Duterte: Stall Bangsamoro law until SAF deaths are resolved

CEBU CITY, Philippines – Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte asked Congress to delay a law creating a new autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao, pending a probe into a recent clash in the region that resulted in the death of 44 police commandos.

"If there is going to be a resumption of the talks, it should be put off to some other day because we must have an investigation," Duterte said on Thursday, January 29, in a chance interview at a university symposium here. 

The Davao official, who has been doing the rounds of provinces speaking on federalism, said he is "sad" but "angry" over what happened to the Philippine National Police (PNP) Special Action Force troopers on the January 25 anti-terror mission in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, an area said to be controlled by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The MILF's 17 years of peace negotiations with the government for the proposed Bangsamoro law may be in jeopardy due to the "misencounter," with a number of senators withdrawing their names as co-authors of the bill.

The bill is said to be President Benigno Aquino III's priority legislation for 2015.

Duterte said he was disturbed at how the dead bodies of the policemen were desecrated. The Davao City mayor is famous for his ironclad approach to peace and order.

"Certainly I am appalled and I deplore the way the [policemen] have been treated even when they were already dead. You know, I just want to remind everybody that even in war, there are rules to be followed," he said.

"You do not desecrate your enemy’s body. Isang bala lang patay na (One gun shot and he's dead). There is no need for that (mutilation)," he said, but fell short of pinning blame on any group.

He added that an independent body must be formed to investigate the matter. The panel may be composed of Muslims, Christians, and even Indonesian and Malaysian marshals of the peace talks, he added.

"It is not a joke for the Muslims. It is not a joke for the Christians. It is not a joke for everybody," he said.

Coordination with the MILF

While he deplores desecration of the bodies, Duterte believed that the operation and entry of the government security forces should not have been made without coordination with the MILF.

The conduct was an anomaly in itself, he said.

He cited the government's signed formal agreement with the MILF, explaining that the agreement outlines areas where security forces of both parties are barred from entering.

"What is clear is that we intruded into a territory that is not allowed for us, government security forces. It is not a treaty but a formal agreement which is part of the peace process," said Duterte, who is also a lawyer.

Even if the policemen were carrying out an order from the court, he said the one who ordered the operation should have considered the "existing realities" on the ground.

Opposite opinion

While Duterte is pushing to halt the passage of the Bangsamoro law, Cebu Governor Hilario Davide III said in a separate interview that the Mamasapano incident should not stall the peace process in Mindanao.

A staunch ally of Aquino, the governor said the direction should still be toward a lasting peace and order in Mindanao.

"The peace process should proceed, although most reactions are against it," said Governor Davide. "I am against all-out war. We should not give up on peace."

On Thursday afternoon, Davide ordered all offices of the provincial government to observe the national day of mourning by lowering their flags to half-mast. 

The flagpole at the Capitol seen throughout the length of the Osmeña Boulevard in central Cebu City reflect the ceremonial call.

“We sympathize to the policemen who died. They died as heroes and we also condole with the families of the dead PNP personnel,” he said in a mix of English and the vernacular.

Two of the PNP SAF who perished in the operations in Maguindanao province were from Cebu. 

Davide said Aquino had answered all questions that needed to be cleared, but many of the people did not hear the answer they wanted to hear. 

"Maybe they expected the President to declare an all-out war. Everybody is entitled to his own opinion. My personal view is that we should pursue peace." – Rappler.com