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Lynda Jumilla: And joining us for this part of the special, Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Local Government, which is tackling and sponsoring the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law. Senator Marcos, good evening Sir.
Sen. Bongbong: Good evening, Lynda.
Jumilla: Thank you for joining us. You’ve had two days of very interesting hearings, some of the highlights today. Tell us your impressions. What has gone so far in the Senate hearings? Has everybody been forthright about their role in the Mamasapano planning?
Sen. Bongbong: Well we have cast light on some things and some things remain confusing. Today what confronted us was this letter coming from Chairman Iqbal which was rather alarming at least in my view. They were saying that they are a revolutionary organization and will remain so until the organization of the Bangsamoro government. That sounds to me, a little bit like saying, we are going to continue to fight the government unless you pass the BBL. There's a tinge of threat there that I found a bit alarming because we are trying all our best to find a solution to the fighting and the war in Mindanao, we have declared a ceasefire. We’ve done everything that we can and now here we hear from the chairman that tuloy pa rin ang laban nila sa gobyerno. Unfortunately, Chairman Iqbal for the second day did not show up and so we could not ask him. There were representatives of the MILF there but they immediately qualified their presence and that anything they say is not official. So we have to wait for Chairman Iqbal.
This has cast doubt, I think, first because of the massacre of the 44 SAF but the trust of the people in the process, I’m not talking about individuals but in the process has been severely undermined. And that is something that we have to try and restore. That was the very first thing we were confronted with today. Then the other thing that I think is very clear is that the chain of command in the PNP was in tatters, was completely ignored and up to now we cannot understand why General Purisima as a suspended officer was in the middle of the planning and implementation of the plan. He was arranging meetings, he was giving what he calls “advise” but they were taken by his junior officers as orders dahil maliwanang para sa kanila order. You know Napenas for example, his entire police career, Purisima has been his senior officer. Sir nya yan mula ng naging 2nd Lieutenant siya Sir na niya yan. Kaya pag inutusan siya, susundan niya. And the fact that he was even giving advice is already a violation of his suspension. So clearly on the PNP side, the chain of command was bypassed, was completely violated. The question as to why for example, his former second in command, Gen. Espina, sinabi niya huwag mo munang sabihin sa dalawa. Ako na ang bahala kay Catapang. Yon ang sinabi niya kay Napenas. So yung dalawa is General Espina, who was then Acting Chief PNP and SILG Mar Roxas. What is possible reason for leaving them out of the loop? And he said because he wanted to maintain operational security, the secrecy of it. Bakit hindi mo pinagkakatiwalaan ang second in command mo? Hindi mo pinagkakatiwalaan ang secretary of DILG? That is a very strange thing to say.
That’s on the one side. I was going to continue asking him as to why, if he was not part of the planning and implementation, why was he at these meetings? Why was he initiating these meetings? Why were there briefings in the palace that he brought Napenas to and obviously was in the middle of everything while he was suspended? And again, the mystery of why he felt the need to leave out DILG secretary Mar and Gen. Espina of the planning and implementation or basically out of the loop? I can’t think of any reason, good or bad, why they would have to do that.
Jumilla: Just on the point of, you said the chain of command and the procedures are in tatters at the PNP, did you have any research or is there a law that would prohibit General Purisima from exercising any kind of function, even in an advisory capacity as he described it, at the time of his suspension?
Sen. Bongbong: Well he was ordered by the Ombudsman to be suspended because he has a case pending and the suspension specifically is that you do not perform your functions in your position because you are suspended. And he was operating as if he was still the sitting Chief PNP. That caused confusion also down. He also said ako na ang bahala kay Catapang. And so that was going to be the coordination between the PNP SAF and the AFP. He only told Gen. Catapang about the operation 5 in the morning, nagpuputukan na. Having usurped that authority that he was suspended from, he then did not do what he was supposed to do to coordinate before the fact para naman nakahanda rin yung AFP. How this was allowed to happen? Rhat’s why I asked Gen. Napenas why did you follow the so called advice and really what gave Gen. Purisima this blanket authority? I wanted to know, that’s why I keep saying that I think it is time that the President make very clear exactly what his role was in all of this.
