Saturday, January 30, 2016

China strongly condemns US for sending warship near island

From the Philippine Star (Jan 31): China strongly condemns US for sending warship near island

A Navy media team waits for the arrival of foreign dignitaries on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan at the U.S. Navy Base in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, Friday, Jan. 8, 2016. U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin talked to reporters Friday about two of the biggest challenges the U.S. military faces in Asia: North Korea and the South China Sea. He spoke aboard the USS Ronald Reagan. The 20,000-sailor strong 7th Fleet, based in Yokosuka, covers a region from India to the international dateline in the Pacific Ocean. AP/Ken Moritsugu

China strongly condemned the United States after a U.S. warship deliberately sailed near one of the Beijing-controlled islands in the hotly contested South China Sea to exercise freedom of navigation and challenge China's vast territorial claims.

The missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur sailed within 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) of Triton Island in the Paracel chain "to challenge excessive maritime claims of parties that claim the Paracel Islands," without notifying the three claimants beforehand, Defense Department spokesman Mark Wright said in Washington.

China, Taiwan and Vietnam have overlapping claims in the Paracels and require prior notice from ships transiting what they consider their territorial waters. The latest operation was particularly aimed at China, which has increased tensions with the U.S. and its Southeast Asian neighbors by embarking on massive construction of man-made islands and airstrips in contested areas.

In October, another U.S. warship sailed in the nearby Spratly Islands near Subi Reef, where China has built one of seven artificial islands.

Wright said the attempts to restrict navigational rights by requiring prior notice are inconsistent with international law. U.S. officials said that such ship movements would be regular in the future.

China responded swiftly. Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun issued a statement saying the U.S. action "severely violated Chinese law, sabotaged the peace, security and good order of the waters, and undermined the region' s peace and stability," according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

According to Yang, Chinese troops on the island and navy vessels and warplanes took actions immediately, identified the U.S. warship and "warned and expelled it swiftly."

He said that the U.S. operation was "very unprofessional and irresponsible for the safety of the troops of both sides, and may cause extremely dangerous consequences."

Chinese armed forces will take whatever measures "necessary to safeguard China's sovereignty and security, no matter what provocations the U.S. side may take," Yang said.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said separately that the Chinese side conducted surveillance and "vocal warnings to the U.S. warship."

China claims almost the entire South China Sea and its islands, reefs and atolls on historic grounds. The area has some of the world's busiest shipping lanes, and U.S. officials say ensuring freedom of navigation is in U.S. national interests, while not taking sides in the territorial disputes.

China seized the unpopulated Triton Island, an area of 1.2 square kilometers (0.46 sq. miles), from former South Vietnam in 1974. In May 2014, China parked a huge oil drilling platform off the Vietnamese coast in the area, prompting Vietnam to sent fishing boats and coast guard vessels to harass the rig and nearby Chinese vessels.
 Skirmishes led to collisions and the capsizing of at least one Vietnamese boat.

6 PAF 'Huey' up for maintenance, repairs

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 31): 6 PAF 'Huey' up for maintenance, repairs

With helicopters playing a major role in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) announced that it is procuring spare parts needed for the maintenance of six of its UH-IH "Huey" combat utility helicopters.

The budget for the maintenance project is placed at PHP17,241,236.23.

UH-IH helicopters slated for maintenance are those bearing tail numbers 276, 863, 504, 513, 517 and 507.

Submission and opening of bids is on Feb. 2, 9:00 a.m. at the PAF Procurement Center Conference Room, Villamor Air Base, Pasay City.

The UH-IH is a military helicopter powered by a single turboshaft engine, with two-bladed main and tail rotors.

It was was developed by Bell Helicopter to meet the United States Army's requirement for a medical evacuation and utility helicopter in 1952, and it first flew on October 20, 1956.

Ordered into production in March 1960, the UH-1 was the first turbine-powered helicopter to enter production for the United States military, and more than 16,000 have been built.

The PAF is known to operate 41 variants of the UH-I helicopters for its transport, medical evacuation and ground support missions.

President Aquino orders OPAPP to promote peace process even beyond his term

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 31): President Aquino orders OPAPP to promote peace process even beyond his term

President Benigno S. Aquino III has directed the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) to firm up consultation with the stakeholders to come up with an action plan for promoting the peace process in the transition period during the remaining months of his administration and up to the next administration.

Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Herminio B. Coloma Jr. told the Radyo ng Bayan on Sunday the directive has been given to the OPAPP through Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr.

According to Coloma, OPAPP Secretary Teresita Deles has said the government needs to hold consultations with all the stakeholders, particularly with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) with the government peace panel in 204.

”But measures will include strengthening existence peace bodies and mechanisms, joint bodies for socioeconomic interventions,” Coloma said, quoting Deles’ statement.

The government, Deles said, wants to operationalize the recommendations of the transitional justice and reconciliatory commission regarding the healing of the wounds of war and moving towards sharpened interfaith and multicultural dialogue and cooperation.

”And also very important, undertaking the necessary groundwork to ensure the legal political track in the next administration. We need to do all that is possible to ensure the full implementation of the CAB beyond this administration,” Deles said.

The signing of the CAB between the Philippine government peace panel and the MILF has resulted in the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which both the Senate and the House of Representatives are still working to get it pass in the remaining sessions of the 16th Congress.

In the Senate, Committee on Local Government Chairman Senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos submitted a substitute bill entitled Basic Law on the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR) which, he said, will not violate the Constitution.

The Senate, however, is still deliberating on the BLBAR at the plenary and Senate President Franklin Drilon said the Senate is already running out of time to pass the Bangsamoro bill.

Challenging Chinese claims, US sends warship near Spratlys

From The Daily Tribune (Jan 31): Challenging Chinese claims, US sends warship near Spratlys

Ignoring Beijing’s warning, the United States yesterday sent a warship very close to one of China’s claimed islands in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), a potential challenge to Beijing’s territorial claims in the contested waters.

A Pentagon official said the US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG-54), sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracel Islands, an operation the Pentagon said was designed to challenge efforts to restrict freedom of navigation.

No ships from China’s military were in the vicinity of the warship when it carried out the operation near near the disputed islands, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said.

“This operation challenged attempts by the three claimants — China, Taiwan and Vietnam — to restrict navigation rights and freedoms,” he stressed.

Earlier, Beijing criticized Harry Harris, commander of the US Pacific Command when he spoke about Chinese territory in the East China Sea last Wednesday at a Washington think tank event.

Harris said the US will continue to challenge China’s position on the South China Sea, adding his personal view is that “those islands do not belong to China.”

But Yang Yujun, the ministry’s spokesman, said: “Such remarks astonish me as they completely lack historical common sense.”

Peace and stability in the South China Sea should be safeguarded by China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (Asean), and, “We do not need countries outside the region finger-pointing on this issue, let alone making any ignorant remarks,” Yang said.

The warship docked in Manila last Wednesday for a routine maintenance and crew rest, according to a US Embassy statement.

The ship, which was commissioned in March 1994 and is homeported in Yokosuka, Japan, is an integral part of Battle Force Seventh Fleet which is the US Navy’s only permanently forward deployed naval force.

With a crew of more than 300 personnel, USS Curtis Wilbur has conducted operations in support of Operation Southern Watch (April 1999) and Operation Enduring Freedom (October 2001) and has participated in numerous other exercises.

US Navy ships and submarines have been conducting regular port calls and visits to the country, particularly in Subic Bay and Manila Bay, amid increased tension in the West Philippine Sea.
China began massive dredging operations to turn three reefs into artificial islands in 2014.

In little more than 18 months, Beijing has reclaimed more than 2,000 acres at three main locations in the Spratly Islands — Subi, Mischief and Fiery Cross reefs.

