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Generals, admirals oppose BBL

Hardly given media coverage was the position paper of the country’s Association of Generals and Flag Officers (AGFO), a decades-old organization of retired generals with star rank. Retired Lt. Gen. Edilberto Adan read out AGFO’s stand in a hearing of the Senate committee deliberating the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

The position paper’s introduction partly answers the question why the AGFO members’ views should be seriously considered by Congress: “Many of them are veterans of the campaigns against insurgency and terrorism in Mindanao. As veterans, we experienced the scourge and cruelties of war, its physical, mental and psychological demands.”

A practical reason for listening to the retired generals is that they have had actual experience not only in dealing with insurgent forces, but also with the chain of command, knowing how this really works. Compared with these retired officers, our negotiators Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and her boss, Teresita Deles, are spoiled brats around which the wolves of insurgency are running circles.

Only President Aquino, among the presidents of this republic, has assigned civilians and bleeding-heart give-peace-a-chance NGO types to negotiate a deal with a powerful insurgent force. Compare Ferrer and Deles with negotiators of past presidents, such as Marcos chief negotiator with the MNLF Manuel Yan, a distinguished general and diplomat; Ramos’ and Arroyo’s first negotiator with MILF, General Eduardo Ermita; and you will understand why the BBL was agreed upon that so plainly will allow the MILF to amass strength in its own territory to eventually secede it from the Philippines.

In a press conference in April, chief negotiator Ferrer said that if the BBL wasn’t approved, there would be “very, very bloody war.” What kind of a negotiator would simply accept such a threat from a rebel group? Any rational administration would have fired such a negotiator the day that was said.

You can download the AGFO statement in the internet version of this column.

Some of the most important points of that paper:

§ “Conspicuously absent in these documents is an MILF’s renunciation of its separatist policy with the intent of establishing an Islamic State covering Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan. Nowhere in these papers can one find an MILF undertaking to renounce its policy of separatism and goal of independence, as well as to affirm or acknowledge the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines. Plainly noticeable in them, though, is that the MILF is ranked equal or in partnership with the GPH, and that equality of relationship is expressly recognized as such in their provisions.

§ The BBL reference to the Bangsamoro’s “Aspiration for Self-governance.” Without any qualification, this phrase can be interpreted as either independence in running one’s own affairs, or managing one’s affairs independent of external control. Thus, duality of interpretation can give the MILF the opportunity to tailor it to its goal. It can be used to justify a declaration of independence later. The Bangsamoro people are allowed to “chart their political future.” Since the term is ambiguous, it can easily be construed as an end-state of autonomy or independence, depending on one’s purpose.

§ The proposed Bangsamoro police shall be responsible both to the central government and the Bangsamoro government and the communities it serves. This requirement violates unity of command of the PNP from the President as Commander-in-Chief down to the lowest unit of the organization. It will likewise put the head of the Bangsamoro police in a dilemma whenever conflict arises between orders from the PNP National Headquarters and the head of the Bangsamoro government.

Under Section 8, Powers of the Chief Minister over the Bangsamoro police, the Chief Minister shall exercise the following powers:(1) To select the head of the Bangsamoro police and his deputies; (2) To exercise operational control and supervision and disciplinary powers over the Bangsamoro police;(3) To employ or deploy the elements of and assign or reassign the Bangsamoro police thru the Bangsamoro police director.

We believe this provision will be a continuing source of conflict between the chief of the Philippine National Police, and possibly the Secretary of the Interior and Local Government/Chair of NAPOLCOM, in regard to PNP administration and operations. This is because the PNP chief will treat the Bangsamoro police as a subordinate unit/office of the PNP while the Bangsamoro government will look at the Bangsamoro police as “their police force,” and therefore, subject to the Chief Minister’s command and control in all circumstances.

§ Section 15 provides that the central government “may create a Bangsamoro Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines…” We recommend the deletion of this provision. No operational or area command is (presently) mandated by law; their establishment is based on the threat situation and geographic considerations among others.

§ Section 17 provides that the central government and the Bangsamoro government shall establish coordination protocols, which shall govern the movement of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in the Bangsamoro.

The recent experience of the AFP in following such “coordination protocols” with the MILF is a sad story of military disasters resulting in numerous casualties, including the mutilation of our soldiers. Military operations require utmost secrecy to ensure success. Information leaks could lead to ambushes and casualties. Thus, based on military doctrines and actual experiences of the AFP such as in Basilan province, the “coordination protocols” for purely military operations being proposed to be established in the Bangsamoro law should be deleted.

Moreover, the AFP should have unrestricted authority to move or deploy troops, equipment and other military assets wherever and whenever such deployment or movements are deemed necessary in pursuit of the AFP mission mandated by the Constitution. The power and authority of the President to employ or deploy the AFP should not, in any way or manner, be diminished. We recommend that this principle be made a part of the proposed law on the Bangsamoro.

§ The CAB is unlike the peace agreements forged between some foreign countries and the militant separatist groups they respectively dealt with. On the other hand, because the DDR’s were deemed imperatives, the foreign countries indicated them in their respective agreements clearly and in a rather comprehensive and detailed manner.

The agreement between the government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement, or Gerakin Aceh Merdeka (GAM), is an example. It provided that GAM had to hand over at least 840 arms within three months after the agreement was signed – and this was completed. With regard to the covenant entered into between the United Kingdom, on the one hand, and Ireland as well as Northern Ireland, on the other, it clearly indicated that there had to be a total disarmament of all para-military organizations (like the Irish Republican Army, or IRA) and the decommissioning of all arms in the possession of all those organizations in two years – and this was done.

The agreements with the MILF directs it to decommission “its forces so that they are put beyond use”… The four phases of the program relate to voluntary registration of firearms and not handing over of firearms to the Philippine government. Not mentioned in the phasing out are high-powered guns, crew-served weapons, self-propelled guns, and the like. It, thus, becomes evident that the process of decommissioning is going to be long, slow and difficult, and only for small-caliber rifles.

And since it will not be implemented by both the MILF and the GPH in a joint manner but by the MILF alone, there can be no telling when implementation will be completed, that is, if it will be completed at all.

Meanwhile, that the long and uncertain procedure of decommissioning is supposed to be ongoing, the probability is not remote that the MILF may exploit the time to beef up its arms and equipment, quantity- and quality-wise, and fine-tune its military organization. “And when the MILF forces shall have achieved the status or category of a standard army, then, likewise, the probability is not remote that the MILF – confident of support from other countries, would now repudiate the agreements it has made with the GPH, claiming the latter’s inability to comply with its obligations under those agreements, declare its independence and establish an Islamic state in the Philippine south.”