Cayetano: Disarm MILF before passing Bangsamoro bill

Senator Alan Peter Cayetano wants to reverse the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front

Ayee Macaraig

11:23:33am March 11, 2015

1:34:35am March 12, 2015

ANTI-MILF TIRADE. Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano delivers a privilege speech accusing the MILF of betraying the peace talks. Photo by Franz Lopez/Rappler

ANTI-MILF TIRADE. Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano delivers a privilege speech accusing the MILF of betraying the peace talks. Photo by Franz Lopez/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines - Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano wants the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to first lay down its arms before Congress passes the bill creating an expanded autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao. 

Quoting the Constitution and the Bible, former US President John F. Kennedy and the late Philippine President Corazon Aquino, Cayetano continued his tirade against the MILF in a privilege speech on Wednesday, March 11. 

Inviting families of the elite cops slain in the Mamasapano clash to the Senate gallery, Cayetano delivered a speech calling for a reversal of the two crucial steps in the peace process: the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), and the process for the MILF to lay down its arms. (READ: Primer on the BBL)

Watch the video of the speech here:

“Disarmament cannot be a product of peace. Disarmament must be a precondition for peace. ‘Di pwedeng BBL muna bago mag-surrender ng baril,” he said in a speech that lasted more than an hour long. (We cannot pass the BBL before the MILF surrenders its guns.) 

Under the historic peace deal the government and the MILF signed last year, Congress must first pass the law creating the Bangsamoro region with more powers, resources and autonomy than the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

A political commitment of the Aquino administration, the passage of the bill paves the way for a plebiscite, and a transition process. In turn, the MILF will then gradually give up its arms in a process called “decommissioning.” The Bangsamoro is meant to be created by the time President Benigno Aquino III steps down in mid-2016. 

A total of 30% of MILF firearms will be decommissioned once the BBL is ratified, based on an agreement by both sides. (READ: Gov't, MILF sign protocol for arms decommissioning)

Yet for Cayetano, the sequence should be “Disarm before BBL, and not BBL before disarm.” 

The senator turned into a staunch critic of the MILF after the January 25 encounter between police Special Action Force (SAF) troopers, and Moro rebels and armed groups sparked public outrage. The cops were on a mission to kill terrorists in Mamasapano, Maguindanao but armed groups engaged them in a day-long firefight before they could withdraw.  

Forty-four SAF members died, along with 18 MILF members, and 3 civilians. The clash put the peace process in jeopardy, and raised questions on the sincerity of the MILF. The rebel group blamed the heavy death toll on the SAF’s failure to follow coordination mechanisms under the peace process. 

Initially a co-author of the bill, Cayetano withdrew his support for the measure that he now says “belongs to the trash can.” 

'Arms race'

In his speech, Cayetano presented several photos that allegedly showed that the MILF is engaged in an “arms race,” and is recruiting more fighters in violation of the peace deal. The senator said he got the photos from “men in uniform” in Mindanao. 

Presenting a photo of a high-powered firearm, Cayetano addressed the widows of the policemen, “Iyan ang baril. Iyan ang bumasag sa ulo, binutas niyan ang Kevlar [helmet] at bulletproof [vest] kaya butas ang bungo ng 44.” (This is the gun. This is what broke the skulls, Kevlar helmets and bulletproof vests of the 44.) 

At one point, Cayetano showed another photo allegedly of armed MILF members, and compared this to the viral story on the black and blue or white and gold dress. 

“It’s about perception. In this picture, some see peace but others see war. Is MILF out for peace or war? We must look at the facts,” he said. 

He issued a challenge to the Philippine National Police: “Give me a special permit to possess and transport all kinds of high-caliber guns and I will bring them here in the session hall... so I can show it.” 

The government and MILF peace panels have yet to comment on the photos Cayetano presented, but in previous hearings, they said that similar pictures must first be validated on the ground. 

MILF wants to build Islamic state?

Cayetano also repeated his previous allegations against the MILF: that it is a terrorist group, that the group coddled Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan, and that the MILF violated the peace deal with the government.  

The senator delved into the history of the MILF, again seeking to connect it with terrorists and terror groups. He started with how it broke away from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). 

