Tag Archives: MILF

Column: Is the Philippine flag ‘unconstitutional’?

Published on May 26, 2015.

THE RESISTANCE to the Bangsamoro Basic Law has shifted to the battleground of constitutionality. We still hear the occasional demand for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to show its sincerity as a partner in the peace process by making amends for the Mamasapano incident—but now that congressional committees have started voting on the controversial measure, the question of MILF sincerity is no longer a determining or even perhaps an influential factor.

Even supporters of the bill recognize the shift in the debate; Rep. Rufus Rodriguez’s strategy to win the bill’s passage at his committee level, for instance, was premised and pushed (and publicized) on the perceived need to align key provisions in the BBL with the Constitution.

We can all agree on one principal reason for the change: It is an attempt to base the debate on firmer ground, on the solid logic of constitutional law rather than the volatile emotionalism of post-Mamasapano blame-mongering. Continue reading

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Column: Time for SAF to ‘man up’

Published on April 14, 2015.

One highlight of last week’s resumption of the congressional hearings into the Mamasapano incident was the direct challenge posed by an officer of the Philippine National Police’s elite Special Action Force to the commander of the Army’s 1st Mechanized Brigade.

Police Supt. Michael John Mangahis disputed Col. Gener del Rosario’s account of the circumstances behind the Army’s now-controversial refusal to direct artillery fire into the cornfields where the SAF’s 55th Special Action Company was battling Moro Islamic Liberation Front regulars from two base commands. Mangahis said Del Rosario had enough information not only from the SAF but from the Army’s assets in that part of Maguindanao province to know exactly where the artillery should be aimed. Continue reading

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Column: The other face of Mamasapano

Published on April 7, 2015.

IN THE first two months after the Mamasapano incident, the “face” of the encounter was a collective: The SAF 44. The tragic fate of the 44 Special Action Force troopers who perished in the cornfields of Mamasapano became the main narrative; suave opportunists like Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano and born-again politicians like Rafael Alunan rode the public outrage over the “massacre” of the elite policemen, to take direct aim at the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law. A TV network even used a hashtag that sought #truthforthefallen44—as though truth were like justice, and took sides. Continue reading

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Column: Grace Poe’s unfortunately political report

Published on March 24, 2015.

I think highly of Sen. Grace Poe, and have suggested in an earlier column that she should not be dissuaded from running for president next year, in the same way that Jaime Cardinal Sin dissuaded Sen. Gloria Arroyo from contesting the presidency in 1998. But the Senate report on the Mamasapano incident Poe shepherded is disappointingly political.

Instead of politics understood as the art of the possible, the politics both implied and asserted in the Poe report is the entitlement of the privileged: the view of the center, in this case truly deserving of the insult “Imperial Manila”; the view of the toniest, most select branch of the political class (where politicians acquire their knowledge of combat through the painstaking process of movie-watching); and, not least, the view of the surviving kin of the 44 police Special Action Force troopers who died in Mamasapano (not those of the civilians who died in the crossfire, nor those of the 120,000 who perished in the “Mindanao conflict” since the 1970s).

This is a report that makes room for the viewpoints of most senators, but sadly allows very little room for the fate of innocents. I respect the discipline and courage and ultimate sacrifice of the Philippine National Police’s elite troopers, but I cannot subscribe to the unexamined assumption of Poe and her fellow senators that they were lambs led to the slaughter. Continue reading

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Column: ‘A whole climate of opinion’

Published on March 10, 2015.

Can psychoanalysis explain politics and through it perhaps history itself? From time to time, we may feel tempted to reach for our idiot’s guide to Freud or Jung to understand what makes, say, a senator like Ferdinand Marcos Jr. say truly head-scratching things.

For instance, he once tweeted: “Kahit na maging maayos ang usapan natin sa MILF, kung hindi naman kasama [sa peace agreement] ang BIFF, bakit pa tayo pipirma ng BBL?” His tweet raises the question whether he understands that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is in fact the outcome of arduous negotiations with one insurgency movement, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and not with other separatist movements, such as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the relatively new splinter group. “Even if our discussion with the MILF is in order, if the BIFF is not included, why should we sign the BBL?”

Does a childhood trauma perhaps explain why Marcos would wish to include a third party in a two-party negotiation? Is there a hidden or unacknowledged motive in his use of an impossible criterion for signing off on the new law implementing the peace agreement with the MILF? Continue reading

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Column: What on earth is eating Alan Cayetano?

Published on March 3, 2015.

Last week marked a new low point for the opportunistic demagoguery of Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano. I was with other journalists covering the inspection tour of various sites in Central Mindanao by the police Board of Inquiry, so I was not able to see an otherwise intelligent young man transform yet again into a hypocritical bully on live television.

But I do have proof that he is a bully and a hypocrite. Continue reading

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Column: Ignorant, or arrogant, in the Senate

Published on February 17, 2015.

How many Filipinos died in the day-long clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao? Listening to Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago interrogate Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal last week, one would think the answer was 44. If I’m not mistaken, she mentioned the “44 Filipinos” who perished in the cornfields at least twice. In the interview she granted after her dramatic first appearance at the Senate hearing on the Mamasapano incident, she used the phrase at least one more time.

