Even as peace talks poised to resume, attacks on legal activists heighten

(First of five parts)

amelia pond  Even as National Democratic Front (NDF) consultants Wilma and Benito Tiamzon finally walked out of detention from Camp Crame today, reports from regions indicate that state security agencies are stepping up attacks against legal activists.

The Rural Missionaries of thePhilippines reported the arrest today (August 19), around noon, of 64-year old Amelia pond, the order’s regional coordinator for Southern Mindanao.

Pond is also the research and documentation officer for the Salugpungan School Network in Mindanao, which remain the only available opportunities for education of indigenous children.

The attack happened as peace panels of the government and the NDF were preparing for the resumption of long-stalled peace talks in Oslo, Norway.

Read: Tears, hugs as NDF consultants walk free

Pond was accosted by members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) criminal instigation and detection group (CIDG) after a three day RMP assembly at the Living the Gospel Renewal Center on Archbishop Reyes Avenue, in Cebu City’s Lahug district.

Her arrest came as activists and peace advocates were hailing the release of the Tiamzon couple, which brought the number of freed National Democratic Front (NDF) political prisoners to 17.



Wilma Tiamzon (left) and husband, Benito (right) talk to supporters and peace advocates following their release from detention. They are flying  with 12 other consultants to join the National Democratic Front (NDF) peace panel in Oslo, Norway, where peace talks are set to resume on August 22. Photo by Obet de Castro

“They will join 15 others so far released in peace talks in Oslo on August 22 and for consultations with the NDF Negotiating Panel,” lawyer Edre Olalia said. Two of the released consultants are not joining the Oslo talks as they need urgent medical care, NDF sources said.

Planted evidence?

The RMP report said Pond was in a taxi with three other people when CIDG cops blocked them. They forced her out of the vehicle.

“The female CIDG held her by the arm and asked her with different names but she denied. This was followed by more questions showed photographs, and a supposed warrant of arrest, but they did not make her read the warrant,” the report said.

“One of Amy’s companion insisted that she should read the warrant for her to know what her case is but despite Amy and her companion’s insistence they failed to let Amy read the warrant. Amy vehemently resisted this illegal arrest.”

The witnesses said one of the CIDG men went near Amy and inserted two ID’s in her bag.

“Then they asked her to alight the car. She refused to go with them but they forced her. In this instance, Sr. Francis Anover and Sr. Marisol Garduno who were also in the center immediately went to her rescue.”

Pond was brought to Camp Sotero in Cebu City. and charged with double murder and frustrated murder in Compostela Valley under the name of Adelfa Toledo.

Increasing attacks

pajallaBefore Pond’s arrest, Quezon province cops nabbed a peasant leader identified with the military party-list group, Anakpawis.

Karapatan-Quezon spokesperson Alex Pacalda told Bulatlat.com that the arrest of Antonio Pajalla was illegal as, “the rebellion charge against him was long extinguished when he was granted amnesty under former President Fidel Ramos.”

Bulatlat quoted Pacalda as saying the peasant leader held with him his copy of the certificate from the National Amnesty Commission when he was arrested at around 9 a.m. Aug. 12. He was on a jeepney en route to the Anakpawis Partylist’s office in Catanauan town.

The rebellion charge against Pajalla, which is the ground for his arrest, was first filed in 1995. But Pajalla was granted amnesty by President Ramos in 1997, said Pacalda.

Karapatan and other rights groups  have warned that the continuing presence of paramilitary troops — trained and supervised by the military — represents a major threat to the peace process.

“We must watch out for saboteurs,” said Catholic Bishop (Caloocan City)  Deogracias Yñiguez on the eve of the Tiamzons’ release. He said church workers and civil society and people’s organizations must remain vigilant on human rights violations and other abuses, which could wreak havoc on the peace process.

The Ecumenical Bishops Forum and the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, Yñiguez said, worked hard with other groups “to find many ways to ensure that the crucial peace process resumes.”

Lumad victims

Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Judy M. Taguiwalo confirmed that paramilitary troops strafed a lumad community on July 30 during holding a wedding in  San Fernando, Bukidnon, killing a pregnant woman and wounding seven other people, including five children.

