The bloodbath that reopened old wounds
March 3, 2015

THE REAL VOICE of the Bangsamoro people must be heard in the search for a just and lasting peace in Mindanao, southern Philippines.

Prof. Julkipli Wadi
LEAD DISCUSSANT Dean Julkipli Wadi (CenPEG photo)

CenPEG Fellows and other leaders reached this consensus in a CenPEG Fellowship roundtable discussion on February 23. Held nearly a month after the January 25 bloodbath in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao, the roundtable discussion, “The Mamasapano Bloodbath: Implications on the Peace Process in Southern Philippines,” dealt on the impact of the incident on the government peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) particularly the prospects of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) now pending in Congress.

On January 25, hundreds of Special Action Force (SAF) police commandos figured in an 11-hour firefight in Mamasapano that killed 44 policemen, 18 MILF rebels, and six civilians. Subsequent investigations in Congress revealed that “Oplan Exodus,” was a top secret operation decided upon by President Benigno S. Aquino III, suspended police chief, Gen. Alan Purisima, and US Federal agents. A police anti-crime operation, “Oplan Exodus” was executed without coordination with ceasefire mechanisms in southern Philippines, particularly the ad hoc joint action groups (AHJAG) and GPH-MILF ceasefire committee.

The CenPEG discussants agreed that the incident derailed the peace process, reopened deep-seated tensions particularly between legislators and government peace advocates, and triggered calls for placing Mindanao under emergency rule. It also sparked calls from the progressive movement for the immediate resignation of Aquino III for reason of command responsibility and other issues. Progressive legislators from the Makabayan bloc also called for a probe into the role played by US operatives in the fiasco as well as in counter-terrorism and peace process in Mindanao.

Prof. Julkipli Wadi, lead discussant, noted the GPH-MILF peace process as non-inclusive saying that opening the process to other rebel forces could have pre-empted the Moro National Liberation Front’s (MNLF) attempt to take over Zamboanga in 2014 and the Sabah standoff in 2013.

Wadi, who is also Dean of the University of the Philippines’ Institute of Islamic Studies (IIS), said the peace process “could have been reduced to two years, to be implemented on the third year.” On how prepared the national government is to push its own road map in the light of the Mamasapano incident, he said that if the BBL is passed in June this year the plebiscite for its approval my take place in four months – October. “If this is the case, how ready are the ones in Mindanao to support the BBL?,” Wadi said.

CenPEG CenPEG senior fellow, Prof. Roland G. Simbulan, commented on the involvement of the US in Mindanao. He cited recent reports of a concentration of USAID projects in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). “These may be used by the US as a bridge to penetrate these areas,” adding that even uniformed US soldiers are allowed access to MILF and MNLF areas.

Prof. Temario Rivera, CenPEG Board chair, said there should be no illusion that “the BBL will be passed soon, given the tricky situation.” He cautioned that even if the BBL is passed in Congress, it can still be questioned in the Supreme Court, and even if the Supreme Court agrees with it, there is still the question of a plebiscite and the difficulty of the MILF getting a critical mass of supporters in order to dominate the parliament. “The problem has no immediate solution,” Rivera said.

Given the ethnic differences even among the Moros, Rivera also noted alternative proposals of creating separate sub-states for the Tausug/Sulu/Basilan area and another for Maguindanao.
CenPEG director for policy studies, Bobby Tuazon, said the current impasse in the peace process and recent incidents complicating it should be a challenge for marginal voices particularly from the broad Bangsamoro people to be more involved in finding a just and lasting peace in southern Philippines. He also reminded that the Bangsamoro struggle for self-determination is an inseparable part of the national movement for change which can only succeed with a unified voice.

The roundtable discussion concluded with a synthesis by Fellow Carl Marc Ramota. The discussion was earlier opened by former CenPEG chair and National Artist, Bienvenido Lumbera.

The Bangsamoro land issue and peace process has been part of CenPEG’s Policy Studies Program with the holding of conferences on the peace talks that brought together peace negotiators from the OPAPP/GPH, on the one hand, and representatives of the MILF as well as MNLF. Two books have been published, namely, the Moro Reader: History & Contemporary Struggles of the Bangsamoro People (2008) and Bangsamoro sa Malapitan: Pagpupunyagi sa Sariling Pagpapasya (2011).

Organized by CenPEG’s Policy Studies Program, the RTD was held in cooperation with the Office of the UP President. CenPEG News

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