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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

‘Focus on peace’

RATHER than be carried away by emotions brought on by the death of 67 persons in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, British Ambassador to the Philippines Asif Anwar Ahmad said he hopes Filipinos will resolve the controversy with the goal of attaining peace.

Ambassador Ahmad visited Cebu on Friday to promote the United Kingdom’s Great campaign, which presents the best of British business and culture.

In a separate event, Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma said peace should remain the main objective, even as legislators and the public further study the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

“We love our Muslim brothers. And we all aspire for peace. But it’s not as simple as passing it and that’s it,” the archbishop said.

While Archbishop Palma and Ambassador Ahmad were being asked about the peace process by journalists in Cebu, Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II said he believes that resigned PNP chief Alan Purisima was at fault for what happened in Mamasapano last Jan. 25.

Roxas based his statement on the report submitted by the Board of Inquiry, which indicated that despite being suspended at that time, Purisima participated in the planning and execution of the mission.

Oplan Exodus was meant to arrest Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, and Abdul Basit Usman. It ended with Marwan’s death. But 67 persons also died during the 12-hour gunbattle, including 44 operatives of the PNP’s Special Action Force (SAF). (Related story in Nation, A20)

The BOI is one of several bodies investigating what happened. A Senate committee, which has also heard testimonies on the Mamasapano incident, is expected to present its report next week.

Way forward

Ambassador Ahmad said the incident brings him back to the time when the UK suffered a crisis with Northern Ireland, where Catholics and Protestants were at odds and violence escalated. Today, he said, groups that were once labeled terrorists are represented in Parliament and personalities who would have once shot one another are working together in government.

The British Embassy was part of the International Contact Group (ICG) supporting the peace process in Mindanao. It had a representative to all the negotiations between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) over the last two years.

The British Embassy has been active in strengthening the party system for the ministerial form of governance in Bangsamoro. Its efforts include entrenching women’s participation in the basic law of Muslim Mindanao and supporting the implementation of the normalization elements of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

It sponsored two women leaders to attend a training program in the UK on transitional justice, gender and land issues while officials from the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines, including then PNP Chief Purisima, paid a visit to London and Northern Ireland.

For 2014 and 2015, projects and activities include working further on the women’s agenda in the Bangsamoro and the participation of chief security officers in the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. Members of the Philippine Congress are also scheduled to visit London and Belfast.

Number one

Ambassador Ahmad clarified they are not about to take sides on the matter and is saddened that the incident has become tied to the peace process. “It (incident) created a situation where the peace process became the same issue.” Ahmad said this should not be the case.

While he feels the death of police officers and civilians was unfortunate, he urged different sectors to make a careful study of the Bangsamoro Basic Law before issuing statements with finality. He feels the time is right for more sectors to become involved and have their say because the incident has gotten wider attention. In the past, those who were concerned about it were mainly those from Mindanao.

He urged that everyone “work for peace” and make contributions that would end in attaining it. He also asked for more involvement from government and civil society. “Treat it as a number one issue, not as an afterthought.”

The Philippines is one of 36 countries that UK officials consider as “emerging powers” and they have dedicated resources to promote the UK in the Philippines.

He said in recent years, more high-level officials are taking time to visit the Philippines. Next week, they are expecting the arrival of Anne, the Princess Royal of the UK.

Ahmad said they brought the Great campaign to Cebu, noting its importance in their relations with the Philippines. He cited a number of companies and retail brands having a heavy presence in Cebu. They also have a UK visa application center operating in Cebu City.

On Thursday, he was accompanied by a business delegation composed of executives from Diageo, GlaxoSmothKline, HSBC, Mini, STI and Arup to meet with government officials and the Cebu Chamber of Commerce to learn more about the business climate and commercial opportunities. He also hosted a reception in the Mini showroom.

Proposal

He also delivered a keynote speech at the UK Education Forum held at the University of San Carlos to inform them of the Chevening Scholarship program. Last night, they held a screening of National Theatre Live’s Frankenstein and the UK in Miniature exhibit at the SM City Cebu.

The UK hopes to deepen its business ties with the Philippines, being the largest European investor in the country with foreign direct investment stock of about $1 billion.

If the BBL is passed by Congress and ratified by voters in a plebiscite, the ARMM will be abolished and a Bangsamoro Transition Authority appointed by the President will serve as the interim government.

Under the BBL, the National Government will retain its power over defense and external security, foreign policy, monetary policy, citizenship, postal services, immigration, some aspects of customs and tariff supervision, common market and global trade, and intellectual property rights.

But the National and Bangsamoro Governments will share some powers, including social security, land registration, the penitentiary, auditing, civil service, justice, disaster risk reduction and management, and public order and safety.

The historic signing last March 2014 of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro capped negotiations that started in January 1997, facilitated beginning in 2001 by the Government of Malaysia.

Study it

In yesterday’s interview, Archbishop Palma said there is a need for deeper study before approving the BBL. He also called on the National Government to stop hostilities in Mindanao, especially against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

“It’s not a simple deal that you just say yes or no to. There are intricacies in the bill that need to be studied. Even the CBCP (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines) says that while we are suing for peace, let the experts study the bill,” Palma said.

He added that while the nation mourns for the 44 police commandos killed in Mamasapano, many Muslim combatants and civilians are also victims of the ongoing hostilities.

Palma also urged his fellow church leaders to avoid making political statements, including calls for President Benigno Aquino III to resign.

The 64-year-old prelate made the reaction following calls made by some church officials for Aquino to resign over the bloody encounter in Mamasapano.

Other church officials like Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz and Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles are supporting calls for Aquino’s resignation.

Palma clarified that the statements issued by church leaders on the issue were their own, and not of the CBCP.
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