Press conference: on the suspension of Bangsamoro Basic Law hearings

Sen. Bongbong: I think there were some questions as to what the status is of the hearings of the BBL. Well, it was with great surprise and much concern that we heard of the news of the killing of 27 policemen who were conducting a raid..

Q: 50 na po, official po sa www.interaksyon…

Sen. Bongbong: So what is the number now? Last night was 30 and then this morning was 27.

Q: Walang official pa sir, sa military. Walang official sir…

Sen. Bongbong: Yun na nga mukhang hindi maliwanag, but in any case-

Q: 50 na po according to the PNP.

Sen. Bongbong: That’s even more horrifying. It’s now 50. The count is speculative but never mind. It just makes it a more horrific piece of news, na ngayon naging 50 na sinasabi. And that’s a very large number of people to have been killed and it seems there are no survivors. Again, the intelligence information is still very unclear, the actual situation on the ground is hindi maliwanag. So with this in mind, immediately the security question as to how we will conduct the hearings, in the proposed hearings in Jolo and Zamboanga immediately comes into question. So until we have clarified, I have asked that we suspend all the hearings on BBM in the South because the security situation has not yet been assessed.

Secondly, it is not only the security situation but it is also we must, we must ask first of all what is the government’s response to the actions that have transpired yesterday and in the killing of these however many policemen who were in fact there to arrest a wanted, a known wanted criminal and was ambushed and all killed. Then it was verified by… these were MILF forces. Now, immediately we need to ask—I would like to speak to some of the leadership of the MILF; I would also like a report from the PNP —as to what exactly happened and how did this come about.

Because as you well know, as you have just been experiencing, we are in the middle of the discussions on the Bangsamoro precisely as a continuing process of that was started with the peace negotiations, then the signing of the framework agreement, and finally the passage of the BBL, and this is what we are working on.

How is that now going to be affected by the fact that one of the parties to this peace agreement has had this action killing government forces; that there is one side of the table wherein there is still military and violent action being undertaken against government forces. How will that affect our discussions here. That’s why I think it is useful for me to talk to, I’m reaching out to the leadership of the MILF to tell me how exactly this happened and how will this affect what we are doing. Because it is very difficult to negotiate a peace process when one party is still at war. And I think the very first premise is that we lay our guns down, we talk, we come to an agreement and we implement that agreement.

And if we have been driven to the first step in that process wherein we have not put our guns down, then there is a distinct problem in negotiating that. So that is something that really needs to be determined in the next day or two. The first thing of course is to find out exactly what happened, how many casualties were there, what were the circumstances of their deaths? By the statements by the MILF itself it was clear, they have said that they surrounded this force, this group of policemen—SAF, the Special Action Force of the PNP—surrounded them and killed them. That is very hard for me to justify. Because if you had surrounded them, then perhaps they should have been captured, then we could have negotiated their release. But to have just kill them is something a little bit hard to understand, and to justify, I believe, under the circumstances. But again the facts are still incomplete. And so that is what we are waiting for and trying to determine how we proceed from here.

Q: Sir clarify lang, and sinu-suspend nyo yung hearing sa Mindanao pero yung mga committee hearings dito magtutuloy-tuloy sir?

Sen. Bongbong: Ah yes, as a practical matter we will continue the hearings here in Manila but we cannot finish the process without those hearings in Mindanao. So that, essentially we are trying to do as much as we can without the Mindanao hearings but again, we will see how and when or if those Mindanao hearings will continue, simply because there’s again, as I said, the security question. And beyond that, there is the question of what are the parts that we all play in this peace process. The killing of 50 policeman certainly should not have any part in the peace process.
Also I have been asking what is the response of the national government to what has happened. Are we still continuing in this partnership or will there be some questions asked on the national, from the national government and how will this impact this process of legislation?

Q: Ilang hearings pa po ang naka sked?

Sen. Bongbong: Dalawa—ang hearing naka shedule ay Zamboanga saka Jolo. Actually ang schedule namin 4 and 5, sa next week.

Q: So sino po yung mga resource persons sana dun? Mga taga South?

Sen. Bongbong: Oo, kaya kami pumupunta dun dahil mahirap ganun karami na pupunta dito. At maraming gustong magsalita. At yung mga iba sa inyo na nakasama sa mga hearings na yun, alam nyo na buong araw yung ating nagiging hearing dahil pinagsasalita natin lahat. So that was the original plan, tingnan natin kung mag push through yun.

Q: Sir, yung deadline natin sa March, mami-meet ba natin? Madedelay nitong clash?

Sen. Bongbong: Hindi nakakatulong ito. That’s for sure, hindi nakakatulong itong ganitong klaseng pangyayari. And I do not know precisely what exactly what would happen next. I would really depend on our discussions with the MILF and with the national government on what stance to take here. Ihave actually been in touch with the Executive Secretary and I have been asking for the position of the national government and I think that everyone is in the process of gathering information sa ngayon.

Q: So hindi natin mami-meet yung target?

Sen. Bongbong: I don’t know. But again, this does not help. Maganda yung scheduling natin pero kung kelangan nating mag-postpone, mapu-push back talaga ang committee report, sa dami ng committee. We had hoped to start writing the committee report after the hearings next week para maabot nga yung schedule. Kung hindi ngayon matutuloy yan then mapu-push back yung ating magiging deadline.

