By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez and Ernie Reyes | InterAksyon.com
MANILA, Philippines – Congress has suspended all hearings on the adoption of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, a requirement for the eventual creation of a new Bangsamoro entity that is part of the plan to achieve lasting peace in Mindanao.
The decision of both Houses of Congress followed a “mis-encounter” in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao with members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that killed 50 members of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Forces Sunday. The MILF is the body that is negotiating with the Philippine government.
Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. made the decision for the Senate when on Monday he suspended all remote hearings for the BBL.
“I decided to suspend indefinitely all discussions and hearings related to the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law until this is clarified. We cannot in conscience proceed with these hearings while a cloud of serious doubt hangs over the security situation in the south. A peace agreement cannot be legislated under the threat of such extreme violence. Violence has no room in a civilized society,” he said.
Marcos, who chairs the Senate Committee on Local Government, also strongly condemned the use of violence by the MILF against government forces who were on the hunt against suspected international terrorists believed to be hiding inside one of the camps of the Muslim rebel group.
“I condemn the dastardly massacre,” Marcos said in a statement.
Reports said PNP-SAF members were sent to the area to serve warrants of arrest against Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir, known as “Marwan,” in barangay Tukanalipao and Basit Usman, a Jemaah Islamiyah bomb-making expert.
Von Al Haq, vice chairman for military affairs of the MILF, said the SAF team did not coordinate with the proper authorities before they entered the area.
Al Haq defended the action of the MILF saying the action of the SAF was a clear violation of the peace agreement between the Philippine government and the MILF.
To which, Marcos said SAF was given a legitimate mission and even without coordination, the MILF could have easily arranged to talk with the SAF.
“I condemn the use of violence by the MILF. They signed a peace agreement with the government, and therefore, the MILF is already a partner of government. Hence, even without coordination, they should have exercised great patience and caution. Those police officers were there to arrest a terrorist. They were just doing their jobs. The fact that they were not carrying loads of ammunition show that they are not there for a fight. It was not an attack on the MILF. Lethal force was clearly not necessary,” Marcos adds.
“I am anxious to hear from the MILF leadership as to how we move forward from this. This MILF attack on government forces is a major obstacle to the long and lasting peace we have been working for in Muslim Mindanao,” he said.
House adopts Biazon call to postpone BBL discussions
At the House of Representatives, the ad hoc committee on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) adopted the resolution of Muntinlupa Representative Rodolfo Biazon to suspend discussions on some provisions of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) following the clash in Maguindanao.
Biazon filed House Resolution 1834 urging the ad hoc committee on the BBL to put on hold the hearings, particularly on the provisions on national defense, security and public order "until after the submission of reports by appropriate government bodies on recent incidents of violence in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)."
Biazon, former chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said the reports should contain among others, a determination of the elements of the government involved in the incidents, the dissident group, and violations of existing laws and ceasefire agreements.
According to the lawmaker, the report will be important to the ad hoc committee in its discussions of the proposed BBL on the following: fragmentation of powers and authorities on national defense and security and public order; creation of a separate AFP Command in the autonomous region; authority of the Chief Minister over the Philippine National Police as compared to the existing constitutional provisions on the powers of the local chief executives; and the shape of the normalization provisions.
The clash between the PNP-Special Action Force and the MILF over the weekend left at least 50 dead, reports said.
The ad hoc committee of the House of Representatives is about to wind up on its hearings on the proposed measure.
Deadlines will be affected
Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez, chairman of the ad hoc committee said discussions on the four key issues would not be resumed "unless we get an explanation from the four agencies."
"We are calling for a full-blown investigation on why this occurrence happened ...we expect them to act soonest to bring those responsible to justice," Rodriguez said.
He said the ad hoc committee expects the investigation on the incident to finish on February 2.
Rodriguez acknowledged that the suspension of the discussions was a setback and could affect the target deadline for the approval of the proposed measure in the House. Congress leaders earlier said the proposed BBL should be approved by March.
"Certainly, the death of the policemen and other innocent persons is a setback because how can we proceed with all these threat happening?" he said.
Zamboanga Representative Celso Lobregat, one of the lawmakers critical to the proposed measure, said the incident prompted the committee to put on hold the discussions.
"After the incident, we can't say it's business as usual," Lobregat said.
‘Big blow to Mindanao peace process’
In a separate statement, the Philippines Chapter of the International League of Peoples' Struggle (ILPS-Phils) said the incident would be a "big blow to the Mindanao peace process," adding that it showed the lack of sincerity of the Aquino government toward genuine peace in the region.
"The mere fact that government troops entered the area of the MILF without even coordinating with it despite prior GPH-MILF peace negotiations is proof of treachery," ILPS-Phils secretary general Norma Biñas said.
"President Aquino, as Commander-in-Chief, and local government Secretary Mar Roxas, with his jurisdiction over the Philippine National Police and its elite Special Action Force (SAF), should explain the armed aggression on the Moro people," Biñas added.
Mohagher Iqbal, Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief negotiator, said the clash was triggered by lack of coordination on the SAF operation.
The ILPS-Phils also warned of a humanitarian crisis as thousands of civilians are evacuating the battlefield fearing more clashes between assaulting government troops and fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), joined by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).