretary of Justice De Lima that MILF is a “non-state actor”. As an advocate and interlocutor for MILF, my sense is that new political possibilities denied to Bangsamoro people in the context of the armed struggle are paved with logical outcome for the right to general amnesty.

A defining phase in MILF leadership thinking continues to adhere to IHL (International Humanitarian Law), Protocols II and III including R2P (Right to Protect). This is an important point for Transitional Justice and Reconciliation. Under customary IHL, we can refer to Rule 49 of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) compilation. And thus, it is permitted: “The parties to the conflict may seize military equipment to an adverse party as war booty.” This corresponds to “ghanima” in Shari’a law. Just the same (as in the 2007 and 2011 Al-Barka encounters) MILF leaders have promised to return captured firearms for confidence building measures.

Armed struggle provides a cutting edge without which the Government-MILF agreed mechanism for the “criminal interdiction” of international terrorists would not be at issue. I recall telling General Ermita (then Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita) and Secretary Dureza (then government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF) while crafting the Joint Communique of March 2002 that “the term ‘interdiction’ underpins almost a Catholic sanction of excommunication”. Mechanisms for peacekeeping and police actions (with intervening or supervening events) were signed to ensure that the peace process is not adversely affected by the presence of criminal syndicates or groups in Mindanao.

The MILF is a homegrown Islamic resistance movement that has gone through a series of phases, during which the role of armed struggle was to lose primacy in search of a politically negotiated settlement. The minimum conditions for “general cessation of hostilities” put forward by MILF leaders in 1997 exemplify the absolutist resistance standpoint: prior coordination of forces and law enforcement.

Behind the changing nature of the conflicts between the Nation-States and Armed Non-State Actors that are amenable to negotiation or compromise are deeply-rooted issues of identity. The BBL is only one of the three phases in the Road Map toward negotiated political settlement of the Bangsamoro Question.   The BBL is a tractable enactment over ancestral land, resources, political power-sharing formulations negotiated with “armed non-state actors” (ANSA) are parts of the framing and referencing process following the 2008 Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) controversy.

Senator Cayetano’s harshest criticisms of MILF already missed the point about referencing for self-determination at the endpoint of decolonization. This lawmaker whose constituency includes Muslims residing in Taguig-Pateros has not moved “all that far” from elite traditional nationalist assumptions. Here is my unsolicited advice for his turnabout optics. Withdrawal of sponsorship of BBL does not much provide opposition form of insurrectional politics or strategic “tools” for shaping legislative reasoning.

Why has President Aquino failed to certify BBL to Congress as a priority bill if he is committed to it as an urgent piece of legislation? Dynamic persistent identity-related issues in intra-state conflicts are charged with powerful emotions and irrational impulses. [To be Continued]

(Datu Michael O. Mastura is Mastura is President of the Sultan Kudarat Islamic Academy. He was a member of the 1971 Constitutional Convention, and served as Congressman of the 1st district of Maguindanao from 1987 to 1995. He served as senior member of the MILF peace panel and chairs its Advocacy Committee. He contributes analyses and commentaries to MindaNews.)