Not Exempt


I am eagerly anticipating the release of the final DOJ report on the Mamasapano clash, possibly this coming Monday.

Submitted by the joint National Prosecution Service-National Bureau of Investigation panel to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on April 16, the 224-page report recommends the prosecution of 90 MILF and BIFF rebels for the 35 deaths in the 55th Special Action Company last January. The report on the 84th SAC casualties is still in the works.

De Lima is bent on indicting the alleged killers, saying the MILF leaders “have to understand that we will not accept that they will be exempt. No. We will insist on [the filing of criminal charges].”[1]

Responding to the report, MILF Vice-Chairman Ghadzali Jaafar stood pat, telling radio station DZBB on Friday that the MILF would refuse to surrender its troops simply because they are not guilty. He maintains that the SAF entered MILF territory without proper coordination; also that the SAF fired first, requiring the MILF forces to defend themselves. Implying that the Moro troops were protected by the standing ceasefire agreement, he said the deadly incident initiated by the SAF commandos jeopardized the peace process.

Countered de Lima, “This (the killing of the policemen) is covered by the criminal justice system. What is clear to me is that even in the course of the peace process, peace negotiations, under a peace process regime, there is no suspension of the power of the state to go after violations of criminal laws, especially when what is involved [is] not [a] political act.”

With both sides hurtling toward an impasse, where will President BS Aquino III place himself? He has been one of the fiercest endorsers of the MILF as a forbearing, bona fide partner to the peace process. But he will find it tricky to defend them against the DOJ findings, if and when these are approved in toto by his alter ego de Lima.

He may try – but will he prevail? –  to prevent her from lodging the cases against the perpetrators named by “Marathon,” the third-party eyewitness to the crimes. Should he fail to convince de Lima, will he succeed in persuading the MILF to cooperate with the Justice department?  Even now, the “revolutionaries” are publishing their defiance thereof, ironically hiding behind the very mechanisms instituted by the OPAPP with his blessings. Noynoy is in very hot soup indeed.

On a related topic, it was in the same DZBB interview last Friday that Jaafar coyly identified the birth name of his confrère Mohagher Iqbal as Datucan Abas, even saying that Iqbal used the name when he stood as a respondent in a lawsuit some years ago. Of course, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano beat Jaafar to the punch, divulging the very same information a day earlier. He revealed that a certain “Datucan Abas Mohagher Iqbal” and other MILF leaders, including Jaafar and former MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu, were charged with multiple murder for the Davao airport and Sasa wharf bombings in 2003.[2] They were subsequently served warrants of arrest. It seems incredible that the government peace panel did not know this.

The question of Iqbal’s true identity has recently occupied the minds of our lawmakers, causing respected thinkers such as Randy David to criticize their pettiness. Perhaps the alias issue is not the right peg on which to hang this concern, but I agree with the legislators that there is a need to fixate on the MILF’s lack of transparency, especially with regard to the BBL. As a party to this proposed contract, we must adamantly require their sincerity before the agreement is sealed. But is it only from the MILF that we should demand the truth? Is there a need for our own negotiators to assure us that they have our back?

There are other matters to press upon the legislators. One is the growing call for the referendum on the BBL to be nationwide in scope rather than merely regional. Due to its fiscal implications, the BBL affects all Filipinos and not only those in Mindanao. We must also continue to demand transparency and accountability on the block grants and other financial outlays named in the BBL.

If the executive and the government peace panel will not attend to these matters now causing much social anxiety, it is up to us poor Juans to sound the tocsin and keep it ringing. This is an issue that must be followed vigilantly, lest we lose any of our constitutional guarantees and privileges (not to mention our territory) by default.

If by next week Secretary de Lima changes her tune and turns lax on the 90 accused, we can pretty much expect the BBL to be railroaded through Congress. I know her to be a woman of courage and integrity, and I expect her to hold her ground. Only a juggernaut can make Leila de Lima buckle.

Let’s wait and see.



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