Maytas Gauyran, chieftain of the Tigwahanon tribe, grieves at the coffin of his daughter, Marikit Gayoran, who was pregnant when shot dead during a community wedding. Photo courtesy of Kilab multimedia

A DSWD report said  a paramilitary group associated with the 8th Infantry Batallion of the Philippine Army. Taguiwalo said all victims beneficiaries of the DSWD’s 4Ps and Modified Conditional Cash Transfer Program (MCCT).

Taguiwalo also ordered an investigation into the provision of projects for suspected mastermind ‘Alde Salusad’ or ‘Butsoy’ despite a warrant of arrest for a previous killing of a lumad datu, Jimmy Liguyon, in front of his small children.




Vulnerable communities

The Save Our Schools  (SOS) network said attacks on indigenous schools in Mindanao have increased following then assumption of Duterte. The tough talking leader has close links to restive indigenous groups fighting against the entry of big mining firms and plantations into their ancestral lands.

In the areas around Duterte’s home city of Davao, teachers were forced to close down some schools because of death threats, according to SOS executive director Rius Valle.

He said paramilitary forces trained and supervised by military officials were hunting the teachers in the Pacquibato district of Davao City.

“They documented attempts to kill them,” Valle said in an interview.”The two teachers had to close down the school and seek sanctuary in Davao City.”

After the Paquibato incident, which happened just before Duterte’s  first State of the Nation Address (Sona), paramilitary troops also killed the leader of a parents’ association in a lumad school on the outskirts of Davao City. The community in the area have a long running feud with religious leader Apollo Quiboloy of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, a known supporter and friend of Duterte.

lumad444On August 13, six men, riding in tandem on three motorcycles, also strafed a group of lumad in Barangay Zillovia, Talacogon, Agusan del Sur. A woman, shot in the chest, had to be placed under intensive care.

The victims are indigenous claimants to land now covered by an forestry agreement granted to  Provident Tree Farms, INc.
The RMP said the incident is connected to an earlier series of attacks, including the murder of  Datu Mansulbadan, the former supreme datu of the Manobo community in the area.

Four other Manobo — including a 13-year old boy — who were the apparent target of the gunmen suffered less serious injuries. The attack also prompted an evacuation of residents.


The Shadow of the Eagle over #Mamasapano


American operatives exercised lead roles in the planning, preparation and botched operations last year against a Malaysian terror suspect hiding in a southern Philippine stronghold of Muslim rebels.

The United States gave “real-time” intelligence assistance and training to members of the Special Action Forces (SAF) in the hunt for Malaysian terrorist Marwan and his Filipino accomplice, the sacked director of the elite cop unit told a Senate panel.

It also isolated the SAF from the Armed Forces of the Philippines in a bungled bid to ram through its war-on-terror goals at the crucial homestretch of peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

And the Philippine President was complicit in all this.

Getulio Napeñas, who is seeking a Senate seat in this year’s elections, also told senators his insistence on time-on-target information sharing was on the urging of American advisers.

The lack of coordination has been blamed for the deaths of 44 SAF members. More than a dozen rebels and armed residents, and six civilians were also slain in the carnage that lasted till late afternoon.

US involvement went on through several oplans targeting Marwan, up until the Jan. 25 Mamasapano operation. The United States wanted Marwan for the deaths of American citizens in the 2002 Bali bombings. It offered a $5-million reward for information leading to the capture of Marwan, who had  since moved to Mindanao and masterminded other bomb attacks.

President Benigno Aquino III and suspended (and now resigned) national police chief Alan Purisima go a long way back.

That aid was filtered through a very small group focused on the get-Marwan mission, called in its Jan 25 version as Oplan Exodus.

Only President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, the suspended national police chief Alan Purisima, Napenas and PNP intelligence chief Fernando Mendez, Jr. were involved in the final planning. There was no oversight from other key Filipino officials who could have warned of grave unintentional consequences, including a breach of a ceasefire agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Peace a major casualty

Marwan, SAF troops, civilians, rebels. There was one other major casualty of Mamasapano: The peace legacy that President Benigno Aquino III and, yes, the US government had been touting as the key to progress and security in one of the world’s most volatile areas, a region prized by both big corporations and the rampaging ISIS.

