THE Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Tuesday denounced an attack by government troops on its forces in Basilan Saturday, barely three weeks after it signed a peace agreement
“My message to the military in Basilan is please do not disturb the honeymoon period between the MILF and Malacanang because after the signing of the CAB [Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro], there is a honeymoon period,” said MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar.
Jaafar added that he thought the attack was intentional, since the military must have conducted surveillance before taking action in the area, where government troops were hunting down Abu Sayyaf bandits.
Jaafar said the MILF was conducting its own investigation into the incident in which four MILF members were killed.
Earlier, the military admitted that MILF troops fought alongside Abu Sayaff bandits in a battle that left 18 rebels and two soldiers dead Saturday. This was contrary to their insistence Monday that no MILF fighters were involved.
But Armed Force chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista said the rebels who fought with the Abu Sayaff did so in a personal capacity, without the imprimatur of the MILF, with which the government recently signed a peace agreement.
Some of the MILF fighters had relatives in the Abu Sayaff, he added.
“We are in touch with the MILF leadership,” Bautista said.
Military sources said that at least five MILF commanders and several of members reinforced their relatives in the Abu Sayaff, who were pinned down by elite government troops from the 18th Infantry Battalion on the outskirts of Tipo-Tipo town in Basilan.
The MILF commanders were identified as Malista Malangka Sapaat, the men of Hamsa Sapanton, Abbas Salong and Rashid Iklaman, and Parang Pais.
The Abu Sayyaf were commanded by Nurhasan Jamiri, Bashir Kasaran, Ibrahim Malat and Furuji Indama.
The military assaulted the Abu Sayaff camp in Sitio Ungkaya, Barangay Pukan, Tipo-Tipo town, some 250 meters away from an MILF camp, to seize Indama, who threatened to disrupt an ongoing road construction project.
“The MILF should deal with them (rebels), the MILF leadership should deal with their members,” Bautista said.
Amid reports of Saturday’s fighting, the Palace said its legal team will review the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law “with a sense of urgency” to meet the May target for the submission of the legislative measure to Congress.
“There is a sense of urgency in being able to complete this review because we are all aware of the indicative timetable,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma said.
“The President will review and certify the draft bill as urgent to Congress. So this is a joint effort and both sides are doing what is necessary with the sense of urgency to be able to complete the task at hand within the indicative timetable,” Coloma added.
Coloma said the legal team may decide to “supplement or modify” the draft law, the final output of the peace agreement between the government and the MILF.
The law will create the Bangsamoro, a political entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Coloma said there is a “reasonable degree of confidence” that the timetable will be met.
“I think we must be mindful that throughout the process of crafting the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, there was close coordination on both sides in order to be able to hammer out this agreement. And even while the agreement was being negotiated, the Philippine panel was consulting regularly with the same panel that is now reviewing the draft law,” he added.
The legal team is composed of deputy executive secretary for legal affairs Michael Aguinaldo, chief presidential legal counsel Benjamin Caguioa, Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, and other government legal experts.
The leadership of both houses of Congress have committed to pass the basic law by December, after which a plebiscite will be held in the first quarter of 2015.
The plebiscite will cover the current provinces and cities in the ARMM, the cities of Isabela and Cotabato, six municipalities in Lanao del Norte, and 39 barangays in six municipalities of Cotabato province.
After the plebiscite, the government aims to put the Bangsamoro Transition Authority in place by 2015 to serve as interim government until the elections in 2016.
Earlier, Senator Miriam Santiago questioned the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, saying the peace pact was unconstitutional.
She said the agreement establishes not a mere autonomous region as provided for by the Constitution but a sub-state, which will exercise certain sovereign powers that should be reserved only for the central government.
She noted that preliminary studies show that the agreement apparently contains provisions that are very similar to those contained in the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain or MOA-AD, which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional.
“Both the MOA-AD and the Bangsamoro Agreement appear to facilitate the secession of the Bangsamoro from our country in a manner similar to the secession of Kosovo and Crimea,” Santiago said.
But government chief negotiator Miriam Ferrer said the CAB was crafted “within the framework of the 1987 Constitution.”
House leaders assured the public that they would not pass a law with infirmities.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. also maintained that the Bangsamoro Basic Law would not be questioned before the Supreme Court.
“We are certainly working on the theory that its constitutionality can be assured,” Belmonte said.
Belmonte’s statement came after the Bangsamoro Transition Commission submitted the draft law to Malacañang.
Belmonte said that the Bangsamoro Basic Law will be among the priorities of the House when Congress resumes session on May 5.
House Deputy Majority Leader and Citizens Battle Against Corruption party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna, a lawyer also expressed confidence that the proposed law is legal, as it allows the Transition Commission to propose constitutional amendments.