TUKANALIPAO, Mamasapano, Maguindanao (MindaNews/25 January) — The wooden footbridge that became a symbol of the fragility of peace in the aftermath of the Mamasapano Tragedy that left 66 persons dead on January 25, 2015 is gone, washed away by rampaging floodwaters late last year.
The foundation posts, however, have survived although there are no plans to restore the bridge between the cornfields where the tragedy happened.
Residents are quite happy with the Bailey bridge that allows a quicker passage for them, their bicycles, tricycles, motorcycles, carabao-drawn carts and even four-wheeled light vehicles.
Those with bicycles used to carry them on their shoulders to cross over to the other side of the river, via the footbridge. Today, there is ease in riding their bicycles to and from the other side, and the concrete access road to the poblacion has made it easier, cheaper and faster to move goods and people across.
But even this steel and wood bridge, now a bit wobbly, is only temporary as a wider, concrete bridge will be constructed here by the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which also funded the temporary bridge and the concrete access road.
There are no scheduled activities to commemorate the second anniversary on Wednesday, unlike last year when relatives of slain members of the Special Action Force (SAF) from the Cordilleras came to perform a ritual called “arayab” to call on the spirtis of their dead sons to “come home.” The ARMM, the local government of Mamasapano and the Army’s 6th Infantry Division planted trees to commemorate the anniversary.
President Rodrigo Duterte, however, met with relatives of the 44 slain SAF commandos on Tuesday in Malacanang and vowed to create a commission similar to the Agrava Commission that probed the 1983 assassination of former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., to investigate the tragedy that left 66 persons dead — 44 from the SAF of the Philippine National Police, 17 from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces and five civilians.
The widows of MILF combatants and civilians in Tukanalipao continue to seek justice but typical of conflict-affected areas — and the Mamasapano Tragedy was just one of many tragedies here — residents have bounced back, and hope springs eternal, particularly for the children who are among the direct beneficiaries of assistance: new classrooms are more conducive to learning.
Two years after the tragedy, the schoolchildren of Tukanalipao dream of finishing not only Grade 12 but also college.
On Monday (January 23), MindaNews chanced upon a group of Grade 6 students from the Hadji Salik Kalaing Elementary School in their favorite snack house in the poblacion: Tap’s 44 (its specialty — a huge bowl of pancit — costs 44 pesos).
While their counterparts in non-conflict areas go through uninterrupted schooling, a number of children here have had to stop school when armed clashes forced them to evacuate.
Of the six, three are aged 13, the rest are 14, 15, and 16 — quite old for a Grade Six student but not unusual in conflict-affected areas.
Their last evacuation due to armed conflict was two years ago, when the SAF and the MILF’s BIAF clashed in a tragedy that could have been avoided had the SAF coordinated with the police and Army in the region, and the MILF with whom government had signed a peace agreement in March 2014.
Ceasefire mechanisms have been in place for more than a decade precisely to avoid misencounters.
To be a doctor ….
The children hope they would not have to evacuate again so they could pursue their dreams.
Thirteen year old Dania Andang dreams to be a doctor. Janine Esmail, 14, wants to be a flight attendant. Fifteen year old Rofaida Guintawang hopes to be a teacher while 16-year old Laila Kalaing wants to be a journalist.
Thirteen year old Ronnie Kundu, an openly gay student (his father Roy is proud to announce he used to have two sons and one daughter but now has one son and two daughters) sees himself as a chef someday.
Business is also thriving in the area. Taps Ali renamed their snack house — “Tap’s Halo-halo and snack houze” into “Tap’s 44 Pancit Order,” where students can share a huge bowl of pancit for 44 pesos. A few kilometers away, also on the roadside near the concrete access road is a new restaurant also serving pancit for 43 pesos.
Near the access road one can find a new mosque, and a few meters away, a cluster of buildings — health center, day care center, police assistance center — constructed by the ARMM and a multipurpose covered court for community meetings and other activities built by the Maguindanao provincial government.
“Pangarap namin wala nang gulo” (Our dream is for the conflict to end), said Ronnie.
The government and MILF peace panels had conceded that the Mamasapano Tragedy was the gamechanger in the Bangsamoro peace process, happening as it did ten months after the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and just as legislators were deliberating on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that was drafted by the 15-member government and MILF Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC).
The passage of the BBL would have paved the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro, a new autonomous political entity that would replace the ARMM when the BBL is ratified in a plebiscite in the Bangsamoro areas hopefully by mid-2015 to allow for a year’s transition. The peace panels envisioned May 2016 elections as the election of the first set of officials of the Bangsamoro.
That was not to be.
Deliberations on the BBL were reset in favor of the investigative hearings called for separately by the Senate and the House of Representatives to find out what led to the tragedy.
“The Mamasapano tragedy sadly exposed the deeply entrenched biases and prejudices of the Filipino Christian majority,” Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, the Archbishop of Cotabato and Mindanao’s first Cardinal, said.
Congress adjourned in February 2016 without passing the BBL.
A newly-reconstituted, expanded BTC — from 15 to 21 members under the Duterte administration — has yet to be named although Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza had earlier told MindaNews the appointment papers had been signed on January 9. The BTC, under the Duterte peace roadmap, is supposed to submit its draft BBL to Congress by July 2017.
ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman told reporters during a relief mission in Datu Montawal town, Maguindanao on January 24 that what happened in Mamasapano two years ago was unexpected and he hopes it will not happen again because “hindi lamang epekto non ang humanitarian crisis…. even yung ultimate goal natin na peace ay talagang naapektuhan” (the effect was not just a humanitarian crisis … even our ultimate goal of peace was affected).
But Hataman said there were so many lessons learned by all agencies and security forces nationwide, and even the peace process, from the tragedy that brought worldwide attention to this otherwise unheard of village.
Hataman said funds poured in and benefited not only those in Tukanalipao and other villages in Mamasapano but also in the other towns, particularly in what has been referred to as the SPMS Box (Salibo-Pagatin-Mamasapano-Shariff Aguak).
He said the road network in this cluster of 15 out of 36 Maguindanao towns is being attended to. Evacuation centers doubling as multipurpose centers will also be set up to ensure safe refuge for residents who may be affected by armed clashes, he said. Livelihood programs and infrastructure projects have also been started.
Hataman said funds have been allocated for the construction of the bigger, concrete bridge that will replace the temporary bridge that had earlier replaced that wooden footbridge a few hundred meters away. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)