Slide1Filipinos erupted in anger when a previous Senate probe indicated a reluctance by the military to deploy the artillery and mechanised armour Napeñas belated sought for his beleaguered forces.

Transcripts of previous hearings show Purisima informing Mr. Aquino early morning that the SAF had run into guards of Basit Usman, Marwan’s Filipino accomplice who managed to escape from Mamasapano. This was after he told the President that Marwan was dead and a SAF member wounded.

Despite US intelligence, instead of between 15-20 men from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway MILF group, there were scores within deployment range of the target area.

Purisima, text messages show, also failed to inform the President of that particular fact. He did not correct the Commander-in-Chief’s 7:59 am text:

If I remember correctly 160 SAF troopers were directly involved in this operation plus provisions for other PNP and AFP units to assist. The terrain is flat and clear as opposed to upland forested or jungle terrain. Why could they not contain and or overwhelm 15 to 20 members of opposing force. Are they still in contact with other targets? If not, and the opposing forces escaped, are we now back to square one?

As a result, Mr. Aquino ordered : “Basit should not get away.”

Aside from the BIFF, the area is also home to MILF supporters. A big formation of mainstream rebels were within a kilometre of the target. Alerted by gunfire — dozens of residents had joined the fray — MILF forces engaged the retreating SAF and a blocking force, exacting the most casualties.

The MILF ultimately became the scapegoat, blamed for the SAF slaughter. Politicians decried what they called the rebels’ treachery. They used Mamasapano as the bogey to crush the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law, the key condition for forging a permanent peace with the MILF.

The government itself had signed an agreement  with the rebels — praised by foreign states and development donors — on the conduct of military and police operations in its strongholds.

The ceasefire aimed to prevent ground clashes; the agreement is premised on an MILF pledge to root out extremists and criminal gangs in its areas.

Policy as main threat

Fallen 443 justice
The wake of the #Fallen44 (graphic courtesy of abs-cbnnews.com)

The ceasefire monitoring body involves the Armed Forces. Military officials factor this in during operations.

The President did not bother to inform top AFP officers that he had approved a US-supervised plan that listed the MILF among the “enemy forces” in Mamasapano.

“The AFP has internalized the peace process and operates within this framework. It is an instrument of national policy, in this case the ceasefire with the MILF,” a retired AFP officer who has direct experience in the peace process stressed in an earlier interview.

“Had the President given a clear signal to ignore existing ceasefire mechanisms or exempt the January 25 Mamasapano operation from coverage, the military would have obeyed.”

Read: AFP officials can’t usurp top-level policy

But Napenas and American advisers viewed that same agreement and assimilation of former rebels in the AFP, the result of a previous peace pact with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), as the greatest threat to the hunt for Marwan.

Purisima said Americans had no involvement in the intelligence packet initially furnished by the PNP Intelligence Group.

Questioned by Sen. Ralph Recto, Napenas gave examples of where military involvement jeopardise the outcome of operations to hunt down terrorists. He cited one operation where the military reneged on a promise to loan mechanised units because of a ceasefire provision requiring coordination with the MILF.

In the hunt for Abu Sayyaf commander Purugin Indama of Basilan, Napenas said surveillance showed the targets of an aerial bomb moving away 15 minutes before attack.

“Nakita doon sa surveillance. Galling din sa liaison namin na Americano ang impormasyon na ‘yun. From the Seaborne and siya din mismo ang nagsabi sa akin na alam nya na before naibagsak ang bobmba sa kalaban, nakaalis na sila.” (Surveillance showed that. I was also told by our American liaison from the Seaborne. He knew that the targets left just before planned aerial bomb.)

Conflicting goals

While there is suspicion that the military-police rivalry may be rooted on the big rewards (there was also a P7-million reward for Marwan from the Philippine government), the real cause of the debacle may be the tug-of-war between doves and hawks from both governments.

President Benigno Aquino III and suspended (and now resigned) national police chief Alan Purisima go a long way back.

MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal has the most clear-eyed reading of events: A collision between the government’s commitment to conflict resolution and its support for the United States’ global “war on terror” sparked the clash that derailed the Mindanao peace process.

Unlike the country’s communist insurgency, which is listed as a terrorist organisation by the US government, the MILF officially enjoys some support from Americans.

Like Philippine officials, the MILF was initially reluctant to focus on the US government role in Mamasapano.

But pressed at a peace forum, Iqbal expounded on the MILF’s balancing act with a supportive superpower viewed with hostility by Muslims who have experienced the fallout of its global war on terror.

Below is an excerpt of a piece I wrote for ABS-CBNNews.

“Ang trato namin sa Amerikano iba sa komunista,” Iqbal said. “May bilateral agreements. Kung nandiyan ang US troops, hindi mali sa amin.” (Our view on American presence differs from that of the communists. There are bilateral agreements between the Philippines and the United States. We see no problem with the presence of US troops.)

“But in Mamasapano, there were complications,” Iqbal acknowledged. He confirmed that Americans funded Oplan Exodus, gave intelligence, operated drones for real-time monitoring of the target and SAF teams, and evacuated government forces.

Two national policies — conflict resolution and supporting the US-led war on terror — “crossed paths” in Mamasapano, the MILF negotiator pointed out.

“Imbes na ang priority ay conflict resolution, naging war on terror, kaya nagka-leche-leche na,” Iqbal said. (Shifting the priority from conflict resolution to the war on terror caused the mess.)


Those conflicting goals led to the shut-out of the AFP, which Mr. Aquino approved. He ordered Napenas to increase the number of troops for Mamasapano, knowing it was a stronghold of the MILF.

Who ordered ceasefire?

Military officials have repeatedly said they could not deploy mechanised units or artillery for fear of hitting friendly forces and civilians. In any other situation, they would be applauded for this. (Elsewhere, they mow down civilians, especially those suspected of supporting communist rebels.)

AFP officers insist Napenas did not give clear locations of his men. SAF personnel testified that they regularly updated Napenas of their positions. The SAF commander, at least, knew where his men where. Yet more than half of close to 400 men were not moved from their highway waiting posts.

The biggest revelation of the latest Senate hearing answered the question: Who ordered a halt to reinforcements.

From ANC’s coverage of the hearing:

Napeñas: (Despite SAF asking for help via radio), Purisima ordered us to ceasefire, hold on to our position, and don’t move forward

Purisima: I contacted MILF persons to assist us in pulling out MILF troops. I was just giving Napeñas the info MILF gave me.

Purisima: I asked MILF to pull out their troops because our SAF forces were already at a disadvantage (“nahihirapan na ang SAF natin”).

The AFP had scrambled to convene the ceasefire body mid-day in a bid to halt the carnage. But it was apparently still Purisima who meddled — without coordinating with the AFP.

By this time, the President would have come to realise the horrible fallout of Mamasapano.

Mr. Aquino did not even discuss events with his AFP chief of staff or Interior Secretary Mar Roxas until late afternoon. Nobody bothered to shake him awake because he seemed to have been busy dealing with other persons — Purisima and some other still unknown parties.

Nobody seemed in charge — except for Purisima and the American companions of Napenas, who at one point was told off by a military officer for trying to order the firing of artilery.

Everything that followed — the dodging, the hedging during his speeches and that of officials during congressional hearings — were all premised on salvaging what the Commander-in-Chief and his men, enthralled with Americans, had jeopardised.

A lot of the shadow-boxing and outright lying in the weeks following Mamasapano were precisely aimed at hiding the US hand.

“The bloodshed triggered bitter recriminations in one of America’s closest allies in Asia, and put sharp new strains on Manila’s security relationship with Washington,” said a special report by the LA Times.

Within weeks, the Pentagon announced that it was withdrawing a special operations task force. It had been sent to the Philippines after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and had become a model for U.S. counter-terrorism teams later deployed around the globe.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III‘s government delayed plans to give U.S. troops, warships and aircraft wider access to military bases that the Obama administration sought for its strategic “pivot” to Asia. The planned expansion has been stalled since.