The South China Sea is the subject of numerous rival and often messy territorial claims, with China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam disputing sovereignty of several island chains and nearby waters.

MILF blames OPAPP for shelved BBL

From The Daily Tribune (Jan 31): MILF blames OPAPP for shelved BBL

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has blamed the Aquino administration, primarily the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) for the failure of Congress to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Both Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and Senate President Franklin Drilon had surrendered that the BBL is dead citing the narrow window left until the end of the current session of Congress.

MILF vice chairman Ghadzali Jaafar, in a television interview, blamed the lack of political will in the Aquino administration for the shelved BBL.

“I was told that one of the weaknesses or shortcoming they saw was in the leadership of OPAPP who presumed that Congress will follow the (peace) agreement signed,” Jaafar said.

Jaafar claimed a source told him that the OPAPP did not exert enough effort to come to an agreement with lawmakers.

“Although the MILF regret the lost opportunity, we are not sad and we do not mourn the inability of Congress to pass the proposed law for the Bangsamoro government,” he said. He said the MILF leadership is intact and the rebel group continues to be strong.

“At this point in the struggle, our aim is to maintain and preserve our gains in the negotiations,” Jaafar said.

The MILF, meanwhile, said it may not take up the proposal of Sen. Chiz Escudero for the rebel group to guard the electricity grid in Mindanao which was the target lately of bombing attacks.

In its website, the MILF said “securing the transmission lines of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) for people to continue access to power can well be a recommended act but for the MILF to simply announce that we commit to help secure these lines is more problematic than what meets the eye.”

Both the short and long term implications and complications have far-reaching effects, it said.
The MILF said if the bombing stops, “then some people might suspect that the MILF is behind the act, because it had stopped it if the bombing continues, then the MILF would be pictured as inutile or has not done enough to prevent it from happening.

“Damn if you do, damn if you don’t is still the rule here,” it said.

Pan de sal issue revived

The MILF also denied involvement in the bombings saying it has nothing to gain from the destruction of the power network.

“We are upholding the integrity of the ceasefire and the peace process,” it added.

“More importantly, the MILF is not yet a full-fledged partner or part of the state; peace partners, yes. The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is still pending in Congress and its non-passage is more expected than its passage,” it added.

“The success of this undertaking is still contingent to other considerations, say a good and effective Bangsamoro police, because by that time, the MILF weapons and combatants are decommissioned already,” it added.

The MILF, nonetheless, commended Escudero for issuing the proposal saying that “an admission of the capability of the Moros to do more difficult tasks than just being able to bake pan de sal.”

The MILF recalled that “in 2008 at the time the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-AD) was under intense discourse. . .he said that the Moros do not even know how to bake pan de sal, and therefore not fit to run a government.”

“If the NGCP is really serious in seeking the intervention of the MILF, then perhaps the better part of judgment is to send a formal request for a meeting, or better still, to send someone to discuss the issue with the MILF,” it said.

“In such a way, any agreement can be part of the overall scheme to promote peace in the region, and can be linked to relevant organs of the GPH-MILF peace process especially the ceasefire committees of the government and MILF. The MILF is not expert in making casual arrangements,” it added.

FBI slapped with FoIA over Mamasapano

From The Daily Tribune (Jan 31): FBI slapped with FoIA over Mamasapano

Group eyes other US agencies to reveal Exodus documents

A US-based chapter of a militant group has invoked the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) of the United States on the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for it to produce documents related to its participation in the Mamasapano debacle that resulted in the death of 22 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos in January 25 last year.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan)-USA said it is now pressing the FBI to reveal its role in last year’s massacre of Filipinos.

The group said similar FoIA requests will be sent to the National Security Division of the Department of Justice, Department of Defense, Department of State, Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, US Navy, US Army, US Air Force, and US Pacific Command regarding the Mamasapano Incident “to maximize the opportunity to unearth information about U.S. intervention in the Philippines.”

“Over 60 Filipinos died and witnesses also saw the body of an American at the covert US-designed Mamasapano operation one year ago, yet the U.S. has still not come clean about the extent of its role in the carnage. We are filing this Freedom of Information Act request with the FBI because the Filipino and American people have the right to know the full truth about this botched mission,” Bayan-USA chairman Bernadette Ellorin said.

US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg admitted last Friday that the US has a limited involvement in the botched Operation Plan (Oplan) Exodus that targeted Malaysian terrorist Zulkiflu bin Hir alias Marwan.

Goldberg said the participation of American forces in the was in line with agreements that the US and Philippine governments have but which was disputed by local law experts that no such agreement exists since the pact between both countries was limited to the military and not the police force.  

Goldberg also insisted that it was the Philippine government which requested US assistance.
“There was cooperation, that all of this is is done within the legal framework, and that there are agreements, and everything was done consensually or at the request of the Philippine government,” Goldberg said during a television interview.

Bayan-USA’s FoIA request asks for documentation pertaining to the FBI’s involvement in Oplan Exodus, including internal or inter-agency correspondence between David Bowdich, the Assistant Director in charge of the FBI Los Angeles Field Office, and the PNP Director General Alan Purisima, sacked SAF commander Director Getulio Napenas, or other Philippine authorities, pertaining to Marwan’s apprehension through the execution of Oplan Exodus; manuals or guidelines used by agents of the US in training the PNP-SAF to execute Oplan Exodus, or other similar operations with the aim of apprehending Marwan; responses to requests from the Philippine government to assist in the evacuation of the dead and wounded in the aftermath of Operation Plan Exodus; results of the evidentiary analysis done by the FBI Laboratory indicating the positive DNA identification of Marwan; and provision of any monetary award to the PNP SAF, or other Philippine authorities in exchange for Marwan’s positive DNA identification, such as the $5 million reward that the US State Department offered for Marwan’s arrest.

Oplan Exodus sent “commandos of the Special Action Forces of the Philippine National Police (SAF-PNP) into territory of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangasamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), despite a ceasefire agreement and ongoing peace negotiations between the MILF and Philippine government at the time,” Ellorin said.

The ensuing 12-hour battle resulted in the killing of seven civilians, 44 SAF forces and 22 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
“Involvement of multiple U.S. agencies including the FBI became clear as both Philippine government and civilian organizations investigated the operation. Official reports by the (National) Bureau of Investigation and the Senate cited the presence of six Americans at the Tactical Command Post for the mission, including an American who ordered a Philippine major general to fire artillery,” she added.

Napenas admitted under sworn testimony that the tissue sample of alleged terrorist target Marwan was immediately brought by the SAF to American FBI agents waiting in General Santos City, bypassing PNP Headquarters or any other Philippine agency. “Witnesses cited by the Philippine media also reported seeing among the dead the body of a white American male, who is believed to have been involved in the operation even though the Philippine Constitution prohibits the participation of foreign troops in military operations on Philippine soil,” Ellorin said.

“In November 2015, participants in BAYAN-USA’s Peace Mission went to Mamasapano, where they spoke with widows of MILF fighters who shared accounts of white soldiers being sighted in the encounter, further pointing to US military involvement,” she said.

“The US has dodged accountability for the Mamasapano carnage and countless more military-related crimes against the Filipino people, but Obama and Aquino continue to push for the implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. It is senseless to give the US military increased access to Philippine territory for its war games, when it won’t even admit any wrongdoing in an American operation that resulted in the killing of so many people,” said Ellorin.

“When government agencies like the FBI refuse to willingly be transparent about their actions, the public has the responsibility to use FoIA requests and all the tools at our disposal to hold government to account,” said BAYAN-USA Legal Desk member Jackelyn Mariano.

“In addition to requesting information from the FBI, BAYAN-USA plans to file FoIA requests with other agencies of the US government, including the Navy and the Army, to exercise our right to know the full truth about the US role in Mamasapano,” added Mariano.

