Interview with Tina Monzon Palma on ANC’s World Tonight

TMP: There’s one good thing that’s coming out of  the whole fiasco that is the Mamasapano operation. It made Filipinos realize the importance of the peace process and make them pay attention to the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law. Those are actually the words of Sen. Grace Poe after she made public the Senate report on the Mamasapano operation.

The probe into that operation has put a stop to the deliberations into the Bangsamoro bill. And now that the Senate has wrapped up its investigation, the question is where does the Senate go from here?

To give us answers to that question, we have with us in the studio Sen. Bongbong Marcos. He is the chair of the Senate local government committee where the Bangsamoro Basic Law is being discussed. Thank you for finding time.

Sen. Bongbong: Oh, good evening Tina.

TMP: Good evening po. Okay, we’ll start by asking you that after the report came out, what are your next steps? You said you will wait for the Senate report and the Board of Inquiry. Both are out, what do you do now?

Sen. Bongbong: Actually, I’ve already scheduled a hearing during the recess on some of the issues that were raised during the Senate inquiry into the Mamasapano. However, we cannot proceed until we get the MILF report. Because as you noticed, we have the report from the PNP, we have the report from the AFP, we have now the report from the Senate inquiry. We do not have any information from the other side of the encounter.

One thing that I have tried to focus on during the Senate inquiry was the process or the mechanism by which we have a ceasefire when there is such an encounter. If we look at the timeline of 25 January, the MILF already knew at around 5:30-6:00 o’clock in the morning that they were fighting with government forces. However, ceasefire was only declared at 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon, which is close to 11 hours. And in that 11 hours is where all of our troops were killed.

And so if we could reduce—I keep on saying that my ideal is to reduce that 11 hours to 11 minutes—if we had managed to call a ceasefire in 11 minutes, in half an hour, then we could have saved very many many lives.

TMP: Are you getting bits and pieces of what could have transpired within the 11 hours or in between 11 hours?

Sen. Bongbong: At least from the government side we have a fairly good idea of what went on. There’s still that gap where we were never able to get an answer from any of government official as to who was informing the President and what the President was doing.

And after the first information coming from Gen. Purisima at 5:30 in the morning, the next event where the President was involved in discussing the fire fight was 5:00 in the afternoon when he received a briefing. But no one seems to be able to tell us what happened in between.

TMP: But if at all the efforts on the part of the CCCH and the AHJAG, do you have an account of how they actually started the process of initiatives?

Sen. Bongbong: Yes, we have testimonies from the AHJAG of the Republic, and the AHJAG on the MILF side; the CCCH also from both sides. But what happened? They did what …and went and tried to coordinate, and actually some members of both panels went into the camps even when the fighting was still going on. But again there’s the question because one of the facts that came out was that by 11 am Goma—the commander of the 105th base or the camp where the fighting was going on—already knew that they people in front of them, the people they are fighting with, were from the PNP, and that the other people who were involved, the supporting troops, were AFP. And yet the fighting did not stop until 4:00 o’clock.

TMP: Okay, what puzzles you the most? What is the mystery in this whole effort of yours at the Senate and the Board of Inquiry? What is not being answered?

Sen. Bongbong: Very simple. What took so long? We’ll what’s not being answered right now, is—well from the MILF side—what took so long. Actually today I filed a resolution in the Senate asking the Senate to direct our peace panel to get a copy of the MILF report which they had sent to Malaysia and did not give to us despite the promises of Chairman Iqbal.

TMP: And that is a request, or is that something that you can require the panel?

Sen. Bongbong: Well, the language in the resolution is “to direct and order” our peace panel. Because, as I’ve said, Chairman Iqbal had declared that the report was—during the inquiry he said it was 90 percent finished and he would give us a copy when it was done. Instead of giving us a cop, he then said it went to Malaysia. So I’m speculating that probably he means the Monitoring Team. And when the DoJ asked for the report, he directed them and said get it from the Malaysians.

TMP: Which sounds logical?

Sen. Bongbong: Well, I don’t know that it’s……

TMP: Is it improper or not right for you and the Senate of the Philippines?

Sen. Bongbong: Because we’re in the middle of this inquiry and we cannot complete the inquiry until know what happened to both sides.

TMP: Yeah, but if you need a copy of the report which the MILF wants to just give to the Malaysian who actually are hosting our peace efforts….?

Sen. Bongbong: Yes, but the question raised is that surely the Republic of the Philippines also deserves at least a copy. Maybe not the first copy, but at least a copy.

TMP: Maybe if you can’t get it from the GP, from our panel here in the Philippines, go directly and give a cc from the Malaysian government?

Sen. Bongbong: I don’t think anyone has a copy except the one that the MILF sent to Malaysia.

TMP: When you say Malaysia, who would that be?

Sen. Bongbong: It’s not entirely clear. We have been asking and it’s not entirely clear. And that’s why I’ve written letters to everyone: the head of the Monitoring Team….

TMP: Yes, that’s the right thing to do.

Sen. Bongbong: …to Secretary De Lima, to Sec. Deles of OPAPP, to the MILF, as many people as I could think of.

TMP: Short of writing to the President and asking the President to..?

Sen. Bongbong: Asking the President to….so we’ve tried everything. And now the only thing to do is: to complete actually the inquiry we still need to have that MILF report.

TMP: Okay, you will not be able to proceed with your public hearings in the areas affected by this Bangsamoro Basic Law until you have that copy of the MILF?