The botched raid also left a landmark 2014 peace deal between the Philippine government and entrenched Islamic rebels in tatters, sparking a renewal of violence by insurgent groups.

“It was a bungled operation and it has had major fallout,” said David Maxwell, a retired Army colonel who commanded the U.S. special operations force in the Philippines in 2006 and 2007.


The LA Times quotes Pentagon officials insisting, “No Americans joined or issued orders to the assault team.”

But they gave orders from the command post. They were still trying to give orders to reinforcing military officers in the afternoon.

Napenas said his men underwent training in the US Joint Task Force facility in Zamboanga City.

Asked about the general identities of the trainers by Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, defense chief under two Philippine Presidents, Napenas said some were members of the US military, “but some are mere members of the Joint Task Force”.

Napenas later said he presumed the non-military members of the Joint Task Force were from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), since “they were giving us intelligence”.

However, BAYAN USA, an overseas chapter of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, announced that it has filed a Freedom of Information Act request before the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, to uncover the role of the agency in the bloody Mamasapano incident.

The FOIA request covers communications between the FBI and PNP , DNA tests results on Marwan, as well as details of the supposed bounty set up for the targets of the operation. Full text of the FOIA request can be found here: http://bayanusa.org/foia 

Enrile offers an explanation for American reluctance to use the military. The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the two countries does not include police operations. It covers defense against external threats, like China. Anti-terror covert operations, especially one with a potential to derail a major peace policy (also backed by the US government) is a particularly slippery slope.

The Senate hearing adjourned with no clear answers. If anything, senators play at the edges of the US question but show reluctance in directly accusing a superpower. Elections are, after all, in the offing.

Information gatekeepers

The Senate’s original report on the Mamasapano incident raised the question: Who actually called the shots in Mamasapano.

Accountability is a requisite for Justice. While President Aquino is Commander in Chief, the US government can neither wash its hands of the blood of those it tapped to do its dirty work.

If the US was giving real-time info, did the relay or withholding of information affect the decisions to save or not, on that fateful day?

Did the relay or withholding of information affect the planning of the operation? Did the relay or withholding of information prompt the Philippine government to cut losses on a triumph that was crossing over to disaster category?

In other words, did information lead to a decision to sacrifice SAF men?

Information – the right information provided at the right time to the right people – plays a great factor in success.

The major disasters faced by the United States – including the Twin Towers bombing – were partly rooted in information being hogged (jealously compartmentalized by competing but allied organizations) and thus not passed on to key decision markers, or passed but ignored, or passed, weighed and then buried under other priorities.

Mr. Aquino, hPurisima and Napenas seemed to rely heavily on US military might, including advanced technology for intelligence.

Now Napenas is hinting that, for all intents and purposes, Philippine leadership may have been a farce in Mamasapano — although Filipino lives were at stake. That may be the greatest treachery of all.

Duterte chose right #Halalan2016 running mate

In choosing Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano as running-mate in the 2016 elections, Davao City Mayor Duterte wins points with Filipinos who want iron-hand governance to include corrupt government officials.

Duterte last week filed his certificate of candidacy (CoC) as presidential candidate for the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), replacing anti-crime activist Martin Dino. Just minutes earlier, his daughter, Sara, replaced him as lone mayoralty candidate of the major southern Philippine city. 

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s certificate of candidacy as substitute presidential candidate of the PDP-Laban. ABS-CBNNews photo

Whether or not the Commission on Elections (Comelec) approves Duterte’s presidential bid is still up in the air.

But already, he’s set the political landscape aflame. Revelations that his wife’s ongoing battle with cancer was the cause of early dithering over electoral plans can only win sympathy for the feisty Duterte, known as “The Punisher”.

Aides and supporters believe those disillusioned by months of shadow boxing will come back once campaign season starts.

WATCH Duterte says sorry, won’t run for president 

Wooing Duterte

Since they expressed intentions of running for higher office, Cayetano and fellow senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. have wooed Duterte.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, another presidential aspirant, picked Marcos as her running mate, but the son of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos has yet to name her as his principal.