“Operation Exodus at Mamasapano clearly shows how the U.S. is carrying out its ‘War on Terror’ with no regard for the lives of Filipinos, whether combatants or civilians. It carries out its war on terror without regard for the national sovereignty of the countries where the alleged terrorists are supposedly hiding. In many countries, the US employs drones to target so-called terrorists, often ending up killing civilians. We demand an investigation into the US role in Operation Exodus and for the termination of agreements like the EDCA which embolden the US to carry out violent, covert operations with impunity. We demand accountability for the lives lost and the violation of Philippine sovereignty,” Ellorin said.

Man in the Palace

The “mama sa palasyo” (man in the Palace), President Aquino, should be charged accountable over the death of the SAF 44, a retired Police General and a former SAF trooper himself said.

In a phone interview with the Daily Tribune, retired Gen. Diosdado Valeroso, who holds with him the so-called critical audio evidence that will accordingly confirm the President’s supposed effort to cover-up the infamous Oplan Exodus carnage, said that he is convinced that there’s nobody directly liable but the President himself.

“Every policeman will recognize who and what is defective with the Mamasapano massacre. And since there seems to be an oplan to cover up, obviously those who are summoned are expected to say what their higher ups would want them to say,” Valeroso said.

“I share the logic of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile. (SAF chief Gen. Getulio Napeñas) acted on higher orders. But since (resigned PNP Director Gen. Alan Purisima) was then suspended, and with the three of them, including the President, who was Napeñas’ immediate superior? A suspended PNP Chief or the PNP’s Chief Executive, the President himself? Obviously, its the President,” he explained.

Valeroso, who is withholding the identities of those involved in the taped conversation he holds, said that he finds it unfair and unjust for the President, through a supposed emissary, to request a cover up of the carnage just so to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) before Congress.

Malacañang’s BBL version is criticized by legislators for its supposed infirmities with respect to the Constitution as it seems to be a major compromise to the demands of the insurgent Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The MILF, together with the breakaway group BIFF, were the ones who relentlessly gunned the SAF 44, yet by far, nobody among the rebels are charged, Valeroso laments.

The retired Police official also decried that the lack of accountability and admission of guilt from the President’s and Purisima’s part and their “seemingly diversion of guilt on Gen. Napeñas” shows that Malacañang seems to be pressured by the MILF.

“It seems that they are afraid of the MILF. It seems that they do not have the courage and man up for justice for those who day by day risk their lives to fight for peace,” an agitated Valeroso lamented.

“If it is peace that they want, then the President himself should exert his might to give justice to the 44 young men who died while following a mission he plotted,” he added.

The fallen SAF 44 were killed on their mission of arresting wanted terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan in who was situated in the insurgent Moros’ territory in Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

Valeroso also took swipe of the Senators who are trying to bar him from making the controversial audio recording public.

Prominently, among those who scared Valeroso of raps in having a supposed wiretapped possession is Senate President Franklin Drilon, President Aquino’s thorough Liberal Party (LP) ally, who, too, was the one who exerted much effort to divert the issue of President Aquino’s direct guilt into grilling Napeñas — who seemingly wasn’t given the chance before the Senate floor the premises set by Malacañang allies in the Senate — to seemingly absolve the President from any charge.

Ironically, Drilon, together with then legislator Noynoy Aquino, was among those who upheld to make then controversial Hello Garci tapes of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo public before.
Valeroso said that their reluctance to make his tape public shows “the true colors of the administration”.

“Are they afraid? Afraid of what? Of the truth? If they are guilty, then they must be afraid. But I tell them. With my evidence, they must be terribly afraid,” Valeroso warned, adding that he might publicize the audio recording within the week.

The retired General also fired back at his critics who accuse him of dipping his fingers too much on the case that he’s not involved in the case and that he’s a close ally of persistent anti-BBL legislator Sen. Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr.

“Those who say such do not have the balls to stand face to face with me. I’m not a politician, so why join or elaborate about my friendship with Sen. Marcos?” he said.

Coronel: It’s SAF’s fault

For Malacañang’s representatives in the negotiations with the MILF, it is the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) that should be blamed in the botched oplan Exodus that lead to the bloody Mamasapano massacre of 44 elite commandos.

Chief government negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer insisted yesterday that the SAF, before pursuing wanted Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan in an MILF territory in Baranggay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao should have first coordinated with the rebel groups first.

“Had the SAF coordinated with the ceasefire mechanisms, there could never have been a Mamasapano (carnage) as we have seen in the past,” Ferrer said yesterday during the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines’ (NUJP) 9th national congress in Punta de Fabian, Rizal.

The 44 SAF troopers were relentlessly gunned by members of the MILF and its breakaway group Bangaamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). Despite such, not one from any of the suspect groups were charged.

The GRP chief negotiator also blames the SAF for not subscribing to the MILF’s ceasefire mechanisms, which is apparently a compromise set - not by the state — but by the MILF since 2002.
“As an organization, we dont see the MILF participating in the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao and national elections,” Ferrer added.

She further explained that the MILF has a standing policy and a recent statement that they won’t participate in elections.

The government’s negotiator also kept on insisting that the criticized Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) should still be passed, contradicting the critics who already said that it won’t prosper and that it now seems to be dying a natural death in both the House of Representatives and in the Senate.

Ferrer particularly scored the  major proponent of an alternativee BBL at the Senate, Sen. Ferdinand’ ‘Bongbong ‘ Marcos Jr. who was very vocal against the Malacañang-MILF version of the BBL due to accordingly unconstitutional provisions.

Ferrer also said that the not passing of the BBL hinders a lot of projects and programs in the Bangsamoro region. She added that as of January 2016, the MILF’s 30 percent done with its decommissioning of arms process.

U.S. admiral vows to defend Japan's Senkakus if attacked, names China

From InterAksyon (Jan 28): U.S. admiral vows to defend Japan's Senkakus if attacked, names China

Japanese aerial reconnaissance flight over Senkaku Islaes. Reuters file photograph

A top officer of the U.S. Navy reaffirmed Washington's commitment Wednesday (early Thursday in the Philippines) to defending a group of Japan-administered islets in the East China Sea under a bilateral security treaty. That is, if attacked, while taking the rare step of naming China as the potential aggressor.

"We will clearly defend them if they are attacked by China," Adm. Harry Harris, commander of the Pacific Command, said in an event at a Washington think tank, referring to the Senkakus, a group of islets claimed by China, which calls them the Diaoyu.

U.S. leaders, including President Barack Obama, have already stated that the 1960 security treaty, which obliges the U.S. military to defend Japan if it is attacked, covers the Senkakus, but have not specified a potential aggressor.

Washington says it does not take sides in the rival claims to sovereignty over the islets.

Sayyaf bombers of Sulu karaoke bar identified

From the Philippine Star (Jan 30): Sayyaf bombers of Sulu karaoke bar identified

Two members of the Abu Sayyaf group bombed a karaoke bar in Jolo, Sulu Thursday night. Google Earth

The military authorities have identified the two Abu Sayyaf members behind the bomb attack Thursday night in a karaoke bar in Jolo town, Sulu province.

According to the military, the attack was part of the diversionary tactics of the Abu Sayyaf group led by Radullan Sahiron to ease the offensive pressure launched by government forces against militants in Patikul and Talipao towns.

Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado, commander of the Joint Task Group Sulu (JTGS), said intelligence units identified the Abu Sayyaf bombers as Namil Ahajari alias Gapas and Roger Saji.

He said both were responsible in the bombing of the karaoke bar near the headquarters of Camp Teodulfo Bautista in Barangay Bus-bus, Jolo.

READAbu Sayyaf tagged in Sulu videoke bar blast

The blast damaged the establishment owned by former Talipao vice mayor Mijan Hasim. No casualty was reported.

