MANILA — Muslim lawmakers on Wednesday appealed to their colleagues to remain rational and not let emotions run high as the House of Representatives started its probe in the Mamasapano incident, saying that Congress must be mindful of the implications of the investigation to the peace process and the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
The call came following a heated debate among lawmakers to show a video trending in social media sites of the Mamasapano incident which claimed the lives of Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) troopers, armed elements and civilians.
“First and foremost, we are here in Manila to know the truth about what happened in Mamasapano, while most of our people in the Bangsamoro area are losing hope,” Bai Sandra Sema, representative of the first district of Maguindanao province and Cotabato City, told fellow lawmakers. “The Senate has already suspended the deliberation of the BBL and we in the House of Representatives have also suspended [the hearings] to make way for this investigation.”
“Our emotions are high. I saw [PNP officer-in-charge Deputy Director Leonardo] Espina, and [SAF Commander Director Getulio] Napenas. But more than these emotions, it is the lives of our people there. More than grandstanding, it is the lives of the people in the Bangsamoro area who are at stake,” Sema said.
“The representatives from other districts do not know what war is, and have not experienced it,” the Muslim lawmaker, who is very vocal of her experiences of the decades-old conflict in Mindanao said. “It is easy to call for war. We are here to know the truth, so that what happened will not be repeated. So that finally peace can be attained, so that lives of military, police, MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), and others will be spared, but most especially the lives of our people,” Sema expressed.
Pangalian Balindong, deputy speaker and representative of the second district of Lanao Del Sur, also expressed the same sentiments, saying that the ongoing investigation should not make the “BBL as the sacrificial lamb in this Mamasapano incident.”
“We are afraid, we Filipino Muslims, that the BBL will be lost,” he said.
“It saddens us that the review of the BBL has been suspended by the Senate and only yesterday (Tuesday, January 11) by the House of Representatives,” Balindong added.
The deputy speaker emphasized that the investigations on the Mamasapano incident should be continued but it should not delay the deliberations on the BBL.
“The BBL review has no connection with the [Mamasapano] incident. What happened is purely a law enforcement matter… It is different from the BBL review. We are reviewing the BBL and we are now more than halfway [towards its passage],” he said.
According to Balindong, there are several bodies and institutions that are already investigating the incident, and if Congress will wait for all the results to come in, it will affect the timeline for the passage of the BBL.
“There are so many groups or agencies investigating this incident. We have the Department of Justice, we have the Commission on Human Rights, the Ombudsman, Public Order and Safety. Here, we are also [doing a] hearing, and then the Board of Inquiry,” Balindong enumerated, noting that there are also calls for the creation of a truth commission in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
”[These investigations] may take some time,” Balindong lamented, adding that the fears of the Bangsamoro people is that the “BBL will be scrapped.”
Sulu second district Rep. Tupay T. Loong and former Senator and Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon likewise echoed the sentiments of Sema and Balindong while also calling for accountability.
“If we are crying for justice for SAF 44, we are also crying for the civilians who died,” Loong said.
BBL as a way to move forward
Jim Hataman, the lone representative of Basilan, appealed to the public to support the passage of the BBL as a way to move forward and prevent the repetition of the Mamasapano incident.
“In this time of national outrage and condemnation, with many calling for all-out war, the civilian majority of Mindanao continue to fear for their lives amidst the tension between government forces and rebel combatants,” he said. “I humbly believe that an all-out war is not the solution to this recent tragedy. To me, the best alternative is still the pursuit of peace and the passing of the Bangsamoro Law.”
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos Deles noted that it is important at this stage to continue the peace process.
“The record is that, all over the world, peace negotiations are conducted by the state with revolutionary movements precisely to end armed conflicts. To be able to transform the struggle for whatever purpose that armed struggle has been conducted,” Deles expressed.
She said that the aim of the Bangsamoro peace process is to transform the MILF “from a violent struggle with arms to a political unarmed struggle.”
Upon the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the MILF has committed itself to the democratic process through the establishment of a genuinely autonomous Bangsamoro political entity. It has likewise agreed to transform itself from an armed group into productive, civilian communities through the process of normalization.