MANILA, Philippines – It was unfathomable for Senator Alan Cayetano: Why are chief peace adviser Teresita Deles and chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer defending the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the wake of the bloody clashes that killed at least 65 people, including 44 elite cops?
"What side are you representing in the peace panel? Are you representing the Republic of the Philippines or are you representing the MILF?" an angry Cayetano asked them on Day 5 of the Senate hearing on the January 25 Special Action Force (SAF) operation to hunt down top Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist Zulkifli bin hir or "Marwan."
Both women, who have worked hard on the peace process with the MILF, were emotional.
Secretary Deles: Of course, your honor, I represent the Republic of the Philippines in every occasion, your honor.
Senator Alan Cayetano: Chairman Ferrer, what side are you representing?
Ferrer: My designation is the chair of government panel for negotiations with MILF, your honor.
Senator Alan Cayetano: So for the government. For the people of the Philippines.
The government forces and the MILF have been enjoying a years-long ceasefire because of the gains of the peace process. The January 25 clashes broke the ceasefire, however, when the SAF commandos entered Mamasapano – a known MILF territory – without prior coordination.
A total of 44 cops, 18 MILF fighters, and at least 3 civilians were killed. It also threatens the peace process.
'I'm sorry, general'
A day earlier, Cayetano told reporters that President Benigno Aquino III should fire Deles, Ferrer, and Brigadier General Carlito Galvez for taking positions that, he thought, betrayed the government.
"Pasensiya ka na (Pardon me), General Galvez. I cannot fathom why you would say na kailangan ng (there is a need for) coordination. You are in uniform e. Alam na kapag nagcoordinate, ang terorista doon makakaalis (If you coordinate, the terrorists would escape)," Cayetano told Galvez on Day 4 of the Senate hearing on Monday.
Cayetano's statement is curious in the light of categorical statements from military officers upholding the need for coordination.
Mamasapano town is considered an area of the military and not the police because of the security situation in the area. Aside from the MILF, which is talking peace with the government, the BIFF and other private armed groups are also present in the area.
In spite of this, the SAF did not coordinate with the military. (READ: Inside story: SAF kept military out of the loop)
Galvez, co-chairman of the GPH-MILF Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), told the committee that proper coordination was the best way the bloody clashes in Mamasapano and future clashes could be prevented. The AFP, the OPAPP, and the MILF are one in this position.
This is unacceptable to Cayetano who agrees with SAF's judgment to prioritize operational security. To him, it was only proper for the SAF to keep the MILF out of the loop to avoid a case where the target is warned and is able to escape.
Galvez lamented why the SAF didn't trust the military as well. He explained that there are mechanisms in place where the CCCH has made sure that operational leaks are avoided.
Cayetano, however, is convinced that the MILF was coddling Marwan and is linked to the other armed groups responsible for atrocities in Mindanao – the MILF breakaway group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Abu Sayyaf Group. MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal repeatedly denied this.
The Mamasapano clashes happened at a time when Malacañang was expecting Congress to pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law that aims to expand the powers and territory of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Cayetano used to be a co-author of the measure but he withdrew his support after the Mamasapano clash. He is now the BBL's biggest critic in the Senate. (READ: Alan Cayetano 'shameless,' 'disrespectful' – netizens)
The heated exchange between Cayetano and the OPAPP officials on Tuesday followed the senator's grilling of MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal on the group's alleged links to the terror groups and its failure to return the rest of the SAF firearms and personal effects.
In showing its sincerity in the peace process, the MILF returned some of the firearms of the SAF commandos. While security officers acknowledge it as a "big gesture" on the part of the MILF, politicians like Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr remain unsatisfied and urged the group to "do better" so it can regain the public's trust. – Rappler.com