Didn’t the Administration’s Concern for “babala” (BBL) directly cause the Mamasapano Massacre? Is the BBL still worth pursuing? At what cost? Or can’t it just be allowed to wait in better form for a more propitious day?
Nine Background Stories
Story: In the mid-sixteenth century, Catholic Spaniards and Muslims who had battled each other for nearly 800 years on the plains of Spain came face-to-face again – outside of Spain, in the Philippines. Catholic Spaniards still hated Muslims for having ruled Spain too long. And Muslims did not forget the massacre of more than three million of their co-religionists when the Christians recaptured Spain in 1492.
Story: The Spaniards called their new-found foes in the Philippines “Moros” – not a new name, one taken from the ancient Mauri or Mauritania, applied on the Berbers of North Africa to those who came and conquered Spain. So, the name was not limited to a group of people or distinct nationality but to religious adherents transcending geography, race and time. In fact, the first to be called Moros in the Philippines were not the Islamized inhabitants of Mindanao and Sulu but the people of Manila and neighboring towns who were already Muslims.
Story: Before the turn of the 20th century, 98% of all the lands in Mindanao and Sulu belonged to the Moros. American-style legalized land grabbing changed this picture fast. Early on, various Public Land Acts were passed to dispossess the Moros of the landholdings they had occupied since time immemorial. Registration Acts ensured that the Moros could be deprived of their lands because they never heard nor knew how to go about registering lands of their ancestors or lands everybody knew belonged to them but now, because unregistered, were deemed public lands.
Story: As in the past few hundred years, this time again, since the early 1970s, all-out war ensued between the Moro secessionist fronts and the Philippine government. Its fierceness was evidenced by the government spending more than a million dollars a day and playing with 5000 lives daily in military operations. Said Eduardo Ermita who had been close witness to this chapter of our history from the very start: “Sixty-one percent of our Army and Marine battalions…more than 40 percent of our artillery capability and 50 percent of our armor assets…63 percent of our tactical aircraft” had to be committed to the Mindanao conflict for the Philippine republic to survive.
Story: The Philippine Moro war is one of the longest lasting wars in the history of the world. At root is the fact that so many of us just continue to close our eyes and deny the existence of a Moro nation afraid that such an acknowledgment may undermine the unitary character of the Philippine state.
Story: A Catholic priest, Father Romeo Intengan, S.J., urges us to see clearly before all else, in the interests of peace, that there does exist a Moro nation separate and distinct from the mainly Christian Filipinos. The Philippines is a nation of nations. Nationhood being an analogous concept, there exists in our country two distinct nationalities with their particular patriotism, the mainly Christian Filipinos and the predominantly Muslim Moros. “Between the two,” says Intengan, “Bangsa Moro nationality and patriotism are older. The Bangsamoro were ahead of the Filipinos in developing state structures and in acquiring a unifying ideology – Islam. They developed the capacity for resisting invasion by their control of international trade in Southeast Asia in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.”
“The second nationality in our country,” Intengan continues, “is that of the Indios and mestizos, later called Filipinos, who became politically one because of the unitary political structure of the Spanish colonialist regime and a unifying ideology in their Catholic Christian faith.” By the late 19th century “they acquired enough resources – the wealth of the native and mestizo ilustrados and principales – to assert our nationhood and to struggle to throw off the colonial yoke when we launched the Revolution of 1896.” In time, needless to say, under the aegis successively of Spanish and American colonial powers, the second nationality became the predominant national reality in the Philippine archipelago,
Story: In the belligerent context that was ultimately overcome by dialogue, it is a fact that two words were initially too hot to use: “sovereignty” and “independence”. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) had always publicly demanded independence. Governor Zacaria Candao, direct descendant of Sultan Qudarat, hosted the first chapter of the peace talks (and continued to be the invisible consultant of many subsequent peace talks). He categorically said recently that the late Chairman Salamat finally agreed to not uttering “independence” so long as the GRP did not prematurely shout “sovereignty.” The absence of these two words made possible the start of the dialogue.
Story: In some sense the MILF did recognize the Philippine Constitution by recognizing the authority of the President to negotiate with them, a hitherto secessionist revolutionary group. Was not the President’s authority based on the Constitution? Then, too, the MILF agreed to the holding of plebiscites and to the Congressional amendment of laws, if need be – constitutional processes all. Again, given the belligerence-to-dialogue context, wasn’t this implicit mode of respect and recognition not good enough? It was, and there was plenty of evidence for it – until the wipe-out called “Mamasapano.”