"Ang MILF ay mula sa grupong pinamunuan ni Salamat Hashim na humiwalay lamang sa grupo ni Misuari na MNLF noong 1977. Ito ay unang tinawag na New MNLF Leadership. Si Hashim Salamat ay para sa paggamit ng peace talks sa mas radikal na paraan. Ang MNLF ay nagsusulong ng secular-nationalist ideology, pero ang MILF ay isang Islamic revivalist na gustong magtatag ng isang independent Islamic State o Islamic Kaliphate."

(The MILF is a group headed by Hashim Salamat that separated from the MNLF in 1977. This was called the new MNLF leadership. Hashim Salamat wanted peace talks but in a radical way. MNLF pushed for secular-nationalist ideology, but the MILF is an Islamic revivalist that wanted to establish an independent Islamic State or Islamic Caliphate.) 

In an editorial dated March 2, the MILF said on its website Luwaran.net that what it is seeking in the peace process now is “genuine autonomy.” 

“This grant of genuine autonomy is already a compromised solution. It is below independence and above integration as previously pushed by government. It is an improvement of the administrative region arrangement in what is in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) now, which had been rejected by the MILF, at least three times in the past,” the MILF said. 

Cayetano also said that he discovered that Filipino terrorist Abdul Basit Usman supposedly lived inside an MILF camp but the rebel group failed to “give him up.” Usman escaped from the January 25 encounter. 

Si Usman nasa MILF camp. Alam ko ang barangay. Sasabihin ko sa pulis ‘pag tinanong ako in private.” (Usman lived in an MILF camp. I even know the village. I will disclose it to the police if they asked me in private.) 

He also again cited the old e-mails between Marwan and his brother, Rachmat, from a 2007 US indictment. He said the e-mails showed that MILF commander Wahid Tundok was among those who protected Marwan, informed him where to purchase weapons, and warned him about the presence of soldiers. 

A report of the Indonesia-based think tank Institute for Policy Analysis for Conflict released last week cited the same e-mails that some MILF commanders protected Marwan in 2006 but the MILF leadership eventually abandoned foreign terrorists. The report said the MILF agreed to help Philippine authorities in law enforcement operations against criminals and terrorists under the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) mechanism. 

Cayetano also again criticized the peace panel for “practically becoming the spokespersons for the MILF” and for “giving away everything” in the peace talks. He said the panel must not settle for “fake peace” with the MILF. 

“As Albert Einstein said, ‘insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.’ If we keep negotiating with the MILF over and over again, other countries will say the Philippines is insane.” 

He asked if the negotiators gave “blind trust” to the MILF.  

Ano na lang ang mensahe natin sa ibang grupo sa buong bansa – para makuha ninyo ang lahat ng gusto niyo, magpadami kayo ng armas at mag-alsa laban sa gobyerno, para kayo ay kausapin?” (What message are we sending other groups in the country – to get all you want, just build your strength and arms and fight against the government so we will talk to you?) 

‘Senate report step to justice’ 

Senate public order committee chairperson Grace Poe took exception to a part of Cayetano’s speech where he questioned the decision to stop Senate hearings into the issue, and the lack of justice in the case. 

Poe said that while other issues have yet to be tackled, her committee already covered the death of the SAF troopers. 

The senator addressed the families of the commandos: “The Senate report will be fair. Justice and truth are what we are after here. It is the first step to justice, not the only step as there are other groups investigating this.”

She added, “‘Di kami nagtatago ng katotohanan. Sana mas lumakas ang kumpyansa ninyo sa report.” (We are not hiding the truth. We hope you will have faith once you see our report.) 

Senators Vicente Sotto III, Gregorio Honasan II, Ralph Recto, and Aquilino Pimentel III interpellated Cayetano for 3 and a half hours.

Cayetano drew heavy criticism for his anti-MILF stance from newspaper columnists, peace advocates, some netizens, and Islamic scholars. They said his statements are incendiary and cited outdated information. Pundits called his rhetoric “opportunistic demagoguery,” and betrayed his ignorance of the history of the Moro struggle.   

In his speech, Cayetano said he acknowledged the historical injustices committed against the Moros. 

Utang natin sa mga Muslim i-recognize sila. Pero utang din nila i-recognize ang Filipino identity.” (We owe it to Muslims to recognize them. But they also have to recognize Filipino identity.) – Rappler.com