Gov’t, MILF ceasefire mechanisms worked hard to effect ceasefire in Mamasapano

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Government of the Philippines (GPH) peace panel chair Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer stressed during Monday’s Senate hearing the hard work of the joint ceasefire mechanisms of the GPH and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) upon learning of the firefight that broke out between their troops in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25.

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According to ‎Coronel-Ferrer, it was the head of the MILF-Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) Rasid Ladiasan who gave the first notice of the firefight to his GPH counterpart. “T‎he information (on the firefight) came from the MILF-CCCH. [They said] that there was trouble in the area,” she said.

“Ladiasan called our GPH ceasefire [mechanism]and requested for ceasefire,”‎ the panel chair added.

According to Coronel-Ferrer, the joint report of the ceasefire mechanisms of the GPH and MILF, namely the CCCH and Ad Hoc Joint Action Group “would show that our ceasefire committee was not aware of the event,” referring to the operation of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force in the area. Said report was submitted by the ceasefire mechanism to the Senate through the government peace panel.

Coronel-Ferrer spoke at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs chaired by Senator Grace Poe and Senate Committee on Peace and Unification chaired by Senator Teofisto Guingona III.

The documents submitted by the ceasefire mechanisms show that by 6:42 a.m. of January 25, Ladiasan sent a text message to Dir. Carlos Sol, head of the GPH-CCCH secretariat, stating, “We have to ceasefire bro before its too late. Ano kaya bro kung puntahan natin sa area baka may staff kayo kasama at IMT bro ma-invite mo sila. (We have to ceasefire, brother, before its too late. What if we go to the area, you and your staff. Also the IMT, you can invite them.)”

Effecting the ceasefire

Coronel-Ferrer shared that while the firefight was ongoing, GPH-CCCH head Brigadier General Carlito Galvez Jr. and Sol were in Butig, Lanao del Sur accompanying members of the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) in a site visit to Camp Bushra, an identified camp of the MILF. However, upon learning of the incident in Mamasapano, the two immediately went to Cotabato to organize a “Joint Ceasefire Crisis Team” whose mission would be to negotiate a ceasefire, separate the two contending forces, assist in the evacuation of casualties, assess the situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs), and help stabilize the situation.

Meanwhile, Ladiasan relayed that on his part, as soon as he learned of the firefight, he immediately informed the leadership of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) in Camp Darapanan.

Ladiasan noted that achieving immediate ceasefire was difficult due to the “close encounter” of the troops.

“Yung pag-e-execute ng ceasefire, hindi madali,(executing the ceasefire is not easy) ‎considering the situation on the ground and communication constraints,”‎ he said.

However, the MILF ceasefire chief stressed that “buong puso po kaming nakikipag-coordinate sa government simula pa sa umpisa. Madami po kaming successes sa ganoong pagtutulungan. (We have been wholeheartedly coordinating with our government counterparts [in the CCCH]at the outset [since the CCCH was created]. We have a lot of successes in our cooperation [for ceasefire].”

Since 1997, a ceasefire mechanism has been put in place ‎under the Agreement between the Government and the MILF for General Cessation of Hostilities that was signed following the start of the peace negotiations between the two parties. The Agreement provided for the creation and establishment of a joint CCCH that was designed to activate and respond immediately to de-escalate any reported hostile armed confrontation between the Government and MILF forces, with no need for Presidential nor Cabinet Secretary level instruction.

Meanwhile, the AHJAG was established in May 2002, through a joint communiqué between the GPH and MILF‎ and formally organized in 2005. It’s mandate is to coordinate, monitor and disseminate information between and among the AFP and PNP for the Government, and the BIAF for the MILF, to effect the apprehension and arrest of the identified selected criminal elements within the “MILF areas/communities.”

During the hearing, Senator Gregorio Hona‎san noted the importance of coordination during security operations. “‎Coordination should be proactive para maiwasan nating magkaputukan (to prevent firefight),” the senator said.

Honasan, a former military officer, pointed out that it is not easy to immediately stop a firefight when it has already erupted, hence the importance of observing proper coordination protocols.

Parallel to this, Galvez explained that working out a ceasefire is difficult because “we have to understand the dynamics and social order ng lugar na yun [in the area],” noting the presence of different armed groups and the terrain of Mamasapano. ‎He also pointed out that it is hard to separate forces when there are casualties on both sides.

Sen. Honasan urged that “Pag-ingatan po natin ito (Let’s be careful with these [protocols]) because lives are involved. The life of a nation is involved.” PNA

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