Will the Bangsamoro Basic Law and the peace accord which the BBL is supposed to implement, become the biggest casualty of the January 25 massacre of 44 Special Action Force troopers of the Philippine National Police?
To be sure, the bloodbath that followed the PNP-SAF’s mission against two notorious terrorists believed to be hiding thereabouts, underscores in the most violent terms the undeniable imperative to forge lasting peace in the south.
Moreover, the safe haven that rebellion afforded Malaysian bomb expert Zulkifli Bin Hir, alias Commander Marwan, and his Filipino counterpart, Abdul Bassit Usman of the extremist Abu Sayaff Group (ASG), further demands that Muslim insurgency be ended, so that law enforcers can effectively seek and neutralize outlaws hiding in rebel areas.
A broken trust
But — and this is a mammoth one — the Mamasapano massacre has raised grave questions of trust and confidence not just in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, but also in the MILF’s ultimate negotiating partner, President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
The Front has lost the trust of many Filipinos. We now fear that increased autonomy and resources, plus the trappings of sub-statehood to be granted under the Bangsamoro agreement, could be exploited and abused to shelter terrorists and outlaws, and possibly to move toward secession.
Even worse, Aquino’s reported actions against the national interest and the precious lives of our heroic fighting men in Mamasapano have made countless citizens wonder if he and his peace negotiators also compromised our Republic in the MILF talks, especially our sovereignty and Constitution — the “founding principles” Pope Francis cited in his Malacañang statement on the peace process.
So how exactly can the peace process move forward after the brutal decimation of the gallant PNP-SAF unit? Three things are a must.
The path to peace
First, SLOW DOWN. The Senate and House committees deliberating the draft BBL, under Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez, respectively, have rightly deferred hearings and set aside announced deadlines for passing the measure.
Both the Palace and even more so the MILF should get real and allow time for Congress, the security forces, and the Filipino people to grieve, heal, review the BBL, and most of all, rebuild trust, the indispensable ingredient for peace.
Pressing lawmakers to pass the Basic Law pronto risks provoking its recasting amid nightmarish fears stirred by the Mamasapano carnage. Moreover, the people and, more crucially, the military and the police would only view any fast-tracked legislation with great suspicion and trepidation. Getting them to accept it would be about as hard as making the MILF resume peace talks right after the fall of its Camp Abubakar in 2000.
Give the nation time to heal, be calm, and trust again, and peace can get back on track.
Second, our legislators and justices must, in light of Mamasapano, PONDER WITH CARE the BBL, the Comprehensive Bangsamoro Agreement, and the six annexes, one addendum, and Framework Agreement subsumed by the CAB.
Understandably, many Filipinos now worry that if the MILF continues harboring the lawless and violent and that more powers and a regional police force under the Basic Law would make it much harder to go after terrorists and outlaws in the new autonomous area.
Far more worrisome, the Front leadership evidently does not care to take action against brutal elements in its ranks who, despite a 12-year ceasefire and a signed peace pact, have mercilessly massacred dozens of state troopers out of ammo, bleeding from multiple wounds, and helplessly staring at the gun barrels that blew their brains out.
Unless there is a dramatic and credible change in the MILF’s longstanding actions and stance, the Legislative and Judicial branches of government, for the sake of 100 million Filipinos of every faith and tongue, have to think hard if granting powers and concessions under the Bangsamoro pact and law to this same MILF would advance peace, justice and righteousness in our country — or the chilling opposite.
Calibrating concessions and confidence
As repeatedly urged by various parties, including the Palace, there is, most of all, a overarching need to REBUILD TRUST, especially in the MILF. That is the third and most indispensable action for the peace process to continue.
Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago said the rebel group “should show its sincerity and utmost good faith in its peace talks … by sharing its intelligence on terrorists hiding in Mindanao, and working with the government in pursuing these terrorists.” Presidential Spokesperson Secretary Edwin Lacierda also urged: “The MILF must demonstrate its sincerity that they are full partners in the peace process.”
In fact, the nation would need to see in the MILF a clear and sustained change in policies and actions, showing that it no longer tolerates extremism and brutality, and it has truly renounced separatist ambitions. This won’t happen in a few months, but over several years.
Hence, in finalizing the BBL, Congress must incorporate provisions making key concessions and powers contingent on actions to be taken by the MILF and the envisioned Bangsamoro government. For instance, any military redeployment, as provided in the Framework Agreement, should await solid indications that the Bangsamoro region will not harbor terrorists or seek secession.
In sum, as trust and confidence grow, so more powers and concessions can be granted.
Will several thousand MILF rebels agree to this? With the carnage perpetrated on the Republic’s defenders pointing to very real threats, the question cannot but be: Will 100 million Filipinos accept anything else?
Bottom line: The sovereign Republic of the Philippines must ensure that the Bangsamoro agreement and law will truly bring lasting peace, national unity, and development for all of Mindanao. We hope the Moro Islamic Liberation Front shall play its indispensable role in this paramount goal.