TURNING POINT: Heroes, Victims and Justice

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NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews/09 February) — The PNP SAF fallen 44 died in the performance of their duty – to bring to justice the most dangerous terrorists in this part of the globe.

They knew and understood the risk. They had accepted beforehand the inevitable – the great possibility of them dying in carrying out their mission. Yet they followed orders and persevered to the end.

That’s what makes real heroes – making an ultimate sacrifice of one’s life for a cause or purpose higher than one’s own. The SAF fallen 44 are real heroes.

But the nonsense of calling the fallen heroes victims of Moro treachery on account of the lopsided and gory battle at Mamasapano should stop. This is again playing on age-old bias and prejudice which may only escalate the tension of what could have been an avoidable tragedy. And this call for justice over their death in the hands of the enemy is totally misplaced and may only divert our attention from the real culprits.

The initial reports showed no treachery or deceit committed by the enemy.

The enemy simply responded, albeit excessively, perhaps, to the SAF commandos’ covert infiltration or invasion of their territory. In tactical military operation, their action was more of a defensive move than anything else.

The SAF troopers came in unannounced and fully armed. And an exchange of gunfire had already ensued. What would the MILF or the BIFF guerillas think of the SAF commandos’ presence in their front yard in that ominous daybreak, a mañanita group?

If the SAF commandos found themselves in the receiving end of an ambush situation, it was on account of inept planning – for not studying thoroughly beforehand the terrain of their mission area, or for allowing their covert operation to last beyond the cover of darkness.

In all objectivity, the 44 SAF commandos who fell in Mamasapano were not victims but were casualties of a bungled campaign. Again, they knew what they were into. Such knowledge does not make them any victim in the hand of the enemy.

Yet victims they evidently were of the incompetence, recklessness and negligence of their top superiors that led them to their tragic end.

Justice for the victims means making their leaders, those who planned, ordered and approved the execution of the plan, responsible and accountable for the grave disaster.

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To avenge the death of the SAF commandos in the hands of the Moro rebels is the essence of the shrill cry for quick justice from some sector. This demand is mindless and should put to rest. There is no justice in vengeance.

Retaliation is dirty, ugly. It is indiscriminate. It punishes not just the individual or individuals who committed a wrong but the entire, often, innocent community where the perceived offenders belong. Moreover, it foments a vicious cycle of violence, of maiming and demeaning precious human lives to no end. It would lead us nowhere and may only separate us from our quest for lasting peace in Mindanao.

Let justice triumph and prevail on the light of an objective truth not from surrender to blind rabid emotions. It must be justice that does not perpetuate but corrects and avoids future wrongs. And it is not just justice for the fallen SAF commandos but for all those who perished and suffered in Mamasapano on that dark day.

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The Peace Process has built-in mechanisms to address violations in its wake.

Notwithstanding the conflicting and changing information on the Mamasapano incident, there is one thing we can deduce with some amount of certainty: both the GPH and the MILF camps have violated the protocols on the cessation of hostilities. This could be the parameter of the inquiry the Joint GPH-MILF Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, the Independent Fact Finding Committee, and the International Monitoring Team have to conduct in getting into the truth, in resolving the violation issues, and in ultimately clearing the mess on Mamasapano, if only for the peace negotiation to resume without the burden of the incident.

From all accounts, the GRP violation was deliberate. That was in the incursion of the SAF operatives in MILF-controlled territory without the required prior coordination with all rightful authorities in accordance with the ceasefire agreement.

The observance of prior coordination is crucial in precluding accidental and needless encounters, such as what happened on January 25, every time a government force with a lawful purpose enters an MILF enclave. The SAF operation might have practical reasons for shrugging coordination off; the same, however, would not justify the violation and its unspeakable consequence.

On the other hand, the MILF violated the peace process in tolerating the sojourn of two most wanted terrorists inside its territory. This tolerance and MILF’s failure to report them to the government amounted to harboring criminal elements in its enclave. This plus the reported excesses of its guerillas in the Mamasapano encounter – the mutilation of the fallen SAF commandos and the looting of their personal effects, are acts prohibited in the peace treaty that should be dealt with squarely.

Meanwhile, while the peace committees are working on Mamasapano in a wider context and from a broader perspective, the Philippine government on its own should let no stone unturned in determining culpabilities for the reckless adventure from within and beyond the PNP command.

Imposing appropriate sanctions to all those responsible and accountable for the sorry incident is vital in the healing process. The disclosure to the public of what truly happened may help avoid the repeat of the debacle, and may yet provide significant insights on strengthening the peace effort. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph. D., is a former professor and the first chancellor of the Mindanao State University at Naawan).

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