CONGRESS has suspended hearings on the Bangsamoro Basic Law and given the Moro Islamic Liberation Front an ultimatum to prove its sincerity by surrendering its commanders and fighters who were responsible for killing 44 police commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said Sunday.
“We suspend the marathon BBL hearings indefinitely. Forty-four fallen policemen should always be a setback to any peace process,” Rodriguez told radio dzBB. “We have scrapped the original timetable.” Rodriguez, the chairman of the 75-member special ad hoc committee on the BBL in the House, said there was no assurance that the hearings would resume.
The original timetable of the ad hoc panel was to transmit to the plenary for debate the draft BBL on Feb. 9. By Feb. 16, it was supposed to be ready for second and third and final reading to make the one-year transition period.
“That timetable has been scrapped. The Mamasapano incident has set aside that timetable,” Rodriguez said.
To prove its sincerity, the MILF must surrender to the government its commanders and combatants responsible for the slaughter of the 44 SAF troopers, Rodriguez said.
The MILF must also return the firearms, uniforms, night vision googles, kevlar helmets and personal belongings of the fallen policemen, he added.
“These are just some of the confidence-building measures that are now left on the part of the MILF,” Rodriguez told dzBB. Rodriguez said the MILF also must answer why Malaysian bomb expert Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Filipino terrorist Basit Usman were found hiding in an MILF-controlled area.
“In the ceasefire agreement, they are not supposed to harbor criminals or terrorists in their area because we are talking peace. And how can we talk peace... when in fact terrorists are staying there? Terrorists are anti-thesis of peace.”
He said the MILF should also surrender Usman or drive him from the area. Rodriguez also said his panel would await the results of hearings on the Mamasapano bloodbath to be conducted in the House, set to begin Wednesday.
Rodriguez said it was the general sentiment of the panel members to suspend the hearings.
Earlier last week, Rodriguez had said the ad hoc panel agreed to continue deliberations on the BBL, a centerpiece in the peace negotiations between the government and the MILF, but exclude key provisions related to public order and safety, national security and operational control over the police and armed forces. The panel later decided to suspend all hearings indefinitely, pending the show of good faith by the MILF through confidence-building measures.
Rodriguez also said the House members want to safeguard against a recurrence of the Mamasapano incident.
“The House and Justice Department probes must unmask and identify who are responsible for the carnage. And those responsible should face the bar of justice,” Rodriguez said.
In the Senate, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. warned that the killers of the 44 SAF commandos would become policemen under the BBL. Interviewed over radio dzMM, Marcos said if the MILF members who took part in the massacre are not put behind bars, they will likely become policemen under the Bangsamoro region.
Marcos, who chairs the Senate committee on local governments that is conducting hearings on the BBL, said the proposed bill includes a provision to train MILF members to become policemen. The head of the Bangsamoro Transitional Authority, Mohagher Iqbal, will have the power to choose who heads the Bangsamoro police force, Marcos said.
Iqbal earlier defended the MILF fighers who took part in the clashes in which the 44 SAF troopers were killed. “Where will Iqbal get his police force? Obviously, he will do so from the ranks of the MILF. So, members of this rebel group will now be policemen under the Bangsamoro police. And being members of the PNP, these former MILF fighters will be trained possibly even by the SAF,” the senator said.
Marcos also raised the question of having two chiefs of police in the Bangsamoro territories during the transition phase—one being the head of the BTA and the other being the chief of the PNP. Another provision in the BBL contains “coordination protocols” with the Armed Forces, which are actually restrictions on the movement and deployment of military personnel, Marcos said. This situation, he added, could lead to a repeat of the Mamasapano massacre. Like Rodriguez, Marcos urged the MILF to surrender those responsible for the Mamasapno killings.
Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, meanwhile, suggested that the $5 million bounty placed on Marwan should be given to the families of the 44 fallen SAF troopers.
The Palace, however, said this was a matter for the US, not the Philippine goernment to decide.
Cayetano, who withdrew his co-authorship of the BBL, also warned the administration that the creation of the Bangsamoro political entity could result in the biggest private army in the country. “They created everything. They have their own government. If they have a shabu laboratory, the NBI will naturally enter their territory. What if it is being protected by their own police? Does it mean you will tell their police?What they will do? They will not surrender and attack you,” Cayetano said.
He said the Moro rebels used the same logic to justify the killing of the 44 police commandos.
“Where in the whole Philippines does our military need to coordinate [with the local authorities] if there is a camp?” he asked. In his bailiwick of Taguig, there are police and military camps, but they have no need to coordinate with the city government. “They can go in and out. It’s their camp, anyway,” he said. Under the BBL, Cayetano said, the Muslims will have their own world where they are the kings.
In initially supporting the BBL, Cayetano said he wanted to believe that this group had turned its back on their old ways and wanted peace.
“We were deceived by the MILF,” Cayetano said. “Let us look at MILF now. When they take over and with the BBL, will they have good governance? Will they be committed to democracy? Will they help our poor countrymen? My answer is—they would not because they are a terrorist group,” he said.
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