Elpidio V. Peria
1 February 2015

While various bodies within the Philippine Government and the MILF itself are currently undertaking fact-finding investigative missions to ascertain what actually transpired in the Mamasapano mis-encounter (or massacre?) in MILF territory which resulted in the death of 44 SAF elements, MILF or BIFF combatants and some civilians, it might be useful to review what the Government of the Philippines (GPH) signed on to with the MILF in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and see whether the processes and structures therein including some items in the agreement would be helpful as a guide in exacting accountability among all parties involved, the Philippine Government itself and the MILF included.

What appears to be a relevant document here is the so-called Annex on Normalization that was signed last 25 January 2014, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia between GPH Panel Chair Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and MILF Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal and what it says on the transitional components of normalization are as follows:

1. Normalization during the transition stage shall be based on the principle of partnership between the GPH and the MILF working together to secure peace on the ground.

2. To ensure effective security collaboration, several joint mechanisms shall be established. The Joint Normalization Committee (JNC) shall coordinate the different processes in normalization. The Joint Peace and Security Committee (JPSC) shall coordinate the security component of the normalization process. The Joint Peace and Security Teams (JPSTs) shall be the operating units composed of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the PNP and the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF). These mechanisms shall work for the maintenance of peace and order and the stability of the areas mutually identified by the GPH and the MILF.

3. These transitional mechanisms shall be in place until the police force for the Bangsamoro is fully organized and operational. Based on need, the Parties may choose to extend the operations of these transitional arrangements.

It is ironic that on the day of the one-year anniversary of the signing of this Annex on January 25, the Mamasapano mis-encounter (or massacre?) happened. It is clear that these bodies, the JNC, the JPSC and the JPST are the ones that should be operating administratively and on the ground when the incident happened, perhaps they should also be interviewed by the investigative bodies or panels what information they possessed before and during the incident. The JPSTs specifically are the ones that will work for the maintenance of peace and order and the stability of the areas mutually identified by the GPH and the MILF.

One obvious question – is the site of the incident, that particular barangay in Mamasapano in Maguindanao, contemplated in the area of operation of these normalization bodies and mechanisms?

This is an item for the GPH to answer since the camps that are considered “mutually identified” where these normalization bodies and mechanisms are supposed to operate are identified in the Annex on Normalization itself as the following MILF camps:

a. Camp Abubakar as-Siddique in Maguindanao
b. Camp Bilal in Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur
c. Camp Omar ibn al-Khattab in Maguindanao
d. Camp Rajamuda in North Cotabato and Maguindanao
e. Camp Badre in Maguindanao
f. Camp Busra Somiorang in Lanao del Sur

Whether that barangay site of the incident is covered by this Annex on Normalization or not, perhaps these normalization bodies, the JNC, the JPSC, and the JPSTs, will have to give their account on what they know about the status of forces in the area, how many MILF forces are operating when the process of decommissioning is about to start so that this will help validate what the investigating bodies may determine as the ones who were actually involved in the incident.

Now, it is also incumbent on the part of the GPH whether the SAF operation to arrest Marwan and Usman, for all its supposed high importance because of the high-value targets and the reward money involved, to provide unequivocal information on whether it notified these normalization bodies, in order for them to act accordingly when the operation got underway.

On whether the BIFF forces are part of the groups that should be monitored by these normalization bodies, this is not clear, since the Annex on Normalization only talks about Private Armed Groups (PAG). Just the same, this unclarity should not inhibit the GPH from demanding any information from the MILF about these elements of the BIFF so that a case be built against them as part of the process of ensuring accountability, considering that BIFF people interviewed on TV said that some of their people have relatives in the MILF. In addition, as a partner of the GPH in the normalization process, the MILF should not hesitate to turn over any of its personnel who were involved in the incident, and to account for the equipment that was taken as war booty from the fallen SAF elements, as soon as the fact-finding bodies identify who they are and what these missing equipment are.

One last word, once the results of the fact-finding are in and it points to the culpability of MILF personnel, it may not be much to bring the trust back of the Filipino people including the disgusted legislators that sit in judgment on the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law on the MILF leadership, but perhaps to lessen the antagonism that had built up, they may wish to take a page from what Lance Gokongwei, CEO of Cebu Pacific, did when he was summoned in the House of Representatives to explain the lapses of the airline to accommodate thousands of passengers just this Christmas season. Mr. Gokongwei did not question or raise legal or process issues on the fine imposed on the airline by the Civil Aeronautics Board and instead, which in a way, was unexpected, he apologized to the entire nation for what had happened.

Whether the MILF leadership will take up this challenge, which indicates their willingness to be subject to the vagaries of public opinion which is par for the course, in the normal give and take of an open domecratic society, as in fact they have already established a party-list group, the United Bangsamoro Justice Party, which will participate in the 2016 general elections, is a matter all of us will see soon  enough once the results of the fact-finding bodies are in.


(CORRECTIONS : factual – the Mamasapano incident happened on the 1 year anniversary of the signing of the Annex on Normalization, which was Jan. 25, 2014, not a day after, as earlier written; editorial – addition of the word “soon” before the word “enough” in the last sentence of the post. Apologies)

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