The 44 Special Action Force troopers who died in the costly operation to capture or kill Jemaah Islamiyah bomb-maker Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, were of course Filipinos. But so were the five civilians who died (presumably) in the crossfire or as part of the operation, including the hapless farmer who (according to his surviving family) had the misfortune of stumbling into an SAF company while on his way to the village center. And so were the 18 MILF rebels who died in the firefight. All told, and assuming that the tally is final (there is a possibility that seven civilians died, not five), the raid on Marwan’s hideout and the subsequent gun battle claimed 69 lives—68 of them Filipino. Continue reading

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Column: What is Aquino accountable for?

Published on February 3, 2015.

The powerful statement issued by the Ateneo de Davao University has rightly been seen as an impassioned, compelling plea to “return to the work of peace.” That work has never been easy; the lessons learned from the secretive negotiations over the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, which doomed that peace initiative, have added to the difficulty. (Those who claim that the negotiations that led to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and its four Annexes were not sufficiently consultative have an unreasonable definition of sufficiency, or consultation, or both.)

I must say, however, that I am uncertain whether I can agree with an important premise of the statement’s. The following question it raises is a loaded one: “Does the suspected presence of a terrorist wanted by the United States warrant that we break our agreements with the MILF?” This was unfortunately phrased, because in fact the Malaysian bomb-maker Zulkifli bin Hir better known as Marwan was also a threat to the Philippines, and was therefore wanted by the Philippine government too, with at least two arrest warrants against him. Yes, the $5-million bounty on his head (I cannot find the source of the information that this had been raised to $6 million) was part of the US State Department’s controversial Rewards for Justice program. But as the officer in charge of the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police attests, stopping Marwan was worth the sacrifice of 44 SAF troopers, because the number of lives saved from future terrorist attacks would have been greater. He was talking about Filipino lives.

The problematic premise is the concept of unnecessary violence. “Why did we again take the path of guns and violence and covert secret action to solve any problem, when we had already chosen, we had already agreed, that we would take the path of negotiation, consultation and trust to solve problems?” The answer, it seems to me, is that Marwan and the Jemaah Islamiyah are not parties to the peace process. Continue reading

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Column: Talking peace with the MILF

Reading the latest signed agreement, looking for clues. Published on July 23, 2013.

Can the peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front still end in failure? We got a reminder in recent weeks that peace with the MILF remains very much a work-in-progress—and that progress is never guaranteed.

MILF officials aired their frustrations over the delay in the resumption of what are officially still called exploratory talks; when the 38th round finally pushed through, in Kuala Lumpur, the negotiations seemed to have teetered on the brink. It took an unusual extension before the government and MILF could agree on the final language of the Annex on Revenue Generation and Wealth Sharing.

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Column: Arguments on the framework

In which I take issue with the anti-Framework Agreement position of two of the Inquirer’s very own. Published on October 23, 2012.

I must disagree with two esteemed colleagues of mine in these opinion pages, who have written skeptically or adversely on the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro. Like many of the newspaper’s readers, I share the Inquirer’s own view that the preliminary peace pact represents the best chance of lasting peace in Mindanao in our time.

But first, an ungrudging acknowledgment: That ex-ambassador Bobi Tiglao and the new Inquirer publisher, Dean Raul Pangalangan (and even constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ), all have serious concerns about the agreement signed last week in Malacañang tells me that the criticism against it does not always follow predictable patterns—and that I must remain open to the possibility that my own views may be mistaken.
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Column: Missing pieces in framework agreement, Recto’s speech

Written partly outside Malacanang Palace, after the signing of the Framework Agreement, and published on October 16, 2012.

It was never a constitutional issue—the lack of any mention of the Constitution in the ill-considered Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD). Charges that the MOA-AD’s manifest unconstitutionality was symbolized in this blinding absence were only political, not legal. When the Supreme Court struck down the MOA-AD four years ago this month, it noted the fact in passing but excused it with a generous interpretation: “While the word ‘Constitution’ is not mentioned in the provision now under consideration or anywhere else in the MOA-AD, the term ‘legal framework’ is certainly broad enough to include the Constitution.”

Is the Constitution missing from the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro?
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Column: “In the name of God, the beneficent, the merciful”

Published on October 9, 2012.

The peace agreement reached on Sunday was preliminary and even incomplete; nevertheless, and despite the jadedness of some of the initial reaction on Twitter, it represents a genuine breakthrough. A lasting political settlement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front seems truly within reach; as a son of Mindanao, I too am thrilled to breathe the air of possibility.

The “Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro” is self-evidently informed by the lessons the Aquino administration learned from the debacle of 2008, involving the ill-conceived Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD). But it is more than mere reaction; I think the framework the government and the MILF peace panels put together creatively exploits what chief government negotiator Marvic Leonen called, in his closing statement at the most recent negotiation in Kuala Lumpur, the “flexibilities within [the Constitution’s] provisions.”
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