Ang pwede lang mag authorize kay Gen. Purisima gumalaw ng ganito ay mas mataas sa kaniya. Wala nang mas mataas kay Gen. Purisima kundi ang presidente. So how did that work exactly? Bakit susunod ang mga tao ng PNP sa mga advice ni Gen. Purisima e dahil may imprimatur ng mas mataas. Sinong mas mataas kay Gen. Purisima, maybe the SILG but clearly he was out of the loop. The question still remains but the conclusion is unavoidable, the chain of command was completely violated. They did not follow the usual protocols that are well accepted and have been there for hundreds of years in any kind of military or police organization. So that was one thing that came out very clearly and was brought out in today’s hearings.
Jumilla: Let us go to the letter of MILF chairman Iqbal when you said all of you were taken aback by the tone by which he said it. He said the MILF remains a revolutionary organization. Operationally what was your understanding of it? Does it mean that at this point, and Prof. Ferrer said, the ceasefire has been broken does that mean that there might a resumption of hostilities soon between the two?
Sen. Bongbong: I sincerely hope not. But if you come at it from the perspective that we are still fighting then we not only have to take a step back but many many steps back and I said the country is crying out for assurance as to the sincerity of the MILF in this entire process. There is also the question of the connection between the MILF and the BIFF. It is very difficult, the MILF continued to assert that they are completely different organizations. But this is very hard to resolve with the facts on the ground. There are hundreds of armed men who are encamped less than a kilometer away from your own encampment. You do not allow hundreds of armed men to sit at your doorstep unless you have an arrangement with them or you have some kind of an agreement with them or you are together. The commander of the BIFF was a former commander of MILF. That’s why there is so much doubt in people’s minds.
And then the fact that he didn’t appear for the last two days is a basic question, are you really sincere in trying to get to the bottom of this. I had suggested previously, one of which is the return of the firearms, equipment and the personal effects of the fallen cops. I thought this would be something very easy. It is 15 days until we have gotten their agreement to do that and yet even after their promise of today they can not tell us how many, what exactly do they have, where is it, they have no answer to the news that we hear that the items taken off from the dead policemen are being sold in the market pati presyo bawat bagay. All of this again brings a cloud over the entire process and the trust that we had slowly gained for the MILF I’m afraid for the most part has evaporated.
Jumilla: What can the MILF do to assure, at least on your part the Senators who will be deliberating on the proposed BBL, what can they do to regain that?
Sen. Bongbong: My concern is that you cannot have this peace process unless the populace that are watching, the Filipino people are behind it. You must have their support. And it is not for the senators or for the legislators or for the officials in govt. and for me the confidence building measures are to show people that in fact they are sincere and I had proposed 1) the return of arms, equipment and personal effects of the dead policemen and 2) bring us Usman because we all know that they were in the encampment.
Jumilla: Is that something that they acknowledged, Usman was there with them at that time?
Sen. Bongbong: It is not in their area, it is in the BIFF area but it was in the general populace, it is not very clear. But again, if our military knew exactly where they were surely they did too. Having said that, what is Marwan and Usman, terrorists, doing in your camp? The warrants of arrest have been outstanding for years and in the hearing it came out that there had been 10 operations against Marwan. None of them successful or rather 9 of them were unsuccessful because they had coordinated with the MILF that they were going to come in to get Marwan. The one time that they did not tell the MILF that they were coming after Marwan was last January and they got Marwan. At a great cost, but they got Marwan. Then again, this relationship between the BIFF and the MILF is a glaring sore in the entire process. Kung yung mga pulis napasok sa kampo nila, pinagpapapatay nila. E bakit yung BIFF nasa loob ng kampo nila hindi nila ginagalaw.
It is just very hard to resolve the facts on the ground and some of the things they said. Another thing that came out in the hearing today was that the mechanism for avoiding this kind of encounter simply doesn’t work. There was a gap from the very first time the govt panel tried to contact the MILF side of the peace panel to bring a stop to the fighting, it was 11 hours. How many men died in those 11 hours? From the time that they tried to contact the MILF until the time there was actually a ceasefire was 11 hours. Just to get in touch with the MILF I think took 4 or 5 hours. Perhaps the technology is not up to what we are demanding of it, I don’t know but what we have to do is find a system where it is almost instantaneous. Our side could not find their counterparts in the MILF side. When they had found them they went into the MILF camp and they talked to the commander even then it took another 5 hours before there was a ceasefire. All of these things point to the glaring weaknesses 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. Basta’t ipasa yung BBL tapos ang problema natin. Mukhang hindi ganon.
