POSTSCRIPT / February 26, 2015 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Why the admin’s fear of street assemblies?

FEAR NOT: Malacañang should not be afraid to hear dissenting voices of people assembling in public places, most especially on historic Epifanio de los Santos Ave.

The Palace became jittery when crowds materialized yesterday on EDSA and nearby points with the announced intention to converge for a “human chain” around the EDSA-Ortigas intersection in Mandaluyong.

It was the anniversary of EDSA People Power that sent the dictator Marcos fleeing to Hawaii in 1986, but the celebratory mood fizzled when riot policemen blocked the crowd’s march, causing a gigantic rush-hour traffic standstill.

As far as we see it, the maddening mess was a result, again, of lack of coordination between rallyists and the authorities – worsened by the administration’s inexplicable fear of street protests.

* * *

ACTS OF WAR: The Aquino administration is learning belatedly it was foolhardy of it not to have laid the proper basis before it rushed into so-called peace talks with the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

President Aquino, if he was monitoring the Senate hearing on Mamasapano last Tuesday, should have been shocked to hear Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF negotiating panel, telling the nation at large that:

• Weapons of fallen combatants are bounties of war – implying there was no need for MILF fighters to return the guns and battle gear they grabbed from the dead or dying PNP Special Action Force commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, last Jan 25.

• If any dispute arises regarding the conduct of MILF and SAF combatants, such war crimes should be raised before the International Court of Justice or World Court, and not before domestic or Philippine courts.

* * *

GOV’T STATUS: This time let us hope the President does not claim again, as he did in explaining his slow-mo response to the Mamasapano debacle, that he had been misinformed.

Misinformed about what? Well, about the law and the state of mind of Iqbal and his panel when they sat opposite the varsity team fielded by President Aquino in the talks that produced the Bangsamoro Basic Law now roiling the nation.

The President’s panel misrepresented itself as the “GRP” (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) despite the fact that the Executive department is just one of the three branches of the government.

The MILF saw this misrepresentation, but welcomed it – because Malacañang‘s stance conferred on the rebel group a status of belligerency. The group that the United States had wanted to regard as terrorist was accorded the status of an equal of the GRP.

* * *

MILF STATE: The “promotion” has gone to the head of MILF leaders who now think that they are at war until there is a mutually agreed truce and settlement between the Philippine government and their MILF “government”.

Iqbal’s talking last Tuesday about a recourse to the World Court tells us that these rebels now regard themselves as another state on equal footing with the Philippines.

The World Court (ICJ), based at The Hague, is the United Nations agency that settles legal disputes between states. The MILF must have been convinced that with the GRP talking with it as an equal, it is itself clothed with the attributes of a state.

Iqbal could be saying soon that investigators sent by the Department of Justice to build a case against his gunmen who mowed down the 44 SAF policemen have no power to do that sincewar crimes are not covered by the Revised Penal Code.

* * *

CREDENTIALS: It took several hours to stop the fierce firefight because there were other rebel and armed groups in the fray beyond the control of the MILF.

This point highlights another basic problem, that of credentials, which Malacañang glossed over in its hurry to hammer out a peace agreement before President Aquino steps down in 2016.

The Palace panelists did not bother to ascertain first that the rebel group across the table is the legitimate representative of the Muslim population whose interests it claims to be looking after.

At the very least, the MILF should be able to commit or bound to a peace pact the array of armed and rebel bands infesting Mindanao. It has not, because it cannot.

* * *

BACK TO WORK: Whatever, both chambers of the Congress are now about to resume the BBL public hearings suspended in the wake of the Mamasapano massacre.

Speaker Feliciano R. Belmonte Jr. said yesterday he was optimistic that the House will be able to pass the BBL before the 2016 elections. The ad hoc BBL committee chaired by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus B. Rodriguez is set to resume public hearings.

Many congressional leaders, including Belmonte, concede that the BBL has provisions in need of revision to conform to the Constitution. It remains to be seen how last Tuesday’s meeting of President Aquino and House leaders would affect the mood in the chamber.

* * *

HOUSE LEADERS: Invited by President Aquino to Malacañang was a 33-member leaders’ group from the House led by Speaker Belmonte. For the record, we list them here.

In the group were Deputy Speakers Henedina R. Abad (Batanes), Giorgidi B. Aggabao (Isabela), Sergio A. F. Apostol (Leyte), Pangalian M. Balindong (Lanao del Sur) and Roberto V. Puno (Antipolo); Majority Leader Neptali M. Gonzales II (Mandaluyong) and Minority Leader Ronaldo B. Zamora (San Juan).

Representing the various party leaders were: Mel Senen S. Sarmiento (LP), Enrique M. Cojuangco (NPC), Elpidio F. Barzaga Jr. (NUP), Antonio F. Lagdameo Jr. (NUP), Eleandro Jesus F. Madrona (NP), Rolando G. Andaya Jr. (LKS), Nicanor M. Briones (PL-Agap) and Raymond Democrito C. Mendoza (PL-TUCP; also BBL VC).

Committee chairmen having to do with the quest for peace were: Rufus B. Rodriguez (BBL), Jeffrey P. Ferrer (Public Order), Jim Hataman-Salliman (Peace), Niel C. Tupas Jr. (Justice), Samuel D. Pagdilao (also PubO VC) and Romeo M. Acop (also BBL and PubO VC). Congressmen with police-military background were: Leopoldo N. Bataoil (Pangasinan), Francisco Ashley L. Acedillo (PL-Magdalo) and Gary C. Alejano (PL-Magdalo).

Also present were the vice chairs of the BBL committee: Tupay T. Loong (Sulu), Henry S. Oaminal (Misamis Occ.), Bai Sandra A. Sema (Maguindanao and Cotabato City), Jesus N. Sacdalan (North Cotabato, also Peace VC). Helping out in information work were Ben P. Evardone (Eastern Samar), Romero S. Quimbo (Marikina), Jose Christopher Y. Belmonte (Quezon City) and Rodolfo C. Farinas (Ilocos Norte).

(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 26, 2015)

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