Q&A With Recently Resigned Congressman Walden Bello

 Rep. Walden Bello (Source: GMA News)

Rep. Walden Bello (Source: GMA News)

You said you had to resign as Akbayan Party’s representative in Congress because you could no longer abide by your party’s uncritical support of PNoy, the last straw being his refusal to accept responsibility for the Mamasapano tragedy. What do you know about the tragedy that the public still doesn’t know?

I think what has been underemphasized, though touched on in both the Board of Inquiry report and the Senate report, was the role of the United States.  The fingerprints of the US are all over the place--the US helicopter that showed up soon after the encounter allegedly to evacuate the wounded; Marwan's index finger disappearing and showing up in the FBI lab in the US; American operatives having the last say on the operational plan, that is, to have the seaborne unit carry out the neutralization unit of Marwan by itself instead of jointly with the quick reaction force as favored by the SAF commander; the training of the seaborne unit by US Navy Seal personnel; and the order given by an American operative to a Filipino infantry general to provide artillery support for the embattled SAF personnel, which the Filipino general refused to carry out.  

I believe that one of the reasons PNoy can't bring himself to accept responsibility for the fiasco is that he caved in to US pressure to approve the raid, which was a US priority, not a Philippine priority.  One cannot otherwise understand why the president would give the green light to an operation that carried a great risk of destabilizing the peace process since it would involve violating the protocols for territorial access into Moro Islamic Liberation Front territory agreed upon by the MILF and the Philippine government.  Admitting responsibility would mean admitting that 44 SAF personnel and 18 MILF combatants were sacrificed in an operation that mainly served Washington's anti-terror war, something that would be extremely costly politically once all the facts are out there.

 American military personnel assist Philippine soldiers load an injured police commando onto a waiting American helicopter at Mamasapano in Mindanao (Source: rappler.com/Photo by Mark Navales/AFP)

American military personnel assist Philippine soldiers load an injured police commando onto a waiting American helicopter at Mamasapano in Mindanao (Source: rappler.com/Photo by Mark Navales/AFP)

Is there anything in the BOI report that surprised you? Is there anything that you know isn’t true in the report?

There was nothing surprising for me there, though it was an act of courage for the authors to lay part of the blame for the debacle on the president.

What are the chances of the Basic Bangsamoro Law passing now? Do you support it as it is written now? Why, why not? If you were to make revisions to the bill, what would they be?

It's going to be much harder to pass before the June 4 sine die adjournment of Congress.  I would, however, give it a 50-50 chance of passing during the last session of the 16th Congress. It's going to go down to the wire. 

I would support it as it is written right now, except for a few sections like the one that gives the proposed autonomous area its own independent commission on audit. I think the government and MILF negotiators did a fine job balancing constitutional concerns with the facts on the ground.  What some of the most legalistic and narrowly constitutionalist critics don't realize is that the BBL is a necessary political compromise.  


Admitting responsibility would mean admitting that 44 SAF personnel and 18 MILF combatants were sacrificed in an operation that mainly served Washington’s anti-terror war, something that would be extremely costly politically once all the facts are out there.

Both sides are tired of war.  They want peace, not peace at any price, but peace based on the recognition of the hard facts on the ground.  The MILF has recognized those facts and moved from a position of demanding independence to one of accepting autonomy.  The Philippine government has similarly recognized the facts on the ground and moved from all-out war to crush the MILF to a willingness to accept the political solution of autonomy for the Bangsa Moro people.  After nearly 50 years of war, both sides have arrived at a meeting of minds.  The last hurdle is legislative approval of this meeting of minds based on mutual recognition of the hard facts on the ground. The only alternative to BBL is many more years of war, where the end game might be worse for the Philippines, meaning separation and independence of Bangsa Moro.  People like Senator Alan Peter Cayetano are simply downright irresponsbile in their demonizing the MILF.

Considering all your criticisms of the PNoy administration, what do you think will be its legacy?

The Daang Matuwid (Straight Path) is a washout, destroyed by the administration's double standard when it comes to good governance, as shown by its retention of reckless, inept, or corrupt officials like Secretary of the Budget Butch Abad, Agriculture Secretary Procy Alcala, and Agrarian Reform Secretary Gil de los Reyes.  The Daang Matuwid was undermined by the president's fraternity-like loyalty to his buddies to whom he stuck in spite of their wrongdoing.  Witness how he stuck to suspended Philippine National Police head Purisima till the very end, despite strong evidence of corruption even before Mamasapano.  In fact, in his second speech on Mamasapano, he seemed more pained by having to let Purisima go than by the consequences of the failed operation managed by Purisima.

You said that you don’t support the call for the president’s resignation or sacking, why?