Jumilla: Before we go to the other means forward, how do we proceed from here? What are the chances of BBL now? We know that even before the Mamasapano tragedy there are a lot of questions already on constitutionality, on the kind of powers that are being given to the Bangsamoro officials , the territory or the set up. But after the Mamasapano tragedy what’s in store for the BBL?
Sen. Bongbong: Well it's hard to tell, I have no crystal ball, but all I can say that if you took a vote in the Senate and in the House today, it would not pass. I heard the pronouncement of Speaker Belmonte where he outright declared that BBL is dying a slow death in the House. In the Senate I’m afraid that the situation is very similar. Again, we have to rethink everything we had assumed and come at this process from the beginning again. Is the BBL in fact what we had hoped for it to be? Will it help solve all the problems we hoped it was going to solve? Again you mentioned there are those constitutional problems to begin with. There are administrative problems, there are questions on power sharing and now what became highlighted by the Mamasapano massacre is that “what is this about the Bangsamoro police” people are now asking. What exactly was the Bangsamoro police supposed to be? They are all shocked to find out that the Bangsamoro police are going to be the decommissioned fighters of the MILF. There is a possibility that some of the fighters who were involved in the killing of our SAF troopers will become police? How is that going to work? I don’t know that the PNP will accept that. That is not going to be a workable situation so what do we do now? Even in terms of local government there are problems because of the wealth sharing, the kind of budgets that they are getting. The other LGUs are questioning why should we pay for Bangsamoro? And then now the question that follows that after Mamasapano, is why should we pay if that is what they are going to do? 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.
Jumilla: Before the Mamasapano tragedy happened, did you already have timelines as to when the BBL could possibly be approved in the Senate at least. I know that you will be going into recess next month, March 20, and come back on May 4 and then that’ll be cine die end of the third regular session of Congress. But were you hoping, as some people in govt were hoping, that could be passed within that time?
Sen. Bongbong: We were working towards a timetable. Essentially, the hard deadline was the May 2016 elections and the insistence by the palace that the elections for the Bangsamoro govt be conducted at the same time on May 2016. Working our way back, we really had to get that all done and Comelec said it would need 6 to 8 months to prepare for the plebiscite. So working back on that, not yet taking into account the constitutional challenges, if we had been able to finish it by March 18, the last day of session when we could vote on anything and the last time for the session that we could pass anything, then it would just about scrape time (?) but 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 9 entities that are conducting this investigation, we are in the midst of forming the truth commission which in my view should be the overarching body and take the results of all the investigations and come up with a single report on what exactly happened.
Jumilla: So you said that BBL is not anymore the magic pill, the solution that the govt has envisioned it to be insofar as peace in Mindanao is concerned and you said let us widen our perspective and look at other things. What do you think would be a good alternative or a parallel effort to continue with the peace process?
Sen. Bongbong: To continue with the peace process, well first of all we have to find out what happened and then we have to regain that trust, not only for the senators, legislators, people in govt. but of the people. As you can imagine, I am sure you get the same thing the comments we are getting have become more and more or less and less tolerant. You have to question whether BBL was the magic simply because this happened. Clearly it’s not going to completely solve all our problems because this happened. So we really have to go back and examine our assumptions and see if tama ba. Because that letter today really shook me to the core because what they said in that letter is that they will remain a revolutionary organization is actually completely contradictory to what was being said in the hearings. In the hearings I asked about the decommissioning process and they said it’s already began. And now we hear all kinds of report even that there are bomb factories in the encampments of MILF that there are weapons factories. All these kinds of things. So again we really have to look back what we had taken as given. When we began the hearings for BBL we had to reexamine again and that’s why it has become a much more complicated question than it was to begin with.
Jumilla: Senator Marcos, thank you for giving your time with us today and your impressions of what’s going on so far.
Sen. Bongbong: Thank you.