Sen. Chiz Escudero said the supposed plan by Bangsamoro groups to declare him persona non-grata in Mindanao was well within their rights, but challenged them to first check the veracity of statements being falsely attributed to him.
Escudero was maliciously quoted in several reports as saying that the Bangsamoro could not govern on its own vis-à-vis plans by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to include the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in the peace talks with government negotiators. The MOA-AD had been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2008.
The erroneous quotes attributed to the senator had prompted a Moro youth group to hold a protest in Camp Amaypakpak in Marami City and the Free Bangsamoro Movement to threaten the senator with a hate campaign in Moro provinces and cities.
“I never said that and will not say anything like that. I do not belittle and will never belittle the capabilities of the Bangsamoro people. I have even fought for their right to vote and choose their leader without the dictates of Manila, the Christians and Luzon who claim to know what the Bangsamoro people need,” Escudero said.
Escudero has voted against the postponement of the election in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), originally scheduled for Aug. 8, because of conflicting provisions and the absence of mechanism on the selection of officers-in-charge, whose appointments rest solely on the Executive Department.
The senator strongly believed that Malacanang should give Mindanao, particularly the ARMM, the free hand to choose its own leaders and without military intervention.
“If they are going to launch a hate campaign or a persona-non-grata campaign against me based on imagined and manufactured quotes from the spokesman of the MILF… that’s their decision and that is their right, but please get the facts straight and don’t try to put words in my mouth,” Escudero said.
The senator’s comment that President Benigno Aquino III’s recent meeting in Japan with MILF chief Al Haj Murad to jump-start the peace talks while kinks had yet to be ironed out by his peace negotiators was ill-advised, did not sit well with the MILF.
“The President’s gesture to personally tackle and find solution to the peace problem in Mindanao is a grand and magnanimous gesture coming from the highest leader of the land,” Escudero said.
“That act itself, however, now begs the question whether his chosen pillars for peace initiatives are doing their jobs. How come the President already took it upon himself to oversee the details that should have been under his advisers watch? These advisers have pawned the President too early in the process that if and when hitches happen along the way, the buck stops with the President,” he pointed out.
The MILF has directly challenged the President to show sincerity in his quest for peace and demanded the creation of a substate in Mindanao using the junked MOA-AD ahead of the resumption of the peace negotiation in Kuala Lumpur next week.
According to the senator, sensitive issues in Mindanao should not be debated on the basis of lies, but rather on their merits, inclusivity and constitutionality. “Pointing out rooms for improvements in the peace process do not equate to being anti-Muslim,” he said.
“The advice to the President’s peace advisers is to hopefully find the right approach. For one, it could be undertaken between and among local and religious leaders, tribes and clans. This will allow direct participations of all Mindanao stakeholders where real pulse of the people can be felt and genuine consensus can be reached. Again, we all seek peace but it is in the approach on how to get it where the difference lies,” Escudero said.