Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte on Friday appealed to the country’s top political leaders to rise above the national outrage and anger over the Mamasapano (Maguindanao) incident where 44 police commandos were killed by men believed to be members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). He urged them, instead, to help one another in preparing a back-up plan in case the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) fails to pass Congress.
Malacañang, however, also on Friday expressed optimism that the proposed BBL would still be passed even if it suffered delays especially after the Mamasapano incident.
In calling for sobriety, Duterte said, “The outrage is understandable. The loss of 44 lives of the members of the Special Action Force (SAF) is a national tragedy but, as leaders of this country, we have to calm our people instead of stoking the fire of hatred.”
He cautioned those who are calling for an “all-out war” to exact vengeance against the groups believed responsible for the death of the 44 policemen that an outbreak of violence in Mindanao would be disastrous not only for innocent civilians but also for the whole country.
“I join the nation in demanding justice for the fallen SAF commandos and in determining who was responsible for the disastrous mission but we must not allow ourselves to be carried away by our emotions,” Duterte said.
“I have seen first-hand the horrors of conflict. I carried in my arms the bodies of innocent civilians mangled by bombs [that]hit the San Pedro Cathedral, the international airport and the Sasa wharf not so long ago,” he added, referring to Davao City landmarks attacked by insurgents.
“Rising above the deafening din of cries for revenge to think of ways to avoid an outbreak of hostilities is not cowardice or an act to dishonor those who sacrificed their lives to make our communities safe from the threats of terrorists but prudence and level-headedness,” the Davao City mayor said.
“Effort to neutralize the enemies of peace and those who wish to harm our people must indeed be continued, this time taking to mind the lessons learned from previous operations,” Duterte added.
He, however, said the effort to find a lasting solution to the Mindanao conflict to achieve peace must never be abandoned.
“Let us not forget that in the history of the wars of the world, even the bloodiest conflicts mankind had ever witnessed, where millions of lives were lost, ended in the peace table,” Duterte noted.
According to the mayor, there should be three courses of action that should be taken by the national leadership to handle the crisis resulting from the Mamasapano incident: determine accountability on the tragic mission and establish criminal liability of those involved with the purpose of serving justice to the victims and their loved ones; draft and implement a plan of action to handle the volatile situation and ensure that it will not degenerate into another round of hostilities; and prepare an alternative plan in case the BBL fails to pass Congress, the Senate and the Supreme Court so that the search for peace will be pursued.
In not giving up on the Bngsamoro Basic Law, Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said the government remains committed to continue the peace process and will stay the course.
“At this point, the peace panel and the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process is cognizant that there is already a delay in the timetable. The leadership of Congress has conveyed to us that they are not dropping the matter. They recognize that . . . it’s an important piece of legislation, and when the hearings commence, we will . . . come to the deliberations ready, and as has always been the case, our peace panel will be ready to answer the questions,” Valte told reporters in a news briefing.
“At least on the side of government, [we accept that there would be a delay in the passage of the BBL]but [what is important is that]it’s still on the table. The peace panel and our peace advocates will be ready to answer questions when the deliberations come,” she said.
A priority measure of the Aquino administration, the BBL aims to create an expanded region with more powers than the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
It is part of the historic deal that the MILF and the government signed in 2014 after 17 years of negotiations.
The initial target was to pass the bill by March 2015.
Yet the mission to arrest top terrorists in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, puts at risk the peace process, intended to be a key legacy of President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
Under question is the sincerity of the MILF, which faces allegations of an “overkill” in Mamasapano.
The rebel group in turn blames the heavy toll on the police’s failure to follow existing coordination mechanisms under the peace process.
Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was the first to suspend BBL hearings in the Senate, and his counterparts in the House of Representatives followed suit.
Lawmakers said they will not tackle the measure until parallel investigating bodies uncover what happened in Mamasapano.
The government is pinning its hopes on Congress to pass the draft measure into law within the first quarter so that a plebiscite can be held before June and a transition authority can be put in place a year before the May 2016 elections.