Based on intelligence reports, the bombing was part of a hostile plan aimed at targeting military troops.

The report also disclosed that the priority targets of the bombing include Kakuyagan Village where several military personnel are frequently sighted by the Abu Sayyaf group and along Serrantes Street in downtown Jolo where troops are searching for provisions.

“Accordingly, said hostile plan or action is to divert the focus of military troops currently conducting focused military operation targeting their group in the hinterland of Patikul and Talipao municipalities,” Arrojado said in a text message.

He said troops have been alerted on the retaliatory attack of the Abu Sayyaf group by which counter measures are being conducted.

Lumad teacher survives another slay attempt by NPA

From the Philippine Star (Jan 31): Lumad teacher survives another slay attempt by NPA

TALAINGOD, Davao del Norte, Philippines  – A teacher of a lumad daycare center that the New People’s Army (NPA) has reportedly long wanted dead survived another attempt on his life in this town on Tuesday night.

Joel Daunsay, 26, of Central Baugan, Barangay Palma Hill, cheated death when the guns of the assassins jammed when they tried to shoot him.

The assassins left in haste, failing to kill their target.

“Someone knocked on our door at around 9:30 p.m. When I opened it, two men were pointing guns to my head,” he told The STAR.

He said he managed to mutter “why” to his assassins. One of the gunmen answered him by pulling the trigger.

The gun did not go off, prompting the assassin to reload, but it failed to fire for the second time.

The second assassin, apparently a back up, shot Daunsay, but his gun also did not fire.

“The commotion attracted the attention of my neighbors, forcing the assassins to flee. I prevented my relatives from running after the armed men as it might only worsen the prevailing conflict in our community,” he said.

Extortion behind foiled bombing of bus terminal

From MindaNews (Jan 29): Extortion behind foiled bombing of bus terminal

Extortion was behind the foiled bombing of a bus terminal in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao last Thursday.

A group identifying itself as ISM and headed by a certain Abu Sabbab demanded PhP 2 million from Husky Bus Company, the lone bus company operating along the Cotabato-General Santos City highway, Carlo Manalo, head of the bus company’s terminal, said.

Manalo said he received a text message threatening to bomb one of their units two hours after a foiled bombing in the terminal in Shariff Aguak town.

Shariff Aguak is an hour’s drive from the main terminal here.

Manalo said the bomb carrier who left the bag in the terminal was a young passenger who decided to get off upon arrival at the terminal.

Concerned citizens alerted authorities about the abandoned bag, which, when checked by the Army’s Explovies Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team, contained explosives.

The EOD team responded immediately to defuse the bomb.

Col. Lito Sobejana, commander of the 601st Brigade said the EOD team found a 60mm mortar high explosives, one MK-2 type of hand grenade, 250 milligrams of gasoline, two blasting caps, a 9-volts battery and a cellphone.

“Our EOD experts were surprised to notice the cellphone connected to the explosives and blasting cap had several missed calls, which indicated there was indeed an attempt to explode it,” Sobejana said.

He said there may have been a failure in the connection or maybe it was assembled by amateurs.

He thanked those who alerted authorities about the bag, for averting a disaster.
Manalo said the bus company has been receiving extortion letters which they immediately report to the police for blotter.

He said the threats include planting bombs in their terminals.

According to Manalo, he will “just pray for those people who send intimidating messages.”

The bus company is now implementing stricter security measures and will soon install CCTV cameras in strategic areas of the newly-constructed terminal.

Who, what killed BBL?

From MindaNews (Jan 30): Who, what killed BBL?

The January 25, 2015 Mamasapano tragedy is to blame for Congress’ failure to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), Senate President Franklin Drilon said.

“Let’s put the record straight. We were on the way to the approval of the BBL. The committee hearings were going smooth until the Mamasapano incident took place,” Drilon told ABS-CBN News Channel on Thursday.

Mamasapano became a game changer in the 18-year old peace process, 17 of that in negotiations to forge an agreement, the rest on implementation.

Marguina Dalamban had her face painted with a Bangsamoro emblem as she joins the celebration at the Cotabato City Paza while waiting for the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on 27 March 2014. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano

Marguina Dalamban had her face painted with a Bangsamoro emblem as she joins the celebration at the Cotabato City Paza while waiting for the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on 27 March 2014. MindaNews file photo by Toto Lozano

Before the tragedy, both houses were eyeing to pass the law by February and March 2015 to give sufficient time for the ratification and what was supposed to be at least a year-long transition period before the election of the first set of officials of the Bangsamoro government on May 9, 2016.

According to the peace roadmap of the government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Bangsamoro would have been inaugurated on June 30, 2016, the same day President Aquino would step down from his six-year stay in office.

“In fairness to the legislature, we did our best but you can operate only in a political environment conducive to the passage of this bill. Unfortunately, after the Mamasapano incident, the environment became very toxic. I can say that I think the BBL is the 45th victim in Mamasapano,” Drilon said.

Sixty-six Filipinos, not only 44, were killed when the Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police launched ‘Oplan Exodus,’ a dawn operation to arrest a high-value target without coordinating with the military and ceasefire mechanisms of the peace process: 44 from the SAF, 17 from the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces and five civilians.

Dean Antonio La Vina of the Ateneo School of Government agrees with Drilon’s assessment. “The Mamasapano incident killed the BBL. After that, the political terrain became difficult.”

But Lavina added that “many killed the BBL, including self-inflicted ones by the government and the MILF.”

Biggest casualty

Within the week of the tragedy, Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, the Archbishop of Cotabato, had warned that the biggest casualty in the Mamasapano tragedy, was not only the lives lost, but “the future.”

“The future is represented by the Bangsamoro Basic Law. If it falls by the wayside, the future is unthinkable. Where else can we go without its promise of a just and lasting peace? Where else do we go after many, many years of discussion?”

In his keynote address before a gathering of Mindanao and Manila media in Cotabato City in July, Quevedo said that at the legislative hearings to investigate the Mamasapano tragedy, “several of our legislators expressed the biases, prejudices, and mistrust of the Christian majority against Moros in general and against the BBL in particular.”

“These biases were sown during the period of colonization when relationships between Moros and Christians were characterized by continuing conflict, negative experiences with Moros, the diversity of religious beliefs and culture. Dormant through many decades and occasionally rearing its head as in the Ilaga-Barracuda armed conflicts during Martial Law, bias and prejudice suddenly erupted into the open in the wake of the Mamasapano tragedy,” he said.

In July 2003, Quevedo, then President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines delivered a paper before the 27th General Assembly of the Bishops’ Businessmen’s Conference on injustice as the root of conflict. He focused on three forms of injustices to the Moro “among the many” that he saw: injustice to the Moro identity, injustice to Moro political sovereignty, and injustice to Moro integral development.

In the wilderness of bias, prejudice and hatred

In his privilege speech Wednesday night (Jan. 27), Lanao del Sur Rep. Pangalian Balindong, Deputy Speaker for Mindanao, said not passing the BBL takes away “the hopes of millions of people in the Bangsamoro” for recognition of their distinct identity, protection of what remains of the Bangsamoro homeland, and the opportunity to exercise self-determination through a parliamentary form of government that will be run in accordance with the Moro culture, faith and way of life.”

“BBL will guarantee that as a minority, we stand in parity of esteem with our Filipino brothers and sisters,” he said.

But by the sheer tyranny of the majority, “we have foreclosed all possible peaceful, legal and constitutional avenues for peace,” he said, adding that no matter the debates on the justness of the Bangsamoro cause, “no matter how we stand to legal reasoning, no matter how we shout for our constitutionally guaranteed right to genuine political autonomy, the reality is that there are only ten Moro legislators against the more than 280 members of this house. We are only ten lone voices in the wilderness of bias, prejudice and hatred.”


