Press Release
February 3, 2015


Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago today said that the bloody clash that killed 44 police commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao showed lack of sincerity and confidence of both the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the ongoing peace negotiations.

Santiago is the chair of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes, which on Monday held its last public hearing on the constitutionality of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

The senator, one of the leading constitutionalists in the country, said that incidents of violence, such as the Mamasapano clash, seriously put into question the legitimacy of the peace process and the intentions of both sides in pursuing the peace effort.

"Peacebuilding practices are inherently violent. However, it is not the presence of violent groups that make it violent, but how the parties to the peace process sustain the culture of violence that drives them into conflict," Santiago said.

"It becomes very difficult for both sides to pursue the peace process when clear violations of it are being committed by both sides," she added.

While lamenting the death of members of the PNP-Special Action Force (SAF), Santiago demanded that police and Palace officials who were involved in the operation or knew of it explain why they did not coordinate with leaders of the MILF.

Santiago said the requirement of coordination between government armed forces and the MILF was put into place precisely to prevent bloody hostilities such as the Mamasapano clash. "The government and the MILF are in peace negotiations. This means that they should be partners in ending the conflict in Mindanao. Why then did the government blindside its partner by moving into an MILF-controlled area by the hundreds?" the senator said.

She also urged leaders of the MILF to validate its claim that it has renounced terrorism and links to terrorist groups, including the notorious Jemaah Islamiyah, which is believed to be part of the global al-Qaeda network.

The police operation in the highly volatile Mamasapano town, which involved 392 members of the PNP-SAF, was launched to serve an arrest warrant to suspected terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir and Abdul Basit Usman. "The MILF has long claimed that it has severed ties with extremist groups, but how do we know that the suspected terrorists the PNP-SAF wanted to arrest were not in the area?" Santiago said.

"These are unpopular questions, but they need to be asked," the senator added.

She noted that this is not the first time violence marred talks between the Aquino administration and the MILF. In 2011, the government accused the rebel group of violating a ceasefire and killing 19 soldiers in combat in Basilan.

The firefight was believed to have erupted after troops were sent to the MILF-controlled area to capture outlaws including Dan Laksaw Asnawi, an MILF commander wanted for the beheading of 14 Marines in Basilan's Al-Barka town in 2007.

"This administration needs to formulate a clear strategy in targeting lawless elements while respecting peace talks with the MILF. Officials leading government forces should have learned from past mistakes," Santiago said.

"At the same time, the MILF should show its sincerity and utmost good faith in its peace talks with the government by sharing its intelligence on terrorists hiding in Mindanao, and working with the government in pursuing these terrorists," she said. Santiago has filed Senate Resolution No. 1138, urging a probe on the so-called misencounter, saying that facts of the clash may be relevant to committee deliberations on the proposed BBL, pending in the Senate as Bill No. 2408.

The Senate committee on public order, chaired by Sen. Grace Poe, has scheduled public hearings on the Mamasapano clash on February 9 and 10.

Proponents of the BBL, a measure forwarded by Malacanang as its solution to the Moro uprising in Mindanao, fear that the outburst of violence will derail the measure's passage into law amid waning support from Congress. Santiago, for her part, insisted that the latest outburst of violence should not delay Senate hearings on the controversial bill. The senator, who has been vocal about her view that the establishment of the Bangsamoro entity cannot be done by mere legislation, will preside over another hearing on the constitutionality of the BBL on Monday, February 2.

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