Story: On 15 October 2012, after seventeen years of talks, a Framework Agreement was approved by the Philippine government and the MILF to create an autonomous substate, dubbed as the Bangsamoro. An earlier attempt during the previous administration almost made it but was struck down by the Supreme Court not on the merits but finding the peace process constitutionally defective due to lack of consultations with the stakeholders of the region.
On 27 March 2014, the two sides signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB). To make this agreement part of domestic law, both sides agreed on a draft “Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL),” which they submitted to the Congress on 10 September 2014. Participants and observers alike expected a relatively smooth passage for the BBL, even with inevitable delays. And it was on a very tight schedule even before the 25 January Mamasapano debacle. Both House and Senate had announced the bill would be approved before the end of 2014, which did not happen, to be followed by a plebiscite that would have to be held in the provinces designated part of the substate (presumably with the help of Hocus PCOS machines). Thereafter there would be a year’s transition and finally elections to a new Bangsamoro Assembly in May 2016, designed to coincide with national elections – if no Supreme Court injunctions interfered along the way to declare the BBL unconstitutional in whole or in part. With various delays, debate on the law had been pushed back to February and then March; with the Mamasapano delay, said Congressman Rufus Rodriguez, the BBL would be extremely lucky to be out of Committee into the Plenary Debate by May or June, if at all; in the Senate Ferdinand Marcos has to date hardly moved to resume committee hearings.
Firstly: it remains true that the Philippine Moro war which had already been on hold for quite a while now continues to have other than merely Filipino or Moro actors. Yes, foreigners are very active down there till this very moment – formally or informally, directly or indirectly, visibly or invisibly but always really. Because of the riches of Mindanao, and in particular the energy wealth of the Moro areas, the forces of both the United States of America and the Kingdom of Malaysia continue to be active in various ways and degrees. Malaysian PETRONAS and American and other Western oil companies salivate in competition over the Liguasan marsh, second biggest source of natural gas in the world, which the MILF controls.
The US has an agreement with the Philippines (EDCA) that enables it, legally or illegally, to have high-powered presence all over its erstwhile colony, particularly in Mindanao. Neighboring Malaysia, technically at war with the Philippines over wealthy Sabah, is warmly a partner of the Philippines in the on-going peace process. In fact, “the enemy of your enemy being your friend,” the MILF feels closer to Malaysia that effectively plays the role of rear guard to its operations. The MILF report on the Mamasapano event was first given to Malaysia before (an edited?) copy was given to the Philippines.
Marwan had a $5 million bounty on his head from the U.S. “Rewards for Justice” program. For years a series of operations by US-Philippine forces had targeted Marwan who always managed to die and live again. One time, on 10 July 2006, SAF commandos broke into Marwan’s house but were immediately engaged by his well-armed MILF neighbors – who killed three of the SAF men and took their weapons and ammunition – a lesson apparently not well learned for the future. Marwan, his wife and their two children managed to take refuge in the territory of the 105th Base Command of BIFF Commander Abdul Wahid Tundok in Datu Saudi Ampatuan township – which may or may not have been properly noted by the SAF.
Late that same year, in November, peace negotiations between the MILF and the government broke down, and the MILF prepared for war. Wahid Tundok ordered all civilians including guest Marwan to leave his area. Marwan then moved to Mamasapano, close to Basit Usman. He noted the inferiority of Basit’s forces and how old their guns. He then asked for aid from his brother — in California, USA. This brother is now in American custody. By all accounts Marwan was a sharp-shooter, had no special bomb-making skills, and was certainly not a leader in Mindanao. But he had a big price on his head and it was “worth” going after him.
There is no doubt that the American “Rewards for Justice” program has helped to burnish the reputations of “world-class terrorists,” sometimes out of proportion to their actual roles. The result is often an eagerness to kill “high-value targets” rather than arrest them alive, with the concomitant false alarms.
In December 2010, the SAF went for Marwan in Parang, Sulu. By the time they arrived, however, Marwan had fled. On 2 February 2012, US-Philippine forces bombed a hamlet near Parang and claimed they had killed Marwan who actually managed to escape earlier, with Abu Sayyaf members helping him get to Patikul, Sulu.