Committee hearings on the BBL – House Bill 4994 in the House of Representatives and Senate Bill 2408 in the Senate — were suspended immediately after the tragedy and resumed only in April and May.

The Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL chaired by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and the Senate Committee on Local Government chaired by Senator Ferdinand Marcos, soonafter filed their respective substitute bills – HB 5811 and SB 2894 – both titled “Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region” or BLBAR. But these versions were criticized for making the future Bangsamoro “less autonomous than the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) that it seeks to replace.”

The Bangsamoro envisioned by the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that the GPH and MILF signed on March 27, 2014, and what the BLBAR envisioned, were too far apart.

The substitution of the draft BBL by the BLBAR versions effectively killed the BBL. But the funeral for the BBL was repeatedly postponed as efforts were undertaken and assurances given, to “resurrect” it by restoring provisions of the BBL into the BLBAR to make it “acceptable” to the other party in the peace agreement: the MILF, but these were turned down by the committees.

What was “unacceptable” to the MILF was acceptable to the majority of the legislators; what was “acceptable” to the MILF was unacceptable to the majority.

Who’s responsible? 

Lawyer Raissa Jajurie, a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that drafted the BBL, said the 16th Congress “lost its chance to play a historic role in finding a peaceful resolution to an age-old problem.”

“Maybe the country is not ready for peace and reconciliation. No one seems to understand the Bangsamoro Problem,” Jajurie said.

For Zaynab Ampatuan, executive director of Moro Peoples Core, “it’s not the Mamasapano incident that killed the BBL. It’s the ignorance of the lawmakers on the real cause of the Bangsamoro struggle that killed the BBL.”

“That Congress failed to enact the BBL no longer comes as a surprise,” lawyer Maria Asis of the Bangsamoro Study Group said.

“When they mangled BBL and turned it into BLBAR was not even the start of BBL’s demise. It started when BBL’s fate in Congress was handed over to Rufus and Bongbong Marcos. It did not start with Mamasapano. It began when PNoy failed to certify it as an urgent bill when it was still BBL, not BLBAR.”

Under the peace agreement, the President was supposed to have certified the bill as urgent upon submission to Congress. The draft BBL was submitted to Congress on September 10, 2014, in ceremonial rites held in Malacanang.

Drieza Liningding, Secretary-General of the Bangsamoro National Movement for Peace and Development and co-founder of the militant youth organization, Free The Bangsamoro Movement, is holding the President responsible for BBL’s death.
“We hold responsible none other the President. It is him whom the MILF entered and signed an agreement with. It is President Aquino that we hold responsible for the killing of BBL, for authorizing Oplan Exodus with complete disregard of the peace process at the height of its popularity and mass support.”

Liningding said they will take to the streets and social media “how Aquino betrayed the Moros hoping to drum up support from the international community, for direct intervention minus the war.”

Anger, disappointment, a feeling of betrayal greeted the news that the Bangsamoro law won’t pass under the Aquino administration but for many who have followed closely the 18-year old peace process, there was a collective sigh of relief. “Relieved, to be honest because of the mounting danger that under pressure to pass, something more like BLBAR than BBL would be passed. No BBL is better than a bad BBL,” a civil society leader said.

BBL passage, decommissioning, etc.. passed on to next administration

From MindaNews (Jan 30): BBL passage, decommissioning, etc.. passed on to next administration

The passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the decommissioning of combatants and weapons of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and other aspects of the Bangsamoro peace process will be passed on to the next administration, following the failure of the 16th Congress to pass the proposed law.

The delay in the passage of the BBL affects not only the timetable for the establishment of the Bangsamoro, the new autonomous political entity that is supposed to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) but also the process of decommissioning firearms and combatants of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front chair Al Hadj Murad Ebrahim and President Benigno Aquino III inspect the firearms during a ceremonial turnover at the old Maguindanao provincial capitol in Sultan Kudarat on June 16, 2015. The MILF turned over a total of 75 weapons as an initial step toward decommissioning. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano

Moro Islamic Liberation Front chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and President Benigno Aquino III inspect the firearms during a ceremonial turnover at the old Maguindanao provincial capitol in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on June 16, 2015. The MILF turned over a total of 75 weapons as an initial step toward decommissioning. MindaNews file photo by Toto Lozano

Under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed by government (GPH) and the MILF on March 27, 2014, decommissioning has four phases.

The ceremonial turnover on June 16, 2015 of 55 high-powered and 20 crew-served weapons to the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) in the presence of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, and the decommissioning of 145 members of the BIAF was only the first phase, according to the Annex on Normalization.

The first phase involves only a small number of weapons and forces decommissioned — “bonus” as MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal described it to reporters before the ceremonial decommissioning, but the second phase, which ends with the ratification of the BBL, involves the decommissioning of thousands of weapons and combatants.

The Annex provides that when the BBL is ratified, 30% of the forces and weapons would be decommissioned, 35% more in the third phase – from the ratification of the BBL to the establishment and operationalization of the police force for the Bangsamoro; and the last 35% in the fourth phase, from the operationalization of the police force “up to two months before the signing of the Exit Agreement, provided that the evaluation of the panels with the participation of the Third Party Monitoring Team and Facilitator that that all the commitments of the Parties, except the remaining stage of the decommissioning, has been completed.”

The BIAF has an estimated 10,000-strong armed force.

In his speech at the decommissioning, MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim reiterated they will “only accept a BBL that is in compliance with the letter and spirit of the FAB (Framework Agreement on the Bangsamor) and CAB and its annexes.”

President Aquino on the other hand commended the MILF for showing sincerity through the ceremonial handover of firearms and decommissioning of combatants despite the uncertainty over the passage of the BBL.

Addressing the legislators opposing the BBL, the President said that if there were 10 steps between them, the MILF had taken nine and a half steps. “Would you still deprive them of that last half-step?”

He urged them to “remember this day.”

“We who did not do our duty by them, we who put forth the wrong solutions, we who failed to do our utmost to protest and put a stop to the abuses committed against them—are we also going to seize from them the chance to live dignified and peaceful lives? Are we going to cling to baseless fears? Do we want to fall back on solutions that have already failed to rectify the problem, and which instead gave rise to more divisions and deepened the wounds caused by a lack of trust?” Aquino asked.

The equivalent of opposing the BBL, he said, is “willfully depriving the Moro people of what should be theirs—ensuring that they have no opportunity to uplift themselves; guaranteeing that they will never lay down their arms and leave conflict and struggle behind.”

Armed men torch farm equipment in Bukidnon

From Rappler (Jan 30): Armed men torch farm equipment in Bukidnon

In two incidents at dawn, suspected NPA rebels burn down bulldozers and a truck in Malaybalay City. Armed men also strafe another truck in a third incident.

Armed men alleged to be members of the New People’s Army (NPA) torched farm equipment in two separate incidents in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, at early dawn Saturday, January 30.

Reports reaching the military said that two units of bulldozers were burned down by unidentified armed men at Impalambong, Barangay 10, at around 2 am.

The bulldozers were reportedly owned by Del Monte Philippines Inc (DMPI).

Around half an hour later, a boom spray truck of Lapanday Agricultural Development Corporation was also torched by 5 unidentified suspects at Sitio Hagwaon in Barangay Laguitas.

Both agricultural companies are operating pineapple plantations in Malaybalay, added the reports.

The police, military, and the Bureau of Fire Protection are now investigating these arson incidents.

The reports noted that the Lorenzo family owns Lapanday and a part of DMPI, the majority shares of which had been sold to the Campos Group many years ago.

While managing DMPI, the Lorenzos were known to have resisted extortion activities by the NPA, the reports added.

