Palace awaiting probe result on Basilan attack

Posted on October 31, 2011

THE PALACE is awaiting results of the military’s probe on a recent attack that killed several soldiers in restive Central Mindanao, a Malacañang aide said yesterday, amid threats among Moro rebel ranks to revert to the struggle for independence.

“The President is waiting for the result of the investigation on the Basilan incident from the AFP,” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail D. Valte said over state-run dzRB.

The statement followed a confirmation from the military on Friday that the report of Maj. Gen. Ireneo C. Espino, the military inspector-general, on the Oct. 18 incident in Al Barka, Basilan was set for submission to Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo S.L. Oban, Jr. at the weekend.

Alongside the submission of the outcome of the probe, Ms. Valte said, President Benigno S. C. Aquino III wants discussions on how to “push forward the peace talks in light of the Basilan incident,” referring to expected peace talks set for next month.

The incident, which the military claimed was conducted by members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), killed 19 soldiers who pursued Dan Laksaw Asnawi who escaped the Basilan provincial jail on Dec. 30, 2009 with 30 inmates. Asnawi was involved in the beheading of 14 Marines in early 2007.

But the MILF claimed the military violated the 2003 truce pact by entering a designated rebel sanctuary.

Ms. Valte said the incident in Basilan and another one in Zamboanga Sibugay will be raised by the government negotiating panel with “their counterparts in the informal meetings early next month.”

As this developed, an MILF official yesterday said some members of the group are mulling to drop the call for autonomy and revert to the original position of Bangsamoro independence.

“Some of our Bangsamoro leaders are suggesting going back to independence if the government finds no peaceful solution to the current Bangsamoro question,” Ghazali Jaafar, vice-chairman of the MILF, told BusinessWorld in a phone interview.

The MILF has dropped its bid for independence and instead pushed for a “substate” solution.

“We have been in these negotiations 14 years already, too long and... our people have been losing confidence on our Filipino leaders,” Mr. Jaafar said.

The MILF wants to clarify the “all-out justice” stance of Mr. Aquino amid ongoing military operations in Basilan and Sibugay, he added.

“My understanding is that the presumption of innocence is for those targeted. Before we condemn anyone, let us make sure that he has been proven guilty of the crime,” said Mr. Jaafar.

“We have these ongoing surgical operations which the MILF thinks are violations and contradictory to the all-out justice because such operations carry collateral damage on the ground.”

He called on both negotiating panels to fast-track and conclude the talks soon given the new peace draft submitted by the MILF after both parties failed to settle on the proposal of the government.

The state has proposed an enhanced setup pegged on the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, but the Moros want a federal-type governance that would allow its broad powers to include resources management.

Mr. Aquino and MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim met in Tokyo in early August to fast-track the negotiations, but events afterwards have shown constant differences between both sides. -- JPDP and A. S. Mawallil