BBM: The hearing that I’ve scheduled for the next month, the specific subject is precisely the ceasefire mechanisms when there is such an encounter. And there is no way we can come to any conclusions unless we have the MILF report.

We are now beginning to get the facts, and I’m quite satisfied. I believe, with Teddy Boy, that the PNP report was a very well written one. And I laud them for their independence and clear thinking that they demonstrated in the report.

The committee report of Sen. Poe—I have not yet seen the full copy. When we adjourned this afternoon, it hadn’t yet been released. I did see already an executive summary, which pretty much agrees with the main points—maybe in the details not so much—but in the main points, with the PNP report.

So, on the government side we have a fair idea of what happened. Now we need to know what happened on the MILF side.

TMP: Should the Malaysian government not also give you a copy, how go and how do you proceed?

Sen. Bongbong: There would be no point.

TMP: There would be no point in proceeding?

Sen. Bongbong: In having a hearing about that specific subject. Because that was the first hearing that we were going to have after resuming.

TMP: What do you want to see or what are you expecting to see in that report that would help you?

Sen. Bongbong: I have no idea what to expect.

TMP: Nothing?

Sen. Bongbong: Well, the MILF has not really given us any idea.

TMP: No idea?

Sen. Bongbong: What I would hope to find in that report would be exactly what were the mechanisms within the MILF, even including whatever contact with the BIFF or any other armed groups, to try and see what happened. And knowing that we would then be able to identify where the weak points are and strengthen those weak points; and use those lessons that we learned and put that in the form of amendments or additional provisions in the BBL so as to strengthen that mechanism.

That is critical because the whole point of the BBL is to avoid this kind of thing, this kind of incident as happened in the Mamasapano. That is central to the entire reason for having a BBL.

TMP: Okay, the House I understand has deleted some provisions already, in their initial statements to media. Is this an exercise also that your committee is going through, at this point?

Sen. Bongbong: Yes. In the Senate we’ve handled it a slightly different way than from the House.

TMP: How are you handling it?

Sen. Bongbong: We had separated subjects, especially in terms of constitutional infirmities that some people had pointed out. And what we did, because the chairman of the Constitutional Amendments (committee) is Sen. Miriam. And Sen. Miriam, I asked her to conduct hearings on those specific subjects.

And she did and she had some of the legal luminaries, our great constitutionalists, come and give their opinions.

TMP: And what areas or what provisions are….?

Sen. Bongbong: Oh, there are quite a few.

TMP: Foremost of which are?

Sen. Bongbong: One thing that came out immediately was the seeming diminution of powers of the constitutional bodies. I’m speaking of the COA, of the Comelec, and the Ombdusman’s Office as well. So I think those are the areas that the House has either completely deleted or has changed.

The other question that came out is how do we have a parliamentary, ministerial system in one area of the country where the rest of the country is unitary and republican? And so how do we do that, how does that work? Because if we look at even the United States, although they are federal the voting system is exactly the same for every single voter in that country and the way they elect the President. How do we elect the President there? Will it be, again, the same way?

TMP: Okay, the two other areas that they were looking at?

Sen. Bongbong: The other question that they raised is whether or not the mandate in the constitution to form an autonomous region in Mindanao has already been satisfied? And if it has Congress cannot, without a constitutional amendment, cannot do it by law and change that mandate.

TMP: The mandate for?

Sen. Bongbong: Well, in the constitution there are two: the CAR, which is the Cordillera Autonomous Region and ARMM. And the language in the constitution states that the First Congress after this constitution is written will then organize an autonomous region of Muslim Mindanao. That has been done and so we cannot do another one—that is one of the questions that were being discussed.

TMP: If at all there are legal luminaries debating about these, if you start you public hearings again in areas that you said that you wanted to visit, do you have an initial sense of what these people really like to happen  as far as the Bangsamoro Basic Law is concerned? Can you give me a pulse of what you actually feel and see?

Sen. Bongbong: Well, the principle of self-determination I think is central. And that is something that is well accepted by I think all folks. Our Muslim brothers have a different culture, have a different history, have a specific area, have a different law, of course religion and that should be taken into account. And that’s what self-determination should be about. And that’s why the Autonomous Regions were created.

TMP: Is that bringing the whole ancient grievances back on the table?

Sen. Bongbong: There is an element of that. When the questions are asked as to why huge sums are being handed over, or proposed to be handed over—the calculation is something like P75 to P79 every year, that is larger than the budget of the AFP, and that is a very large amount of money—without any, shall we say, conditions. And it would just be handed over to the Bangsamoro government to do as they please.

TMP: Okay. Last question: do you trust them? Do you trust these same people and the people who are supportive of the Bangsamoro Basic Law?

Sen. Bongbong: Whether or not I trust them I think is not important. What is important is whether or not the people trust the MILF. And unfortunately I have to say that the MILF have caused the general public to lose trust not only in BBL but in the entire peace process—which is another tragedy that came out of Mamasapano.

TMP: Okay, we’re starting a section in the World Tonight, a segment in the World Tonight, to crack the ideas of anybody to say something how they like the descriptions and…of the Bangsamoro Basic Law to begin even while the Mamasapano incident is still being ended.

Thank you very much Senator Bongbong Marcos for joining us in the World Tonight. You are our first guest in this segment.

Sen. Bongbong: Thank you.

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