Tuesday, February 10, 2015

WHAT IS A CEASEFIRE AGREEMENT FOR? (Respecting the rules under the ceasefire agreement would have prevented the deadly misencounter at Mamasapano)

By Siesta-friendly

Despite the reported Philippine National Police – Special Action Forces’ killing of South East Asia’s most wanted terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir (aka Marwan) on January 25, 2015, the words the Fallen 44 are those that will be etched in our collective consciousness.

On January 30, 2015, in his eulogy during the memorial services for their fallen comrades, PNP-SAF officer-in-charge Chief Supt. Noli Taliño asked “Is it worth it? One international terrorist, equivalent to 44 SAF troopers?

Of course, stated that way, it is.  Marwan, after all, is one of the world’s most wanted terrorists –  a suspected bombmaker for the Jemaah Islamiyah group responsible for the 2002 bombings in Bali which killed 202 people   The FBI has a $5M bounty on his head.   

And Marwan’s killing likely prevented the death of many more innocents.  But were the risks worth it?  By ignoring the mechanisms - agreed upon by the GPH and the MILF - regarding the pursuit and apprehension of criminals, the SAF left the MILF unaware that the dozens of heavily armed SAF men entering their area were not on a warpath while placing innocent civilians in the middle of a possible crossfire.

Oplan Exodus’ cost was thus way beyond the Fallen 44.   News reports indicate that apart from the Fallen 44, there were 12 injured SAF, 4 civilians who died including a 8-year old girl, 3 civilians injured and 6,000 who fled to evacuation centers. The MILF, on the other hand, lost 18 of their men with 14 injured.  All these, on top of the peace process which the operation put on the brink of collapse.

Precious peace

Such was Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chairman Abul Khayr Alonto’s succinct reminder of the state of affairs between the GPH and the MILF - in a Senate hearing on the constitutionality of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law a week after the "misencounter".

And because of this war, there is an existing ceasefire agreement - along with operational guidelines - precisely to stop the decades-long hostilities and mounting casualties and pursue the peace process. The historical animosity between the GPH and MILF are reflected in the guidelines’ list of prohibited hostile acts that even certain acts - not necessarily hostile - have been deemed provocative and declared prohibited too.

Pursuant to the ceasefire agreement, mechanics were agreed upon detailing how criminal elements - including high profile targets - were to be pursued and apprehended.  In all instances, the pursuit and apprehension are supposed to be done with close coordination between GPH and MILF authorities.

The ceasefire agreement has existed since 1997.  All agreements relevant to the ceasefire are public documents and can even be easily accessed on the website of the Office of the Presidential Advisor on the Peace Process.  So no one can feign ignorance.  Then, why pursue a police operation as if these agreements didn't exist? Why would any member of either party deem itself exempt from the scope of these agreements?

The Agreement For General Cessation of Hostilities and the Implementing Operational Guidelines of the Agreement on the General Cessation of Hostilities

On July 18, 1997, the loss and displacement of thousands of lives finally led  the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MILF) to enter into the Agreement For General Cessation of Hostilities  On November 14, 1997, the Implementing Operational Guidelines of the Agreement on the General Cessation of Hostilities were then signed.

Why did the masterminds of Oplan Exodus ignore the ceasefire agreement meant precisely to  stop the violent, deadly clashes  between muslim rebels and government forces?

Did they not read and understand the Implementing Operational Guidelines which enumerated prohibited hostile acts including the following:

"a.   Terroristic acts such as kidnapping, hijacking, piracy, sabotage, arson, bombings, grenade throwing, robberies, liquidations/assassinations, unjustified arrest, torture, unreasonable search and seizure, summary execution, as well as burning of houses, places of worship and educational institutions, destruction of properties, and abuse of civilians.

b.      Aggressive action such as attacks, raids, ambuscades, landminings, and offensive military actions such as shelling, reconnoitering, and unjustified massing of troops.” (Article I) [emphasis supplied]


Did they forget that the Guidelines listed prohibited provocative acts including the following:


"c.    Massive deployment and/or movement of GRP and MILF forces which are not normal administrative functions and activities.”


e.      Other acts that endanger the safety and security of the people and their properties; and/or that which contribute to the deterioration of peace and order, such as blatant display of firearms. (Article I) [emphasis supplied]

Did they just decide that Guidelines Ground Rules Article III did not matter:

"1.   The GRP and MILF shall desist from committing any prohibited hostile and provocative acts, as described in these Implementing Guidelines and Ground Rules.  (Article III)  [emphasis supplied]


And how can they neglect Article II of the Guidelines which says:

“Actions Exempted from Cessation of Hostilities Police and military actions and administrative/logistic activities shall continue to be undertaken by the GRP throughout Mindanao and the entire country. In the pursuit thereof, confrontational situations between the GRP and the MILF forces shall be avoided by prior coordination with the latter...” [emphasis supplied]

Yes, there are allegations of excessive use of force, confiscation of SAF arms and personal effects, and coddling of terrorists, by the MILF.   Pursuant to the Guidelines, those concerns - like the pursuit and apprehension of criminal elements - are for the Coordinating Committees on Cessation of Hostilities to handle .

