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The BBL is Dead, It Died at Mamasapano Along with the PNP-SAF44 on January 2015

Mamasapano, Maguindanao

ith great fanfare the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a peace agreement on the 27th of March, 2014. Formally known as the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB), the government agreed to sweeping concessions including Muslim self-rule, in addition to pouring billions of pesos into a newly designated Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, all in exchange for the MILF disarming and making peace with the government.

After its signing, the entire country and the world hailed the peace agreement. Finally, it would put an end to decades of bitter fighting and bloodshed. And with President Benigno Aquino III riding a wave of popularity at that time, Filipinos of all stripes were happy to embrace his agreement with the MILF.

The Bansamoro Basic Law (BBL) would have easily become law. There was no reason for it not to. But 10 months after the signing of that peace agreement a single incident would unravel everything. On January 25, 2015, forty-four police officers were brutally gunned down in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. They were on an official mission to capture global terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir (alias Marwan), a Malaysian national with close ties to both the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and Al-Qaeda terrorist groups. Information passed on to Philippine intelligence officials indicated that Marwan had been hiding out in Mamasapano and was under the protection of the  Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Without getting into the details of exactly what happened that fateful day in late January, the bottom line is that by dusk, 44 members of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) lay dead, slaughtered by armed men in an area supposedly controlled by the MILF. Whether the 44 policemen were killed by the BIFF, the MILF or a combination of both is also not relevant for the conclusions we about to draw for this editorial.

Because as far as we're concerned, the policemen were there conducting a legitimate operation (that even had the knowledge and approval of the Philippine president) ... and Mamasapano was under the control the MILF. Therefore, it was the responsibility of the MNLF, who had just signed a peace accord with the government, to see to it that the police had safe passage inside their territory. It was the responsibility of the MILF to stand by those policeman, help them complete their mission and protect them from lawless elements who might try to do them harm.

If the MNLF is unable to guarantee safe passage inside its own territory, then they have no business making deals with the government. They become an insignificant player and should remain on the sidelines where they belong.

However, if they had control over that region, why did they not help the police? Worse yet, why did they aid the BIFF as some suggest? If the MILF actually aided the BIFF instead of the police, then it is obvious that the peace agreement they signed with the government was made in bad faith.

Because the MILF signed that peace agreement with the Philippine Government, they should have shown good faith by working with the police from the start. Using its direct channels with the Aquino administration, the MILF would have been able to quickly verify that the police were there under lawful orders from their superiors. The Philippine government after all was about to grant the MILF an autonomous region in Maguindanao. In addition the Philippines was prepared to give them billions of pesos to help them along. One would think those were incentives enough for the MILF to make sure those PNP-SAF policemen accomplished their mission safely.

Unfortunately, it appears that the MILF is not a thinking organizationóbecause how can it explain what it did in Mamasapano that day. It also appears that despite their signing of a peace accord with the government, the MILF still sees the Philippine government as their enemy and not as their partner for peace. There are also those who believe that the MILF simply hoodwinked the gullible Aquino administration into giving them autonomy and billions of pesos, but the rebels never planned to give up their armed struggle at all.

Whatever the ultimate reality will turn out to be, it appears that the MILF finally took off their mask and showed the country and the world what they really are. It is extremely unfortunate that 44 brave young men had to sacrifice their lives in order to unmask that reality.

For the MILF and the complicit Aquino administration to now complain about foot-dragging in congress with regards to the passage of the BBL is absolutely ludicrous. Because it was no one but MILF rebels who "shot themselves in the foot" that day. They and only they are to blame for the current predicament of the BBL in congress. For the rest of us, it was a good thing we found out sooner rather than later. Can you imagine how much more complicated things would be if all this happened after the BBL had become law? After the incident at Mamasapano, anyone who still thinks we should continue to negotiate with the MILF is either in denial, or simply delusional.

Flag-draped coffins of fallen PNP-SAF members arrive at Villamore Air Base

We owe it to the 44 heroes of the PNP-SAF to prevent the BBL from becoming law at this time. Let us instead work with moderate Muslim leaders who want to bring about real change in Mindanao, and who can do it without holding a kris (sword) to our throat in order to get what they want. Published 1/30/2016

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