by Ali G. Macabalang
Philippine National Police Chief Lt. Gen. Rodolfo Azurin’s published pronouncement that “there is only one Philippine National Police (and) there is only one Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)” is without doubt true.
But his statement’s sequel that questioned the need for the PNP or the AFP to coordinate the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in running after criminals or outlaws in state-recognized MILF areas in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) resurrected notions about the national police leadership lack of trust in the MILF stance as government partner in rebuilding peace in southern Philippines.
Gen. Azurin’s question at a recent Malacañang press briefing: “Bakit pa kailangang magpaalam sa kanila (MILF) ng mga pulis duon” reflected his innocence about the components of the government’s existing peace accords with the MILF. Worse, it was a mirror of the PNP top echelon’s distrust in the MILF as demonstrated in the clandestine anti-terror operation of the Special Action Force (SAF) in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25, 2015.
That infamous SAF operation, which actually was not also coordinated with the military on the ground, would have easily bagged Malaysian bomb-making expert Zulkifli Binhur and Filipino aide Bassit Usman without heavy casualties (44 SAF troopers, 16 MILF resident-cadres and six civilians) had the PNP coordinated the MILF and the military.
Another major casualty in the botched operation was the “death” in Congress of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) bill as a result of public outrage over the “massacre” of the SAF troops (some of them were my brothers in Alpha Phi Omega) as fanned by the PNP’s make-believe assertion for a clandestine raid in Mamasapano.
Was Gen. Azurin ignoring the fact that the PNP and the AFP are components of the government, which inked major peace deals with the MILF? Does he know that such accords contain ceasefire mechanisms requiring the MNLF, the AFP and the MILF to jointly address lawlessness, via the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) and the Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH)?
Just like the SAF leadership, Gen. Azurin seemed to be suspecting that the MILF is coddling lawless elements, such as those responsible in the ambush of a police patrol vehicle last August 30 at Barangay Kapinpilan in Ampatuan, Maguindanao that left town’s police chief, Lt. Reynaldo Samson, and his aide, Corporal Salipudin Endab, and three other cops wounded.
Police and military probers have reported that the ambushers were members of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). And Gen. Azurin obviously does not know that the MILF and BIFF are incompatible. It can be recalled that in recent years, a band of BIFF guerillas “massacred” at least seven MILF members in a village in Maguindanao.
It’s saddening that Gen. Azurin’s pronouncement came on the heels of series of MILF field consultations, which were prompted by an equally confusing instigation from local political quarters purporting the surge of a recalcitrant MILF faction called “Salamat Wing.” It compounded a perceived public confusion.
BARMM interim Chief Minister Ahod “Al Hadj Murad” Ebrahim, concurrent MILF chairman, has condoled with the kin and supporters of the police fatalities in the August 30 ambush.
But in his statement of condemnation, Chairman Ebrahim asserted the need for coordination among the MILF, PNP and AFP forces in addressing criminalities and lawlessness as mandated in the ceasefire mechanisms, particularly through the AHJAG and the CCCH.
Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., whom President Bongbong Marcos retained as presidential adviser on peace, unity and reconciliation should brief Gen. Azurin on the rudiments of the Mindanao peace process, particularly about the CCCH and AHJAG.
The government, including the PNP, the AFP and civilian stakeholders who have invested much in sustaining the gains of the State’s peace accords with the MILF and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), cannot afford to derail the momentum of peace in BARMM.
We cannot afford to let a “mirror of distrust” in some corners of the national police grow unquestioned. (Comments or reactions may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.)