By Ernie Reyes | InterAksyon.com
MANILA - The controversy over the killing of 44 members of the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) in Mamasapano has "completely demolished" the timetable for deliberations on the Bangsamoro Basic Law, Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., said Wednesday.
He said serious issues on certain provisions in the bill were bad enough; the absence of Moro Islamic LiberationFront leaders from Senate hearings on the Jan. 25 Mamasapano mission is not helping the process any.
He described the status of the bill as now in “coma” following the two-day absence of MILF peace panel chief Mohagher Iqbal from hearings being conducted by the Senate committee on public order chaired by Senator Grace Poe.
‘’I am afraid the timetable is completely demolished; that is the only word I can use because there are so many inquiries that still need to be conducted. There are nine entities that are conducting this investigation,” Marcos said.
He added that the Senate is also hearing a proposal to create a Truth Commission, which he thinks “should be the overarching body and take the results of all the investigation and come up with a single report on what exactly happened."
Referring to the statement made by some House leaders that the BBL is dying, Marcos remarked, “I don’t know about dying, but it is in a coma.”
Marcos chairs the Senate committee on local government, the main committee hearing the BBL, which caps the long peace process that is hoped to put an end finally to 18 years of insurgency by the MILF, which began as a breakaway group from the Moro National LIberation. The MNLF in 1996 signed a peace agreement with the Ramos administration, establishing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The BBL is seen to replace the ARMM with a Bangsamoro political entity thaht, like ARMM, will also have to be subjected to a plebiscite.
The constitutional issues on the provisions of the BBL were delegated to the Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes and laws, chaired by Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago. Initial hearings she conducted had retired jurists warning of serious constitutional complications if the BBL version as it stands is not changed.
Sponsors of the bill acknowledged their difficulty in winning support for it - there was overwhelming support for the peace process, but the BBL bill is something else, they were told - and such a tough hurdle has been made worse by the killing of the 44 SAF men.
Marcos earlier suspended the hearings on BBL pending the result of the Senate public order committee hearing on the Mamasapano incident.
The hearing will resume on Thursday with “men on the ground, the survivors” as resource persons.
She said other resource persons who attended the first two hearings have also been invited.
Subpoena on Iqbal?
Poe said Iqbal should attend the hearing to give the MILF side on the incident.
Asked what are the Senate's options if MILF leaders again do not show up, Poe said the Senate would issue a subpoena against Iqbal.
“Hindi naman tayo pwedeng balewalain ng grupong ito kahit sabihin pa nila na sila ay revolutionary government—‘pag hindi natin sila binigyan ng sanction sa hindi pagsunod ng batas, ibig-sabihin inutil ang gobyerno natin. Hindi naman tayo pwedeng pumayag sa ganyan,” she said.
Iqbal, in a letter to Poe, said he would go to the Senate only after the MILF special investigation commission (SIC) comes out with its findings on the encounter which would be the basis of his testimony before the Senate.
‘’Please be assured that the MILF is fully committed as the Senate in the search for truth and justice. While we may have signed a peace agreement with the Philippine government after 18 years of intermittent war and negotiations that peace agreement ha s yet to be implemented. Until the peace agreement is fully implemented we will remain to be a revolutionary organization,’’ Iqbal said.
This statement has alarmed senators, with Marcos asking the government to consider the possibility of reviewing its peace policy with the group.
The ‘’Fallen 44’’ had a firefight with the MILF, its breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and armed private groups at Mamasapano, Maguindanao last Jan. 25 as the SAF was deployed to apprehend international terrorist Marwan and his Filipino cohort, the bomb-maker Abdul Basit Usman.
Marcos suggested that peace negotiators also bring into the peace process the BIFF and other armed groups so that comprehensive peace could finally come to Mindanao.
‘’The first step is for the government to work on reinvigorating the trust and confidence of the people behind the peace process. People have become less tolerant of the MILF,’’ Marcos said.
Marcos said BBL is not the “magic pill” that the Filipino people expect in solving the peace and order situation in Mindanao.
Marcos said the bill contains “glaring weaknesses” and it is time for the people, especially those in the government and even of the MILF side, to find alternative ways on seeking peace in Mindanao.
Issues hounding BBL process
He expressed concern over what he saw as the lack of good faith on the part of the MILF leadership, the absence of mechanisms that expedite coordination between the government and the rebel group, issues on the chain of command, and questions on BBL's constitutionality.
“All of these things point to the glaring weakness in that whole process. As you asked the way forward is to take a change of perspective and not think only BBL. People had counted BBL as the solution, the be-all and end-all. [As if all problems cease once BBL is passed. But it seems that's not the case]," Marcos said.
“Had the House subjected the BBL for voting today, the proposal would have encountered a vote of 'no support' from legislators,” Marcos said, noting that legislators from both Houses feel that so many questions still remain unanswered.
Marcos said lawmakers are questioning, for one, why the national government would fund the Bangsamoro juridical entity from the funds coming from other local government units; the issue of “power sharing”, administrative problems; and who will be in control of the police forces to be assigned in Bangsamoro-declared territories.
These issues, if not clarified, would result in chaos when the bill becomes law, Marcos said.
“Those of us who had invested in working towards this peace, we are in a very difficult situation in trying to find the ways to move the process forward,” Marcos said.
Drilon: MILF should show up
Senate President Franklin Drilon agreed that the absence of the MILF leadership in the investigation “does not help any our effort to pass the BBL.”
“I strongly suggest na they be part of the process of rebuilding confidence between the two partners. Hindi pwedeng gobyerno lamang, dapat ang MILF ay ating partners in peace. They should do their share in building confidence in the peace that admittedly has suffered because of this incident,” Drilon said in an ambush interview with reporters.