Celso raises questions on normalization process in Congress’ ‘Turno En Contra’ PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 02 February 2016 11:57

The decommissioning of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) forces, as a condition for the normalization process was one of the issues presented by 1st District Congressman Celso Lobregat at the continuation of his Turno en Contra on House Bill 5811- Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR) on Jan. 27, 2016.

Lobregat questioned why decommissioning is not in the law, so that everything in the annex and agreements and executive orders will prevail. Since it is not in the law, then there is no violation of the law.

Lobregat, in pursuing his argument, referred to the Annex on Normalization which on page 4-7 reads as follows:

C. Decommissioning

1. The MILF shall undertake a graduated program for decommissioning of its forces so that they are put beyond use.

2. Decommissioning shall be a process that includes activities aimed at achieving a smooth transition for the BIAF members to productive life.

3. The decommissioning of MILF forces shall be parallel and commensurate to the implementation of all the agreements of the Parties.

Lobregat then asked, “how many are the MILF forces, 10,000? Will all of the armed combatants be decommissioned? Yes. Does the MILF still consider itself as a revolutionary force? Yes.”

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and the Peace Panel have given the schedule and timetable for the decommissioning as follows; Ceremonial Turn-over of 75 weapons, including 55 high-powered and 20 crew-serve ones, were deactivated to mark the beginning of the process, and 145 rebels out of the estimated 10,000 armed members of the MILF’s armed wing, the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, now prepare to return to mainstream life. This was done on June 16, 2015. Phase 1- 35 % upon enactment of the law. Phase 2- 30% upon the establishment of the Bangsamoro Police. Phase 3- 35 % upon the signing of the Exit Agreement which will only be signed when all agreements are implemented.

Lobregat said the questions that need to be answered and possibly addressed in the BLBAR itself are: On the statement of Secretary Deles and GPH Chairperson Ferrer that Normalization and Decommissioning can be done through Executive action and need not be put into law, Lobregat asked why does Phase 1 have to wait for the enactment of the law.  Furthermore, according to Lobregat, if only 35 % of the firearms will be put beyond use after the enactment of the law, the balance will still be in the hands of the MILF during the conduct of the plebiscite- a legitimate armed group during the plebiscite? “When will the Bangsamoro Police be formed if ever-what kind of Bangsamoro Police?” asked Lobregat. The decommissioning in the Annex on Normalization shall be parallel and commensurate to the implementation of the agreements.  So Lobregat queried, “how long do you estimate for all the agreements to be implemented? The FAB and the CAB state that an Exit Document will only be signed when all agreements are implemented”.

Lobregat recalled that the Final Peace Agreement (FPA) with the MNLF was signed in 1996- Today (meaning last year) almost 19 years after, Misuari claims that not all provisions of the Agreement have been complied with. This prompted Lobregat to ask, “is this what is meant in the conclusions of the Senate Mamasapano Report page 110?” The report stated as follows; “The OPAPP and the Peace Panel, while advocating peace on a high ground as it should, are suffering from a wanton excess of optimism- optimism that blinded them to negotiate a fair agreement for the government. The BBL, in fact, is an exemplar in this regard: while founded on a noble vision of harmony for Mindanao, indications show that there are major problem areas including but not limited to the largesse found in its high cost of appropriations and allegedly allowing the creation of a sub-state”.

This prompted Lobregat to inquire about the high cost of appropriations with the following questions; Please explain, he said, “When did this start? How much is the appropriation? Who administers the fund? And to whom is it given?”

Lobregat said that these questions he asked during the period of interpellation and the Sponsor/Vice Chairman answered “No” – No knowledge about the Normalization Fund. During the budget deliberation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines with the Secretary of National Defense and the Chief of Staff present, Lobregat recalled it was BGen. Angelito De Leon, AFP deputy Chief of Staff for Operation, J-3, who replied to the question and said they don’t know about the Normalization Fund.

Lobregat showed a slide presentation of a March 3, 2015 letter of GHP Panel Member Senen Bacani to Ms. Anna Marie Pamintuan, Editor-in-Chief of the Philippine Star that reads:

“Over the last two weeks, there have been several references in some of your news articles/columns of a P 75-billion grant to the Bangsamoro in the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law. Because this number has been quoted so many times, this has been taken as a fact by some quarters. We wish to categorically deny that this is the case. We wish to clarify therefore that the only incremental spending as proposed are the following as illustrated in the Table of Government Spending in the ARMM/Bangsamoro (in billions) which was attached to the letter.

Under 2.c there is Normalization Fund in different agencies (DA, DepEd, TESDA, PhilHealth, DOH, CHED, DSWD) for ex-combatants as indicated: P3Billion for 2015 and P 4Billion for 2016.

Lobregat then asked “So if you have a Normalization Fund of P 4Billion pesos for 2016 and you have 10,000 MILF combatants- each combatant receives or will receive Php 400,000 per year or Php 33,333 per month of benefits?”

Comparing with the salary of a soldier or a policeman, the base pay of a candidate solider is P 11,285/month. And the base pay for a Police Officer 1 (PO1) or a private in the army is P 14,834/month.

Lobregat, who is vice chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, recalled that in the budget hearing of the AFP, it was stated that a Private 1st Class is receiving around P 21,000 gross including allowance per month.

Lobregat concluded that this disparity would lead to demoralization of soldiers and policemen who are risking their lives to defend the country and keep our communities safe as the amount they are receiving is less than the benefits provided for MILF combatant.

Citing the Annex on Normalization. Section J Confidence-Building Measures which states, 2. To facilitate the healing of the wounds of conflict and the return to normal life, the Government shall take immediate steps through amnesty, pardon and other available processes towards the resolution of cases of persons charged with or convicted of crimes and offenses connected to the armed conflict in Mindanao.

To this, Lobregat asked, “will amnesty be given to the MILF involved and found guilty in the Mamasapano Massacre? Does amnesty require congressional action? “ (Lea LM)