The question – which should be clear by now is simple: is the government of the Philippines still in the habit of merely doing the bidding of foreign “friendly” forces (“visiting forces?”)? And to what extent is the MILF merely doing the bidding of Malaysia? Complicated? Maybe so, but it is time to envision new scenarios and new actors from hereon. The peace and prosperity of southern Philippines, and therefore, perhaps of the whole ASEAN archipelagic region, is well-nigh in the exclusive hands of the armed element – and of foreign money and dictation. The communities should insist once again on greater participation as in times past when they were given that chance through the BUC or “Bishops-Ulama-Conference” emphasizing the inter-faith approach.
Secondly: The Mamasapano operation against Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan was a private project of Alan Purisima and Benigno S. Aquino III. Had it succeeded with its element of surprise, suspended PNP Chief Alan would have been resurrected in glory and greater power, and PNoy could have imagined a very special feather on his cap making him eligible for international accolades and the like.
Suspended Chief Alan was not without key contacts on the MILF side because of much earlier involvement in the successful neutralizing of JI operative Faturrahman Al Ghozi. The latter, a JI Afghan veteran, had worked with an allegedly MILF Special Operations Group on a deadly series of blasts in Manila on 30 December 2000. He was arrested on 15 January 2002 and was sentenced to 17 years in prison but escaped in July 2003. In October 2003, allegedly betrayed by an MILF member, he was killed in central Mindanao by the Philippines police and armed forces.
This last operation in Mamasapano was entirely sui generis. From A to Z it had a private chain of command. Why? Why did PNoy and Alan do this? Alan was in command but having become a suspended officer he could not be formally in command. The head of the PNP and the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces were clueless as to the operation of 400 SAF forces, and regarding what was happening to them or their mission, whatever this was. Did some superior white entity assure Alan or PNoy not only of drones but also of some magical smart bombs for which there would be no more need for any back up forces? No Philippine government agency, military or civilian, was coordinating with the MILF command as provided by the peace process. The MILF could well claim their territory invaded and they had to engage in self-defense. And that wold really spell trouble, which it did.
The 84th Seaborne company of the SAF thought it had accomplished its mission of killing Marwan about 4:15 am but came under fire as it was leaving. Some kilometers away, the 55th company, assigned as the “blocking force” was encircled by heavily armed MILF who looked upon them as invaders. There was no way out: no military reinforcements came. After eight hours of shooting, the 55th company eventually ran out of ammunition and lost almost all its men. The MILF lost eighteen men; a few BIFF members may also have been killed.
Somebody high up had given the orders for possible reinforcements to stop. Or, what is exactly the same in value: some body high up did not ask for reinforcements or have them ready in the first place. The Commander-in-Chief was being restrained by the Chief Executive. The schizophrenic persona had one part trying to make sure the peace agreement would not be jeopardized; the other part was merely hoping the casualties would not be too much. There had to be restraint somewhere. There was none. This was war.
And was there proof beyond doubt that Marwan was truly killed? American forces in Mamasapano brought a cut finger to American forces in General Santos city for DNA certification as to the death of Marwan. Why did they hesitate to tell the world it was him, no one else – Marwan?
Can there still be any doubt that the Americans were in the lead? They were way in there when the operation started – FBI DPA’s (deep penetration agents). If the deaths of foreigners continue to be unacknowledged, is that not merely an indication that they were not in the formal rosters but mere highly paid mercenaries (“Soldiers of Fortune”) of the highest caliber?
Unfortunately for PNoy the demand for the truth gets stronger every day. He may have been too young to have watched the Watergate investigations daily on TV way back in the early seventies. It was not the crime per se but the presidential cover-up of the crime that eventually led to the downfall of a whole government and the resignation of US President Richard Nixon. Not long before, Nixon had made history by winning all states except one in the fight for the presidency. A mountain of lies, including obvious lies did the President in. One wonders if the Filipino people do not feel the same way about PNoy today.
Thirdly: One of the big casualties of the Watergate lies and the Fall of Nixon was the Fall of Vietnam – at least according to many analysts then and now. South Vietnam that could have made it to real independence and sustainability against the North became a victim of American inabilities after Watergate. Similarly both the present government of the Philippines and the MILF are deeply wounded by the Mamasapano debacle. They may also be rendered dysfunctional to create a new order of peace and prosperity in Moroland. The time for creation of new realities is upon us. The politicians have failed. The people and their moral leaders must advance. This is no time for retreat and despair. This is the time of transformation. FINIS