In a third incident also in Malaybalay City, a mega truck, while conducting a spraying operation at a Dole farm in Upper Gabunan in Barangay Casisang, was flagged down then strafed by suspected NPA rebels also at around 2:30 am.

Five bullets hit the truck, said the report. The driver of the truck was able to get off the truck and run to safety.

GPH-MNLF-OIC agree on joint communiqué

From the Manila Times (Jan 30): GPH-MNLF-OIC agree on joint communiqué

The Philippine government, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have finally agreed in a Joint Communiqué to move on with the peace process from review to implementation.

The communiqué, signed in Jeddah on January 26, marked the conclusion of the Tripartite Review Process (TRP) on the Implementation of the 1996 GPH-MNLF Final Peace Agreement (FPA).

It identified four key areas – the establishment of Bangsamoro Development Assistance Fund; co-management of strategic minerals; participation of MNLF in the Bangsamoro Parliament; and creation of Tripartite Implementation Monitoring Committee.

The Bangsamoro Development Assistance Fund will be used for socio-economic development projects for MNLF communities. Also, the agreement on the co-management of strategic minerals will be referred to the Oversight Committee created by RA 9054 (Organic Act for the Autonomous Region in Muslin Mindanao) for the continuation of its devolution process.

It will also bolster the MNLF participation in the Bangsamoro Transition Commission on the envisioned Bangsamoro Parliament, and the creation of the Tripartite Implementation Monitoring Committee to oversee the consensus arrived at by the TRP.

The communiqué was signed by Undersecretary Jose Yu- suf Iribani Lorena, for the Philippine government; law- yer Randolph Parcasio and Muslimin Sema for the MNLF; with OIC Secretary General Iyad bin Amin Madani for the 57-nation Islamic organization.

The Manila Times tried to reach MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari to comment in the signed Communiqué but only MNLF secretary general Ustadz Murshi Ibrahim gave a statement.

“The agreement signed by the MNLF-OIC-GPH at the conclusion of two-day meeting in Jeddah, is a better step for abiding peace in Morolandia,” Ibrahim said.

Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp) Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles, who headed Philippine delegation said “this is an important milestone we have reached the convergence of the two Bangsamoro peace processes.”

Meanwhile, a memorandum signed by Misuari announced the holding of the MNLF Leadership Assembly at the Astana (Palace) in Indanan, Sulu to discuss the results of the tripartite peace review conference in Jeddah.

The gathering, which date was not specified, is expected to be attended by armed and unarmed card-bearing MNLF members, at the same venue it was held earlier this month.

Church leader decries 'death of Mindanao peace process'

From UCA News (Jan 29): Church leader decries 'death of Mindanao peace process'

Failure to pass autonomy bill a result of hatred and prejudice, says Cardinal Orlando Quevedo

Church leader decries 'death of Mindanao peace process'

Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato. He blames "hatred, prejudice and bias against Muslims" for the “death of the peace process” in Mindanao. (Photo by Mark Saludes)

A prominent vocal advocate for peace in the southern Philippines has blamed "hatred, prejudice and bias against Muslims" for the “death of the peace process” in Mindanao.

Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato, also warned against the possible rise of Islamic radicalism in the region and a growing number of Christians arming themselves to defend their communities.

"There will be a continuing rise of militias.… It's a very difficult situation," Cardinal Quevedo told on Jan. 29.

"The most likely target for radicalism [in Southeast Asia] now is the Philippines because of the rejection of the [Bangsamoro Basic Law]," said Quevedo.

The Philippine Congress, which goes into recess next week in preparation for the May national elections, failed to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law for lack of a quorum on Jan. 28.

If passed, the proposed law, a result of 18 years of peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front, would have established a new autonomous political entity known as the Bangsamoro in Mindanao.

Cardinal Quevedo warned that with a "dead" law the peace process will also die, the rebels will not cooperate with the government, and radicalism among Muslims will grow.

"The whole thing demoralizes the Bangsamoro," said Cardinal Quevedo, adding that the demoralization will lead young people to radicalism.

Oblate Father Roberto Layson said the killing of 44 police commandos in a botched anti-terrorism operation last year "further fueled hatred and deep seated bias against the Moro people."

The death of the policemen at the hands of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters in January 2015 sparked public outrage causing the withdrawal of support by some legislators for the proposed law.

"It's a bit disappointing because the Bangsamoro Basic Law was the product of 18 years of negotiations," said Father Layson, parish priest of conflict-riddled Mary Immaculate parish in Cotabato’s Pikit town.

Pikit has seen several clashes between government troops and Moro front fighters during the decades long insurgency.

"People on the ground" are very supportive of the peace process and the passage of the law, but the killing of policemen was the turning point that stalled it.

"We are still addressing the hatred of people with each other," Father Layson told

Representative Pangalian Balindong, deputy speaker for Mindanao in the Philippine Congress, said the incident last year labeled the Moro people once again as "terrorists, extremists, enemies, traitors and murderers."

The failure to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law took away the recognition of the Moro people's "distinct identity and the opportunity to exercise self-determination," he said.

"The ignorance of legislators on the real causes of the Bangsamoro people's struggle killed the Bangsamoro Basic Law," said Zaynab Ampatuan, a Muslim community organizer in the town of Kabacan.

"We are challenging peace advocates to help find ways in peace building and uniting Filipinos without prejudice," Ampatuan said.

Q and A with MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim: “The two panels should sit down and plan what will happen to the peace process”

From MindaNews (Jan 29): Q and A with MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim: “The two panels should sit down and plan what will happen to the peace process”

Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, 67-year old grandfather of nine, has been chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) since July 2003, days after the death of founding chair Salamat Hashim.

Before assuming the post, Murad had served as MILF vice chair for military affairs and from 2001 to 2003, was also chair of the MILF peace panel.

It was under his watch as MILF chair that the peace process between government (GPH) and the MILF which started in 1997 under Salamat, produced an initialed Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in 2008. Its formal signing, however, was aborted, triggering a war that took 11 months to forge a ceasefire and get the peace process back on track.

Eventually, the protracted peace process culminated in the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) in October 2012 and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in March 2014 which promised to finally put an end to the decades-old protracted armed struggle.

As it turned out, implementation of the peace pacts would also be protracted.

Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) talks about the challenges facing the Bangsamoro peace process in an interview with MindaNews at Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat town in Maguindanao on January 26, 2016. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO

Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) talks about the challenges facing the Bangsamoro peace process in an interview with MindaNews at Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat town in Maguindanao on January 26, 2016. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO

On August 25, 2015, when uncertainty over the passing the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) under the Aquino administration was already evident, Murad told MindaNews that “what is important is nandyan yung agreement, we protect that agreement because if it cannot be implemented within our lifetime, then the struggle will continue and the next generation will always demand for the implementation of this agreement.”

“This is a protracted struggle. .. you cannot dictate kung hanggang saan but what is important is you keep on, keep on, hold on to the struggle until the final objective is (realized),” he said.

On January 26, 2016, a day after the first anniversary of the Mamasapano Tragedy, Murad continued to be hopeful that the draft BBL, already considered dead by the Congress committees that filed substitute bills HB 5811 and SB 2894 (both titled “Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region” or BLBAR), can still pass.
Where was that hope coming from when all the signs were already pointing to the impossibility of passing the law given the limited number of session days and the chronic absenteeism in the House and inaction by the Senate?

That hope came from assurances from the government peace panel, the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and the President himself that there would be no Plan B because the law will be passed.

Murad explained they were looking forward to the passage of the BBL, not the BLBAR as passing the latter would throw away the gains of the now 18-year old peace process.

The substitute bills, both titled BLBAR, had been criticized as envisioning a Bangsamoro that is “less than the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) that it seeks to replace.”

