MANILA (Mabuhay) – President Aquino’s peace adviser slammed critics of the administration and of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) for spreading “lies” and “deliberate misinformation” to discredit the peace process.
Secretary Teresita Deles, presidential adviser on the peace process, told a group of evangelical Christians at a forum on Monday that President Aquino’s critics had always wanted to put him down even before the Mamasapano fiasco happened.
The deaths of 44 elite cops in an encounter with rebel forces on January 25 in Mamasapano, Maguinanao has imperiled the fate of the BBL, a proposed law that seeks to create a new Muslim-led autonomous region in Mindanao after decades of armed conflict.
The incident also caused President Aquino’s popularity to drop to record lows and led to calls for his resignation.
Without naming names, Deles said various groups “have been looking for opportunities to find an issue that would be thrown at the President, that would weaken him, and if possible, shorten his term.”
The perfect opportunity was the Mamasapano incident, she said.
“We know that there is a group that does not want the President to succeed,” said Deles. “If you don’t want the President to succeed, certainly you don’t want the peace agenda to succeed.”
Following the Mamasapano incident, several lawmakers withdrew their support for the BBL and vowed not to approve it without amendments. They argued that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has been pushing for the bill, is not a trustworthy partner in the peace talks.
A number of legislators also criticized the government peace panel for supposedly speaking for the MILF and defending its interests. The Senate’s investigation report on Mamasapano, for instance, said the panel suffered from a “wanton excess of optimism” in dealing with the group despite its lapses.
“Everything has been used. Lies, deliberate misinformation,” Deles said. “There’s the public shaming of people who have been defending the peace process and standing up for it.”
At the same forum organized by the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said the country has no choice but to see the BBL become a reality, calling it an “opportunity that knocks once.”
He said that if the bill is not approved by June 2015 – the deadline that leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives had set – it would be hard to tell when it will ever be passed.
“There is only one option as far as the MILF is concerned and also for government, and that is to pass the BBL,” Iqbal said. “There is no other option but to pass the BBL.”
Iqbal warned of increased frustration among Muslims, lawlessness in many parts of Mindanao, and a spark in radicalism if the Bangsamoro bill is not approved. He added that MILF forces would not let go of their firearms.
“We are decommissioning our firearms. But until the BBL is passed and implemented, we will hold on to our firearms,” he said.
Amid doubts on the MILF’s sincerity and criticisms on the bill, Senate and House deliberations on the BBL will resume this month.
Although the BBL’s timetable has been shortened because of the Mamasapano incident, Deles said the Bangsamoro government can still be formed in time for the 2016 elections.
Should Congress approve the measure in June, a plebiscite on the BBL would be held in September, she said. The Bangsamoro Transition Authority, the proposed region’s interim government before leaders are elected, will hold office from October 2015 to June 2016.
Deles said the BBL is open to amendments, but the peace panel hopes Congress would maintain the provisions the government and the MILF agreed on under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).
“We never said it could not be touched,” she said. “What we will fight for is that the CAB provisions should not be diluted in the BBL.” (MNS)