Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Would Mamasapano operation have succeeded if AFP’s elite Scout Rangers had handled it? Koko insists at this late stage that Bangsamoro should be for entire Mindanao region and not only for MILF, while a former congressional leader asserts that PH gov’t should have recruited Indonesia as mediator in BBL/MILF issue, since we’re having conflict with Malaysia on our Sabah claim. CDO Rep. Rufus Rodriguez promises that his ad hoc committee would delete at least eight provisions in the draft BBL while Senate has its own trimming to do. But can we hold the pols to their promise in an election year?

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, head of the House ad hoc committee on the BBL

A former ranking politician known for his savvy views recently opined to a group that he felt Malaysia should not have been the mediator between the Philippine government and the MILF, inasmuch as PH has outstanding issues with that country. One of them is our claim to Sabah which Malaysia has refused to recognize over decades. Moreover, Malaysians have direct business interests in this country. This veteran pol asserted that if there should be a mediator, it should be Indonesia. 

I agree. In fact many Filipinos are suspicious that Malaysia’s full backing for the MILF may stem from its interest in the tremendous wealth potential of Western Mindanao that’s covered by the Bangsamoro---among them oil and natural gas and minerals. 


Nearly three months after the Mamasapano tragedy debate is still going on in some quarters on whether the bloody encounter that resulted in the death of 67 Filipinos, including 44 PNP SAF elite commandos, could have been avoided with better coordination and a more studied approach. There are accusations from the MILF side that the government had failed to give proper notice to the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH)---as demanded by the peace agreement between government and the MILF signed with tremendous fanfare in Malacanang last year--- about its intention to get international terrorist Marwan. 

The government side failed to notify the CCCH obviously because it didn’t want to telegraph to the MILF its moves re the high-value target who had been staying in MILF-controlled territory for many months already. The triumvirate that carried out the SAF operation, namely, President Aquino, resigned PNP Chief Alan Purisima and sacked SAF Chief Getulio Napenas, felt they just couldn’t trust the MILF, and for that matter even the AFP. Purisima only told the Western Mindanao Command of the operation when the 45 SAF troopers, part of a larger force of nearly 400 that invaded Mamasapano, were already mired on the ground and fighting for their lives. Only one of these 45 lived to tell his tale.


I myself had wondered how detection of the invading SAF and the resultant bloody encounter could have been avoided with so large a number of PNP troopers assailing the wee hours of the morning. It turns out that I wasn’t the only one wondering. A report quoted a former AFP Scout Ranger as opining that the job of taking out Marwan should have been given to the Scout Rangers, who would have needed no more than twelve men,  and the chances of their success would have been far bigger than that of the 400 SAF. It would have involved, said the report, lightning insertion and extrication with perhaps one helicopter.

It’s now all in hindsight---Monday morning quarterbacking---but looking back, perhaps the Scout Rangers, who, together with the Special Forces are under the Special Operations Command of the AFP, would have done better, especially if the raid were made earlier than the Muslims’ 2 am. first prayer for the day.


Comparison of the botched Mamasapano operation is being made with the successful attack and slaying of then most wanted  international terrorist Osama Bin Laden, head of Al Qaeda, that was  carried out nearly two years ago in his compound in Abbottabad, northeast of Islamabad, Pakistan by a small group of US Navy Seals  in the dead of night. It was a most daring feat that astounded the world,  but records of that operation showed painstaking full-blown planning and deliberations of the Obama Cabinet and top military commanders for months.

Why President Aquino approved a raid by almost 400 police troopers---45 of them in the inner sanctum of Marwan and the rest on the periphery---no matter how elite they were---defies the imagination. Various media outdid one another in labeling that botched raid as the most amateurish one can imagine. This is not to mention the suspended status of P-Noy’s BFF and chief planner Purisima, the stand-down order that immobilized whatever help the AFP could muster at that late notification, the adherence to secrecy among three people, and the recourse to text-messaging throughout the operation when time was of utmost importance.

It was truly a black eye before the world.


Koko Pimentel was quoted in Standard recently as admonishing the Senate  not to make the BBL look like it’s catering too much to the MILF, and instead to make its provisions “neutral” so that it would make that armed group aware “that the proposed measure is not only for their group but for the entire Bangsamoro region in Mindanao.”  Pimentel’s admonition came after a World Bank report that stated that despite the passage of the BBL, peace and security in Western Mindanao cannot be guaranteed. How I wish Koko’s admonition came earlier when the Palace was still drafting that proposed law and debating it in Congress. At this point it may be a trifle too late to tilt this supposedly organic law to a more sensible and realistic direction--- given the tremendous pressure exerted by Malacanang to pass it. As one columnist put it, P-Noy is “obsessed” to pass it. Throw in the fact, too, that the legislators are approaching elections and may be extra susceptible to bribes this administration is wont to dish out. 


The citizens’ hope may lie in the opinion expressed recently by Cagayan de Oro  Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the House ad hoc committee on the BBL, who was quoted earlier as opining that at least eight provisions of the draft BBL would be deleted owing to their unconstitutional features. Let’s hope that Rep. Rodriguez, who was very thorough in his objection to the RH Bill two years ago, would really not be bamboozled  by the deadline imposed by the Palace: to pass the BBL BEFORE P-Noy's very last SONA  on the last Monday of this July.

For as former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban pointed out in his column recently, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio had “unflinchingly” declared unconstitutional not only the underlying “associative” concepts of the MOA-AD” of the Macapagal-Arroyo era, but quite significantly, also 36 of its specific provisions. Panganiban asserts that “shadows of (the MOA-AD) can be gleaned in the BBL.”

On the other hand, he noted that lawyer and now CJ Ma. Lourdes Sereno had participated in the controversy as counsel for Sen. Franklin Drilon, who was an intervenor in the MOA-AD.  Sereno’s 72-page memo detailed “constitutional violations (that) eroded the sovereignty of the Republic of the Philippines…split its national identity… (and) created a state within a state---a concept alien and antithetical to the one sovereign nation embodied in the Constitution.”


Thus these opinions of the High Magistrates could be dark portents for the BBL.  Over the Holy Week this blogger read (as penance for my sins!) the 99-page “Bangsamoro Basic Law”, which is House Bill No. 4994, sponsored by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and 16 other legislators. And right there I noted several features that, I’m sure, would be struck out by the Supreme Court if challenged legally. More about  the tough portions of the BBL next time. 

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