By Wednesday night, Deputy Speaker Pangalian Balindong delivered a privilege speech declaring that with a “grieving heart,” he was going to “close the book of hope for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.”

The next day, Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. said they can’t pass the law before February 3, the last session day before Congress adjourns for the election campaign.

The new developments notwithstanding, MindaNews presents excerpts from an interview with Murad in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on January 26 as it shows the frame of mind of the MILF leadership and the prospects of the peace process beyond the Aquino administration.

Q.  As the days progress, the chances of passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) are getting smaller. Have you actually accepted the fact that it may not be passed under the Aquino administration?

A. As a revolutionary we have to accept whatever is forthcoming, kahit anong mangyari we are ready.. we are still hopeful na ma-push ng Presidente ang original na BBL na maipasa but then at the back of our heads, we are thinking already that if this will not happen then we have to do something. So we are also preparing for that.

Q. What are your preparations?

A. We are preparing for whatever eventuality. But we are sticking to the commitment of the President. We are holding on to it.

Q. When was the last time you met with the President?

A. Last January 12.

Q. How long did the conversation take and was this in his office?

A. Oo. It took us more than one hour. Almost two hours. Basically, walang pagbabago sa commitment niya and persistent assurance na maipasa ang BBL.

Q. Which BBL?

A. The original BBL. I have clarified to him very clearly na hindi natin matatanggap yung BLBAR (Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region) ng House at saka yung version version ng Senate.

Q. Kinlaro nyo? What did he say?

A. Klaro yan sa kanya. He said ‘we are trying to pass what has been agreed na BBL.’
Q. You are referring to the agreed version?

A. When we say BBL, we are referring to the original version

Q. Let’s clarify that. The original was the BTC draft but there were changes done with the Office of the President before it was submitted to Congress. This is what you refer to as the ‘agreed version’?

A. Yes

Q. But of course Congress will always say ‘we have the mandate to pass the law so we can accept or reject your draft.’ I know you’ve been asked this before, what is the MILF’s bottomline?

A. Wala tayong bottomline because the agreed version is already the bottomline. The President can also decide which bill ang gusto niyang tanggapin o hindi niya tanggapin

Q. Meaning? Was he hinting he might veto if the bill passed is

A. Well, that is one option he has. Kasi alam niya if a the bill passed is not acceptable to the MILF, it will mean throwing out the peace process.

Q. And history will repeat itself? Parang nangyari doon sa MNLF

A. Yes. Mangyayari naman sa… hindi natin yan gusto

Q. You think that if Congress passes (BLBAR), the President will sign it into law or ive-veto niya nga as he was hinting?

A. Until now we are maintaining our partnership with the Office of the President so whatever action he will take, we are hoping na kokonsultahan kami because we are partners.

Q. What is an “acceptable” law? Is  “more than ARMM” acceptable?

A.   It should not just be more than ARMM … it should comply with the CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro). Because that is the bottomline. That it should comply with the CAB.

Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) since July 2003. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO

Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) since July 2003. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO

Q. During the almost two hours conversation did you talk about the what ifs? What if the law won’t pass under his administration?

A.   Palaging sinasabi niya ‘we have no Plan B.’ Sa amin din we don’t explore Plan B, because gagawin na lang natin kung anong Plan B when time dictates. Sa kanila wala rin because ang tingin niya (President) maipapasa pa rin.

Q. But you have to be realistic. There are only five session days from now. Tomorrow (January 27) is the deadline supposedly of the House (to pass the law). The Senate has not even resumed interpellation and tomorrow is Mamasapano re-investigation. Realistically, there’s very little time and it might really be that it won’t pass under the Aquino administration so shouldn’t you be planning ahead?

A.   Once it is conclusive that there’s no more way to pass it then the two panels should sit down and then pagplanohan what will happen to the peace process

Q, This is the meeting in KL next month?

A. Yeah. Most likely.. they can take up what will be the next step in the peace process.

Q. But even if by some miracle, an acceptable BBL will be passed before Congress adjourns on February 5, that can no longer be implemented by the Aquino administration because there is no more time.

A. Ang importante maipasa ang agreed BBL and then siguro mas madali na sa susunod na administration na i-push forward yung process because if the BBL is not passed, the next Congress will tackle it.. so mas maganda rin maipasa na ngayon so that there will be no more process in Congress (in the next administration). Ang mangyari, the executive branch will just appoint the BTA and then move forward to other processes

Q. But that is assuming that the basic law is acceptable, not BLBAR.

A. Yes. 

Q. But Rep Rufus Rodriquez (chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL) already said there is no more chance for the 28 provisions (of the BBL) to be restored (into the BLBAR) so practically you’ll have a basic law that you had actually rejected earlier because it’s less than ARMM.

A. It’s just the opinion of Rufus. 

Q. But Rufus is chair.

A.   Yeah but the final decision is by the entire Congress. Maybe Rufus can push for that but the entire Congress can overturn. It’s not final. It depends on the majority of Congress kung anong gagawin nila.

Q. Looks like given a very limited time, the pronouncements of Rufus and the lack of quorum, if there is a basic law that will be passed it might be BLBAR in its present form. What am trying to say is are you not in a situation already that given all the constraints — that this will be passed on to the next Congress if it is not passed under this administration — are you not being forced into a situation where you will just say ‘sige ipasa nyo lang kahit ano yan and then tangapin na lang namin yan’?

A. Definitely that will not happen. This is a product of a hard work both in the peace process and the Bangsamoro so we cannot afford to barter the struggle of the Bangsamoro people. So hindi mangyayari ang ganon. Definitely… If there are some people who will accept — pero until the MILF as an organization officially declares na yung bill is acceptable — the implementation process of the CAB should not be unilateral. It has to be agreed upon by the parties… Kung merong tatanggap, hindi pa rin binding sa MILF as an organization.
Q. But we are actually seeing something like history repeating itself and it can even be worse this time because there will now be two peace agreements that the next administration will implement – yung sa inyo at saka kina Nur (Misuari of MNLF).

A. We are supportive of the Tripartite Review (of the GPH-MNLF-OIC). Many of their agreed points are already in the CAB and the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro. But if there are matters that have not been included, we can still do that when we have the Bangsamoro government. We can work out together with the MNLF, to include these. 

Q. The three key issues under review by the Tripartite? Natural resources, territory provisional government?

A. They (MNLF) can be accommodated in the BTA (Bangsamoro Transition Authority). They can be part of the BTA and then on the provision on natural resources, almost settled na. Sinasabi nila strategic mineral which is not defined in the GPH-MNLF agreement. Intentionally hindi rin namin dinefine dahil mahirap i-determine kung ano yung strategic mineral because any natural resources can be strategic mineral.

Q. Territory?

A.   I-amend ang opt in provision

Q.  But Rufus already said the opt-in is out.

A.   But that can be subject of amendment.

Q,  What if the next administration says no more third party facilitation because we’re now on implementation phase?

A.   The position of the MILF has always been that whenever we stop, we will start from there when we resume. Hindi pwedeng sabihin na balik tayo sa zero because pag bumalik ka then imagine mo we spent 18 years sa isang proseso tapos sasabihin mo na babalik? We will continue the peace process from where we stopped so all the structures we are preserving. All the structures, kasi nandyan na iyan

Q. The 3rd party facilitation, IMT, ICG, etc..?

A.   Yes. Even the IDB (International Decommissioning Body), we’re preserving it and the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC)…

Q, The TJRC report has not been made public.

A.   The report is there but when it will be released will still be decided on. On our side, we’re ready to have it released to the public

Q. You said if the BBL won’t be passed in this administration, you will start where you left off. When the new administration comes

A.   We will push for the implementation of the CAB… As far as the agreement is concerned, hindi na pwedeng pag usapan. Maybe (we can discuss the) ways forward but not on the content. It’s a finished agreement. As for the BBL, as long as it will be compliant with the CAB, wala kaming problema. 