Surveys on vice presidential bets show Marcos and Cayetano in a tie, behind Senate colleague Francis “Chiz” Escudero.

Why Cayetano?

Those figures made it easier for Duterte to choose Cayetano, despite Marcos’ clout in northern Philippines and his lead in Metro Manila.

Duterte is close to both men. But he cites Cayetano’s doggedness in courting him. He also acknowledges the younger man’s capabilities. Marcos was once a governor; Cayetano, like Escudero, has a solid legislative record.

University of Sto. Tomas political science professor Edmund Tayao believes the lawmaker from Taguig City provides “finesse, a soft touch, which many think is lacking with the mayor.”

Duterte won’t lose sleep over finesse. The shadow of the Marcos dictatorship gave Cayetano the edge.

While Duterte was a former activist and is close to the underground Left, he has his own human rights baggage. A section of Filipino advocates against corruption oppose his candidacy on these grounds.

On the other hand, many who like his strongman persona dislike Marcos because of his family’s record for massive corruption. Part of Duterte’s charm is due to his perceived distaste for corruption.

Mindanao Issues

And there is the Muslim vote.

Cayetano was very hostile towards the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the biggest Muslim rebel group, during hearings on the 2015 Mamasapano clash that killed 44 elite cops.

But Marcos is no different. The chair of the Senate committee in charge of the draft Bangsamoro Basi Law authored a version that turns the measure to slush. Many Mindanao Muslims still remember massive bombings and attacks on their communities during his father’s two-decade rule.

“Cayetano is a good prop,” Norodin Alonto Lucman said in a Facebook exchange.

“Honestly, do we have a choice?,” said Lucman, a former guerrilla now running for the Senate. “Bongbong Marcos is a liability in Mindanao although it was assumed that he will deliver the North and Western Visayas votes.”

“Visayans and Mindanaoans will vote for Duterte, hands down,” he added. Cayetano is a good prop but he might learn a thing or two about humility with Mayor Duterte.”

Free for all

Escudero – also not a friend of the MILF — has more than double the preference rate of Marcos and Cayetano in Mindanao and enjoys an even bigger lead in the Visayas.

Few voters see their votes for the country’s most powerful posts as a package deal.

MILF-influenced voters can always choose Rep. Leni Robredo, staunch backer of the BBL. But the Bangsamoro under the MILF’s influence also dislike Mar Roxas despite their leaders’ ties to President Benigno Aquino III.

Cayetano’s ratings may get a boost from Duterte. Duterte may cement the support of Filipinos who like him but are leery of the Marcos name. Then again, those who like Marcos may be expected to vote for him, too. #30


Why MILF may turn its back on BBL

They probably mean well, but I’m not sure that those who call for “all-out peace” reflect the sentiments of the Bangsamoro or even just the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

I’ve always thought genuine peace can sprout only if rooted in the soil of justice – only with the easing of pains caused by historical injustice and ensuring that no social group slips between the cracks of any new system.

Maybe, the groups calling for “all-out peace” also feel the same way.

But they have not said as much, not in the aftermath of that ad hoc committee farce of a hearing on the draft Basic Bangsamoro Law. Some party-list representatives from the “all-out peace” bloc voted with the administration bloc to uphold the surprise working draft of the committee chairman and vice chairman.

There’s been scant criticism from this sector of the changes to the original draft, which was based on the comprehensive peace agreement between the MILF and the government of President Benigno S. Aquino III.

I can imagine the thought bubbles:

Mr. Aquino called congressional allies to the Palace. They came back with a new working draft, with administration bloc whip Neptali Gonzales to backstop the waffling ad hoc committee chair, Rufus Rodriguez. The marching order was to vote for the draft and defeat any opposition. Success! Now, we have to defend the bill against all critics.

I am sure members of these groups sincerely think they stand beside the MILF on the issue of self-determination. The mystery is, nobody seems to have spoken with the MILF on the matter of the last ad hoc committee draft (also taken up by two other committees).

Nobody seems to have asked the other party in the peace agreement whether the new working draft is acceptable.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal explains why the Bangsamoro need genuine self-determination.
Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal explains why the Bangsamoro need genuine self-determination.