Q: Sir, while we talk about the impact of the firefight into the peace process, can we talk about the apparent failure of intelligence because the SAF was sent there not knowing it is a lair of rebels and number 2, and that the supposed target Sulkifli alias Maruan, has a P5 million bounty and is wanted by the FBI for terrorist attacks?

Sen. Bongbong:Well, lumalabas nga na ganyan because there has been situation in the past where the promise, yung inaasahan na napakalaking reward e sumugod ang ating mga tropa ng alanganin. I do not know if that is the same case here. But again, that is why we need to know more. I have been, as I said, in touch with the executive secretary asking him what is the stance that will be taken by the national government. Again he has said that they are waiting more information. I have also been in touch with DDG Espina of the PNP and again talagang wala pang, hindi pa kumpleto ang information natin. So we’ll just have to make a determination later on. Siguro later in the day mas magiging maliwanag yan pag napuntahan na yung site ng ating mga pwersa para makita kung ano ba talaga ang nangyari.

Q: Sir, will there be another hearing tomorrow?

Sen. Bongbong: The hearing tomorrow will continue because we have asked many people to come from Mindanao. So we will continue with that. But that will, at least, I think the constitutional questions still have to be heard, so hindi naman siguro matitigil yun. But the hearings in the South I think we will hold in abeyance first until we know more and have decided exactly what to do with the situation at hand because we don’t know what the situation is yet.

Q: Sir anong magiging focus nung hearing tomorrow? May mga MILF…?

Sen. Bongbong: Lahat ito yun mga naimbita for tomorrow are representatives from the Sultanate, the representatives from the retired officers, the religious leaders who wanted to speak. So I’m sure the events of the past 24 hours will come up. In fact I intend to bring it up. Especially we would ask now from the MILF side to send a representative so that they can explain what had happened.

Q: Hindi ba po in the past para lagi rin dun sa peace talks, it’s not inclusive enough, meaning me kausap ka na isang grupo pero me isa pang grupo na susulpot so you would have to negotiate again with that group. Do you see that happening now, sa tingin nyo po ba kaya talagang lutasin ng peace talks talaga yung problem sa kapayapaan sa Mindanao?

Sen. Bongbong: Well unang-una it’s not another group, maliwanag na MILF—dahil sila mismo ang nagsasabi na sila ang naka engkwentro nitong SAF na pwersa. So we do not have that complication na me bagong grupo. I have been hearing reports all through the morning na paiba-iba, na sabi MILF, sabi me BIFF, merong kung ano, so kelangang liwanagin nating mabuti yun, how—if they are working together, what is that, how does that impact what we are doing? It just calls into question the control that the MILF have over their fighters, number one; which is something we are counting on after the passage of the BBL and the plebiscite. So if that is something that we cannot count on, then will certainly impact how we write the final version coming out of the Senate. Kaya ba nila talagang gawin kung hindi nila makontrol ang mga tao nila. So these are things that have to be examined fully now in light of these events.

Q: Sir paulit ulit na lang yung nangyayari, pagka sa MNLF nagkaron tayo ng peace process tapos naghiwalay yung MILF. Sa MILF eto na naman nagkakagulo na naman. Bakit hindi gumawa ang gobyerno ng peace process sa entire Bangsamoro people, hindi lang nagre-represent ng isang entity na MILF lang. Tapos me susulpot na naman na panibagong grupo—paulit-ulit na lang, wala nang katapusan?

Sen. Bongbong: Oo nga. I think that is a weakness also. Napag-usapan na natin yan. Sabi ko etong aming ginagawa, bukod sa batas ay kailangan nating kausapin ang MNLF dahil itong BBL ang kaharap ng gobyerno ay ang MILF. Papano ngayon ang MNLF? Kagaya ng sinasabi nila na meron naman silang treaty nung 1996 which was the final agreement that was done with the MNLF, which led to the creation of ARMM. So parang ang nangyari tinanggal na lang ang MNLF tapos ang ipinalit ang MILF. So hindi rin…that’s something also that has to be examined. Ngayon, the nature of these organizations kailangan din nating tingnan yun. I have to say that the events in the past 24 hours where 50 policemen were killed by the MILF—by their own statement, by the MILF—would certainly call into question how the peace process can continue if one side is still at war. So talagang masasabi ko na malaking gulo ito sa proseso ng kapayapaan, malaking gulo itong nangyaring ito; hindi biro at hindi maliit na bagay ito. At hindi naman natin pwedeng ituloy-tuloy na parang walang nangyari. 50 ang patay na pulis, hindi natin basta sasabihin sweep it under the rug, we cannot do that. The circumstances under which they died are yet unclear. But I cannot imagine for now, a justification where 50 have to be killed, napaligiran na nga, sana ay pinosasan na lang at itinabi, at ikinulong at saka natin pinag-usapan kung papano sila mapapalaya. Again the policemen, as far as I understand, were on a mission to capture a well-known criminal-terrorist and not attacking the MILF. Hindi sila pumunta roon para atakehin ang MILF, iba ang mission nila. Ang mission nila ay arestuhin itong taong ito, eto naman ang nangyari.

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