He was democratically elected to serve a six-year term.  I think that he is entitled to a full term and to a chance to reform his style of governance even towards the end of his term.  Will he reform? I don't think so.  But as a democratically elected leader, he should be given the benefit of the doubt.  Those seeking his resignation are either Gloria Macapagal Arroyo revanchists, the oddball Cojuangco couple, the ultra-left, or the Binay camp.  All of these people have agendas that preceded Mamasapano and are taking advantage of Mamasapano to pursue these self-serving agendas.  Can you just imagine Binay taking over without benefit of an election if Aquino resigns? That would be jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

In your resignation letter, you called for the sacking of Abad and De los Reyes. Do you expect PNoy to act on this? If not, why did you include it in your “demand?”

Most likely he won't act on it.  But hope springs eternal, as they say.  Who knows, baka matauhan siya by my resignation coupled with the demand to get rid of those deadweights that have brought discredit to the Daang Matuwid.

 Rep. Bello's farewell speech at Congress (Source: Walden Bello's facebook page)

Rep. Bello's farewell speech at Congress (Source: Walden Bello's facebook page)

Akbayan’s statement on your resignation stated, “We however believe that there are more reforms to be gained from staying in the coalition than by leaving it at this conjuncture.” What is your response to this?

I think that’s being over-optimistic.  I think the Akbayan leadership has been paralyzed by an unrealistic assessment of the remaining space for reform under Aquino; the ties of friendship between some key Akbayan figures and the president, Mar Roxas and Butch Abad; and the prospect of losing not unimportant posts in government.  I have deep respect for the party leadership, but I think they're fooling themselves as to the continuing possibilities for reform under Aquino at this point.  I am still hoping that they'll come around to my point of view or they'll suffer the consequences of negative assessments of the administration without having been responsible for its mistakes.  I think a significant section of the party knows that the party's image as a progressive party is being sullied by its continuing support for a presidency that has gone off the rails.

What was your thought process when you made your decision to resign? Did you consult anybody? Did the loss of an important “pulpit” (being a congressman) factor into your decision?

My push for the party to take a more active role in pushing the president to move away from bad positions goes way back to the Disbursement Acceleration Program scandal (DAP).  I was in a minority calling for the resignation of Abad owing to recklessness in dreaming up the program.  When I got nowhere, I wrote to the president asking him to fire Abad as well as de los Reyes for being an inept manager of the implementation of the agrarian reform extension law (CARPER), of which Akbayan had been a principal author.  The president called for a meeting with the Akbayan leadership based on my letter, but nothing came of the discussion, which consisted mainly of the president leaping from one topic to another. 

Someone in Malacañang leaked my letter to the press, and when I was asked about the letter, I mentioned that I was really worried about the president's double standards and said that he ought to fire Abad, de los Reyes, Alcala, who was not able to deal with the massive scandals at the Department of Agriculture, and Purisima, who was facing charges of corruption and who sought to make the public believe that crime was going down!  The president got angry and told the press I had too many complaints and I should run for president so I could run the country the way I wanted. 

When he refused to accept responsibility for Mamasapano, I realized it was now almost impossible for me to support his administration.  I tried to get the party one last time to use this moment of presidential weakness to push the president to fire Abad, de los Reyes, and Alcala--Purisima having been forced to resign by then.  The party leadership refused to take this step.  I said that it had come down to a choice of the president or me.  They chose the president.  I then had no choice but to resign as party representative in Congress since the code of conduct of Akbayan is that the representative of the party in Congress must represent the official views of the party.  If he or she could no longer do that, then he was obligated to resign. 

No one in the party pushed me to resign.  In fact, some of the leadership tried to dissuade me.  But the contradiction was unsustainable and the code of conduct had to be upheld.  Rather than prolonging the pain and compromising party processes, I decided to resign. 

Was I concerned about losing an important pulpit for my advocacies in giving up my congressional seat?  Yes, but the costs of hanging on in support of an administration I could no longer support were eventually going to be higher, both politically and personally.  I realize some people are skeptical of talk about principles.  But they did matter, greatly, in my decision.


My push for the party to take a more active role in pushing the president to move away from bad positions goes way back to the Disbursement Acceleration Program scandal (DAP). 

If you were an adviser to PNoy, what would you have advised him to do re the Mamasapano tragedy?

He should have taken command responsibility from the very start, like Kennedy did for Bay of Pigs, Carter for the Desert One fiasco, and Reagan for Iran-Contra.  All these presidents knew that the buck stopped with them, that there was no evading command responsibility.  Instead of acting as a president should, Aquino slipped into defendant mode, probably worried that impeachment charges would be brought against him while still in office and criminal charges would be brought against him once he left office.

What do you think is the PNoy administration’s biggest achievements? Its biggest failings?

Achievements: Definitely the passage of the RH Law.  Failings: the subversion of the Daang Matuwid by the president's fraternity-like loyalty to his buddies.  And of course, Mamasapano, for carrying out an operation that mainly benefited a foreign power, then refusing to take the hit for it when it led to tragedy. 

What’s next for you?

Good question.  Maybe back to doing civil society advocacy, some writing.  But I'm turning 70, and something inside keeps telling, let the younger people take the lead.  There's a time to let go.