The word “peace” does not exist in a vacuum. Anytime between now and the weekend, MILF peace panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal will be sending Malacanang this message: If the House of Representatives passes what the ad hoc committee spat out, the MILF will reject the BBL.

Chairman Iqbal, of course, has said the MILF will continue to push for peace even if the BBL dream crashes to the ground.

That, however, does not mean the MILF will accept – for the sake of peace – whatever scraps from the table the powers deign to throw its way.

Crushed hopes

The BBL will most likely crash. Eleven senators support Sen. Miriam Santiago’s report that clearly calls the measure unconstitutional. Any version coming out from that chamber will definitely be unacceptable to the MILF. That is, if the Senate actually passes a counterpart measure.

Can government supporters now sigh with relief because they can blame someone, something for the failure of the BBL?

Not too fast.

Outpouring of joy as the government of President Benigno Aquino III and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) sign a comprehensive peace agreement. Photo from abs-cbnnews.com
Outpouring of joy as the government of President Benigno Aquino III and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) sign a comprehensive peace agreement. Photo from abs-cbnnews.com

Iqbal and the MILF leadership have given up a lot for peace. I’m sure critics of the BBL will disagree with this – most critics feel the government has conceded too much to the MILF.

But try stepping into the shoes of the aging leaders of the country’s largest Muslim rebel group. The MILF broke away from the MNLF when some guerrillas felt the latter was selling out the dream of self-determination.

How can the MILF go back to the Bangsamoro people and explain acceptance of a law that, in the words of Iqbal, may have 90% of the number of provisions in the peace agreement – but only half, at most, of its most substantial provisions?

In earlier articles, I mentioned what would be deal breakers for the MILF: the provisions on security, fiscal autonomy, control of natural resources, especially the critical areas of water, including watersheds, forestry, minerals; the right to contract with foreign entities. (I missed out of the Wadi, probably because of ignorance of what that would mean to Muslims.)

Read: MILF could lose critical powers when House votes on BBL

Read: BBL shows social fault lines that fueled Mindanao conflict

Deal breakers

Most critics focus on the huge sums that will go to the Bangsamoro government should a plebiscite uphold the BBL. But most wars for self-determination – whether ethnic or otherwise — are often all about control of a territory’s natural resources. The MILF wouldn’t be worth its name if it just grovels at the altar of mammon and forgets all about its reason for being.

If you were in Iqbal’s shoes, you’d see why the ad hoc committee version is a setback. The MILF had accepted that loans needing sovereign guarantees be approved by the national government. Now, they find that even grants and donations by foreign governments need to be approved by the Philippine national government. That would mean imperial Manila dictating once more what aid it sees fit for the Bangsamoro.

That to them is not self-determination. That is being a ward of imperial Manila.

If the national government controls decisions on the exploration and utilization of the most crucial natural resources, it would make the Bangsamoro just as vulnerable to other communities in the country that thumbed down big mining concerns and other industries encroaching into indigenous lands, only to be overruled by the national government. The MILF sees that clearly.

The MILF says it does not like the Indigenous People’s Rights Act of 1997, not because it thinks non-Moro indigenous peoples are a sub-class, but because they have seen how the law has been used to screw IP communities from Luzon to Agusan and Surigao, in Mindanao. Some people suspect Muslims may look down on IPs; that’s an issue for the second part of this series, which will tackle some miscues of the MILF.

Those guns

A dream interrupted: To the MILF, genuine peace will come only when the comprehensive peace agreement is finally implemented. Passage of a BBL is the first step. Photo by abs-cbnnews.com
A dream interrupted: To the MILF, genuine peace will come only when the comprehensive peace agreement is finally implemented. Passage of a BBL is the first step. Photo by abs-cbnnews.com

Many critics of the BBL, overjoyed by the Senate’s stand, may say this is all water under the bridge.

The MILF has said it will always hold the door open for peace. But remember, any decommissioning depends on implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement.

The guns will remain silent, hopefully, in the immediate future. But they will remain in the hands of the 20,000-strong MILF unless and until government’s promises are fulfilled.