Q. If the law is not passed under the Aquino administration, the CAB is there, the FAB is there, but in terms of legislation, the bill will have to be re-filed. You will have the agreed version re-filed? Hindi na uulitin yung draft?

A. Hindi na because it’s already an agreed version. Napagkasunduan na.

Q. Eh kung sabihin ng new President ‘ako naman yung bagong President eh so ako kausapin nyo,’ ganon pa rin ang stand ninyo?

A. Titingnan natin kasi sa proseso, even though it’s already agreed, dahil sa process ng Congress kung meron silang pagbabago, as long as it will not contradict the CAB, siguro kung mayroong improvement, well, it’s open naman for as long as it will comply with the CAB.

Q. So not necessarily zero but back to square 1?

A. As far as the bill is concerned, parang ganon.

Q. And in the next administration you will have at most two years (to deliberate on the BBL) because the next ARMM election will be in 2019.

A. Yes. 2019. About 3 years pa.

Before he became MILF chair in July 2003, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim served as Vice Chair for Military Affairs. He also served as MILF peace panel chair from 2001to 2003. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO

Before he became MILF chair in July 2003, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim served as Vice Chair for Military Affairs. He also served as MILF peace panel chair from 2001to 2003. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO

Q. But you have at least a year for transition period.

A. The transition is at least one year … there are ideas na gawin na lang yung transition three years. Pag ganon, it doesn’t violate the CAB because at least one year. .. I think it’s more practical to make the transition three years and then coincide with the 2019 election.

Q.  If transition is at least one year, the BBL should be passed before 2018 so the BTA can be set up 2018 at the latest?

A.   Yes.

Q. By then the ARMM is still there, the Regional Legislative Assembly is still there. Does this mean they will use the same formula to include the RLA in the BTA,

 A, Tingnan natin. As long as we still have the majority. Kasi majority-led ang provision. We are still the majority kahit na maipasok nila ang mga elected ARMM. Okay lang.

Q.  How do you ensure that the autonomy that you will get will not be another patronage autonomy, where the patron is Malacanang?

A. Actually if you look at the BBL and the CAB, the distinction between the present ARMM structure and the Bangsamoro ministerial structure is very clear. Malayo masyado. That’s why if you look at it, its’ very independent from the executive branch of government although the President has general supervision. But the structure is different. That’s why there is an IGR (Inter-Governmental Relations) kasi this will always function as a defining mechanism sa relationship ng Central Government and the Bangsamoro Government so magkaiba ito. Tingnan mo ang ARMM, directly under the President so it gets the mandate from the President so even yung mga departments diyan they are devolved only. They’re not an exclusive power of the ARMM so malayo masaydo ang difference.

Q. Eh tinanggal na nga ng BLBAR ang exclusive powers di ba?

A. Yun na nga. Kailangan maibalik yun because that is the essence of autonomy.
Q. Paano kung si Duterte ang next President? Sinusulong nya ang federalism.

A. Ang nakikita ko kay Duterte… parang nababasa ko gusto niyang maipasa ang BBL ngayon and parang gusto niya parang tingin ko gagawin niyang model ito ng federal state so if ever na successful siya turning the Philippines into the federal state siguro magiging model na ang Bangsamoro, just duplicating it to other regions.

Q,  So magiging model pa kayo.

A. Hahaha. Siguro. Baka sakali. Yun ang nakikita ko. He is pushing for the BBL and he is pushing for federalism.

Q. Kahapon anniversary ng Mamasapano at bukas ang re-investigation naman ng Senate. The Senate Committee will re-investigate tomorrow so there will be no time for the BBL. You said in your January 24 presscon that that the case is closed. Why did you say ‘closed.’

A. Kasi sa panig namin wala na kaming masabi tungkol sa Mamasapano incident. Nasabi na namin ang lahat sa side namin. We have submitted already a copy of our investigation report. That’s why as far as I am concerned, closed na ito. Ang tingin namin ngayon parang ang target ay paano nila ma-pin down si PNoy, the President.. It’s more political.

Q. Guiamel Alim recently about re-investigating Mamasapano but he made a call to re-investigate also the massacres in the past, the historical injustices..

A. We’re supportive of that call. That’s why there is a TJRC so that these injustices will be brought out in the open. Ang importante maipalabas ito and then mabigyan ng justice… If compensation is still possible then we go for that but if that is no longer possible then siguro meron lang mga moral …. i-acknowledge ang nangyari.

Q. You also said passing the original BBL is more important than the election. Why did you say that?

A. It’s very important to the country kasi it’s for the general welfare. The election is also important. I meant legislators should see that the passage of the BBL is more important than individual political interests.

Q. What are your most afraid? You are 67 turning 68, you have nine grandchildren, you dropped out of college to be part of the struggle, you’ve seen through the wars, the peace process. What are you most afraid of at this stage of your life?

A. As far as the organization is concerned, there are second liners already who can take over anytime. I think what I fear most is that itong organization will be dismantled.
Q. Magkawatak-watak?

A. Yeah. Magkawatak-watak gaya ng nangyari sa MNLF. I just want to make sure na hindi magkakaganon

Q,  What are you doing to ensure hindi magkawatak-watak?

A.   Consolidation of the Central Committee… In the case of the MNLF, nagkaroon ng struggle sa leadership. Yun ang gusto natin na i-protect, na hindi mangyari. So we have a clear chain of command and clear (policy on) succession.

Q,You’re talking succession now?

 A.   Yes. Succession of leaders. Kasi yun ang problema in the MNLF. There is no clear succession. Kailangan merong agreed mechanism na ito yung succession natin

Q. You have that?

A.   Yes we have.

Q. You’ll be chairman for 13 years by July. Napag-aralan nyo na yan? In short, you’ve learned lessons?A.   Yes, we have learned lessons.

Q, Are you afraid of ending up like Nur Misuari? How will history treat you later given this crucial period in history when you have do decide if you will accept or not the law if it is passed. Your decision of course will matter most because this might spell the difference between Misuari and Al Haj Murad Ebrahim. As chair of the MILF, are you afraid you’ll end up like Misuari.

 A. I don’t entertain the idea. We have taken care that that won’t happen because the present leaders of the MILF are now maintaining the consultative and collective leadership. Whatever decision I make, I will not make it alone. I have to (consult) because that is what we see as one of the shortcomings of Nur. Because he does not consult his followers. So that’s the difference. We will not make a major decision unless the Central Committee is consulted.

Q. When the President meets with you in Malacanang, you cannot readily say this is the decision? You have to go back to the Central Committee?

A. Unless of course when we already have a decision on a particular issue, I can directly answer him na okay. When there is no clear decision yet by the Central Committee, then I have to go back to the Central Committee.

Q. What about your political party. I understand the Comelec has approved the application of the UBJP (United Bangsamoro Justice Party)?   Are you going to participate in this election?

A.   If it is already the Bangsamoro government then we will participate but if it’s still ARMM, we cannot participate. But we will continue to build up the party. We’re now thinking of the headquarters of the party.

Q. Where will that be?

A. We are trying within the vicinity.

Q. You have a new party and election is in May. Are you not going to participate to somehow introduce your party to the rest of the region?

A.   Hindi pa.

Q.   So party building pa lang?

A.   Party building pa lang kasi too early to participate na. Hindi pa masyadong luto
Q. Registered voter na ba kayo

A.   Ako? Wala pa.

Q.   Di ba may special registration supposedly for MILF? Hindi nyo itinuloy?
A.   Hindi tinuloy dahil sa BBL.

Q.  So hindi ka rin makaboto ngayon?

A.   Hindi pa ako botante..