Rappler – Marcos blasts ‘gag order’ on SAF-MILF clash

Senator Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr says he has been unable to talk to key players in the peace process to determine what really happened in the January 25 ‘misencounter.

Rappler - Marcos blasts ‘gag order’ on SAF-MILF clash

By Ayee Macaraig | Rappler

Logo_RapplerMANILA, Philippines – “We don’t need press releases. We don’t need pronouncements. We need facts.”

Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr accused the government of imposing an unofficial “gag order” on the events surrounding the clash between elite cops and Moro rebels in Maguindanao that killed 44 special police forces and 10 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) over the weekend.

The head of the Senate local government committee tackling the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) said he has been unable to talk to key players in the peace process to find out what happened in Maguindanao, and how to handle the measure in the aftermath of the incident.

“Ang mahirap kasi nagkaroon ng gag order ang gobyerno. ‘Di ko makausap si Chairman Iqbal. Hindi ko makausap ang mga PNP (Philippine National Police) commander. ‘Di na sumasagot ng tawag. There is I think although hindi siguro formal, hindi sinasabi, there seems to be a gag order and that doesn’t help because what we need to know here are facts,” Marcos told reporters on Wednesday, January 28.

(The difficulty is the government imposed a gag order. I cannot talk to Chairman Iqbal. I cannot talk to the police commanders. They are not answering my calls. There is, I think, an informal gag order).

Mohagher Iqbal is the chief peace negotiator of the MILF, which entered into a historic peace agreement with the Aquino administration last year. He is also the chairman of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, which drafted the bill.

Marcos said he was only able to get in touch with Chief Peace Adviser Teresita Quintos “Ging” Deles on Monday, but has since not reached her. He also asked Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr for information on the clash but the official did not get back to him.

The senator said the officials’ silence is counterproductive to the peace process.

“I want to ask them: how do we move forward from here and what is your view? What are you really thinking? What advice can you give us so we can now improve on the BBL and ensure this does not happen again?”

“Huwag yung mga statement lamang kundi mga facts (Don’t just issue statements but give us facts),” he lamented.

Marcos said he will not order the resumption of the Senate hearings into the BBL until officials shed light on what really happened in Maguindanao.

“The hearings are suspended until I am satisfied that we have all the facts,” he said. “We cannot move forward until we know the absolute truth.”

The BBL is a key step in the peace process between the government and the MILF as it will be the legal basis for the creation of a new autonomous region in Mindanao. Both sides aimed to have the law passed by March but Senate President Franklin Drilon said that the clash might delay the law’s passage.

‘Many questions’ for Senate probe

The Senate will begin its probe into the Maguindanao clash on February 4 under the public order committee of Senator Grace Poe. Poe and Senators Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, Jinggoy Estrada, Teofisto “TG” Guingona III, and Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito filed resolutions calling for a probe into the incident.

This early, Senator Francis Escudero said the Senate can hold an executive session, or conduct part of the inquiry behind closed doors because “some matters may be sensitive.”

While the government already created a Board of Inquiry to look into the incident, Escudero said that a congressional probe is necessary to ensure there will be “no whitewash” in the investigation.

Marcos said Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, suspended police chief Alan Purisima, and all involved in the operation should face the Senate.

He questioned Roxas’ decision to call the clash a “misencounter.”

“Kung tatanungin mo kahit sinong sundalong dumaan sa giyera, walang misencounter na 8 oras…na nagpuputukan hangga’t naubusan na nga ng bala ang tropa natin (If you ask any soldier who went through battle, there is no misencounter that lasts 8 hours where they are firing at each other until our troops ran out of bullets),” Marcos said.

Marcos said there are many questions the resource persons must answer, among them:

  • Who ordered the police to conduct the operation?
  • What intelligence report did the Police Special Action Force (SAF) receive? Where did it base the information that the alleged Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli Abdhir, known as “Marwan” and alleged bomb expert Abdul Basit Usman were in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao?
  • What is the relationship between the MILF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF)?

Marcos even said the government might need to consider including the BIFF, a splinter group of the MILF, in the peace process.

BBL police provisions ‘sore point’

Marcos and Ejercito said the Maguindanao clash illustrated the contentious issues with the BBL such as the provisions on the police.

“The relationship between the [proposed] Bangsamoro police and the PNP has never been very clear,” Marcos said. “Under the peace agreement, if there is an identified criminal or terrorist that needs to be arrested in their area, the MILF says they will hand them over to our police. Now, these two terrorists were in their camp so what happened that they weren’t being handed over to our police?”

Ejercito, who withdrew his co-authorship of the BBL, said he has long questioned the police provisions but initially decided to give the bill a chance.

“In the hearings last year, I asked about that and [resource persons] said the PNP needs to coordinate with the Bangsamoro police to find a criminal or terrorist in the Bangsamoro area. I was not convinced because under that set-up, we are creating a state within a state,” Ejercito added.

Ejercito said he is still open to supporting the bill but the MILF must “regain trust.”

“They should return the weapons of the slain SAF and PNP operatives, and surrender Marwan, the other terrorist and all those involved in the killing. The MILF has the burden to show us it is sincere and serious in signing a peace agreement,” he added.

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