Pursuing Criminal Elements under the Ceasefire Agreement

Apart from the ceasefire agreement and operational guidelines, there were mechanisms in place to handle the pursuit and apprehension of criminal elements.  On May 6, 2002, the “Joint Communique Between Government of the Philippines and the Moro National liberation Front” was signed for the purpose of the “isolation and interdiction of all criminal syndicates and kidnap-for-ransom groups”.  On February 15, 2012, the “Implementing Guidelines On The Joint Communique of 6 May 2002   was signed.

Under the Joint Communique, “[t]he MILF and the GRP shall form an Ad Hoc Joint Action Group [AHJAG] against criminal elements in order to pursue and apprehend such criminal elements.  The Group will operate in tandem with their respective Coordinating Committees on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH).”” (Paragraph 4)

The Implementing Guidelines defined Criminal Syndicates/Kidnap-For-Ransom Groups as “a group or aggrupation of persons who engage in criminal activities as defined by the AHJAG” and Criminal Elements as “within the purview of AHJAG, refers to a leader/member of a criminal syndicate of kidnap for ransom group as distinguished from common criminals.” (Definition of Terms)

The Mechanics of Implementation are laid down in Paragraph VI of the Implementing Guidelines:

"1.   The AFP/PNP shall convey to the MILF through the AHJAG the Order of Battle … containing the names and identities of the criminal elements …
2.      The MILF through the AHJAG shall validate and subsequently act on the information as contained in the Order of Battle.
3.      The MILF further shall provide information, as available, on other suspected criminal elements in their areas/communities that come to their attention.
4.      The AHJAG shall coordinate with the AFP/PNP and MILF/BIAF [Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Force] to effect the apprehension and arrest of the suspected criminal elements.
5.      To avoid unnecessary armed confrontations, the displacement of communities and damage to properties, the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) or Tactical Command Post (TCP) of the government operating forces and with the MILF forces in the area shall work and coordinate closely with the AHJAG and vide versa.
6.      Except for operations against high priority targets, a list of which shall be provided by the GPH panel to the MILF panel, the AHJAG shall inform the GPH and the MILF CCCH at least 24 hours prior to the conduct of the AFP/PNP operations in order to allow sufficient time for the evacuation of civilians and to avoid armed confrontation between the GPH and MILF forces.


Why were these procedures ignored?

Assuming the SAF mistakenly believed that their operations against a high priority target like Marwan did not need the minimum 24-hour notice required under paragraph 6 above, paragraphs 1-5  still required coordination with the AHJAG.  In fact, since it is the AHJAG that is required to give the 24-hour notice, it is the AHJAG that is exempt from giving the 24-hour notice - not the GPH, AFP nor PNP.

“It was a command decision and we had been working on it for a long time and as a commander, I decided that it was best not to inform other units in the police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines about the plan of initiating the actual assault. It was a judgment call and I take full responsibility,” Napeñas, the SAF commander, told this reporter in an interview on Tuesday evening.

Seriously, what were all these agreements for?

In his eulogy, PNP-SAF OIC Chief Supt. Taliño immediately answered his questions “Is it worth it? One international terrorist, equivalent to 44 SAF troopers?” with “I am sure, if you will ask them, it is worth it.”  But who can say that the deaths of the 4 civilians including that of 8-year old Sampulna Panangulon were worth it?  

There is a comprehensive peace process ongoing – a very public, multi-national, decades-long peace process.  Whoever are responsible for Oplan Exodus have betrayed and sacrificed all and sundry - the Fallen 44 SAF, the Fallen 18 MILF, the injured, the innocents who died and their loved ones, the 6,000 evacuees, the peace process, the country and our international partners for peace. 

Within the same day of this tragedy, the doubters, warmongers, peace hindrances came out.  No one said the path to peace is easy.  But we can easily recall history – lost lives, displaced people, hindered progress and development – to remind us the alternative to peace and why we should honor the ceasefire agreement and resume the cessation of hostilities. 

"During the hearing, Alonto criticized those who are calling on the government to abandon the peace negotiations and to restart military operations against the MILF. He pointed out that at least 200,000 people have died in the decades-long conflict in Mindanao, with 2 million rendered homeless and 3 million scattered as refugees.