DAVAO CITY (MindaNews /29 January) — The President has called for a day of mourning for those who perished in Mamasapano. When we fly our flags at half mast on Friday, and call upon the God whom we know to be merciful and compassionate, I shall be mourning the deaths of the policemen who died on mission to serve warrants of arrest on known terrorists. But I shall also be mourning the deaths of the members of the MILF and of the BIFF who perished in the same encounter. I shall mourn them, Filipinos all, driven to foolhardy carnage or savage violence by obedience, ignorance, recklessness or fear. In silence, I will pray for peace.
I will also pray that we not be deterred from the path of peace. This has been an arduous path travelled with much sacrifice and pain. But it is the only way of hope.
Recalling the Causes of War and Violence
For me, travelling the path means recalling the causes of the wars and violence in Mindanao, almost too traumatic for people from the south to remember and too embarrassing for people from the north to admit. Just some instances: Nur Misuari emerging in the wake of the the Jabidah massacre; the reckless adventurism of Marcos in Sabah that ended in the Jabidah massacre; the homesteading policies from the north which ultimately deprived Muslim and Lumad Mindanaoans of their lands and altered the Mindanao landscape forever; the “Filipinos” from the north who sided with the Americans in “civilizing” the Muslims who had not accepted the ways of the “little brown brothers” of white foreigners; the “Filipinos” who stood by as the Americans massacred Muslims in Bud Dajo and Bud Bagsak in Jolo; the Muslims had fought valiantly to defend their Muslim faith, culture and independence from the foreigner; the treaty of Paris in which Spain sold the Philippines to the Americans along with the sovereign Muslim sultanates that the Spaniards had never conquered; three hundred years of Moro wars that frustrated the Spanish will to conquer and convert them; two hundred years of presence and matured civilization in the Philippines before the arrival of the Spaniards. Among the causes of war and violence in Mindanao has been injustice from the north brought on Moro identity, political sovereignty, and integral development.
The path to peace means that Filipinos from the north respect Filipinos from the south. Mindanao is not a tool for the development of the north; it is not an “opportunity” for the development of the national economy, nor a tool for the advancement of national politicians; its peoples, histories, and civilizations are not instruments for the development of those of peoples from the north. Unless this is respected in the cultures, policies, and laws for which we take responsibility, the path to peace is not travelled.
There was a time when a Muslim, frustrated by the lack of justice and respect accorded him by national leaders from the north, called for Muslim independence. Just the call for independence sowed terror in the hearts of non-Muslim Filipinos in the south. Terrified, they thought the best way of defense was offense. The terror of the Ilagas began. It spawned the counter terror of the Blackshirts and Barracudas. It brought the Manili massacre and the battle of Buldon. Mindanao’s soil was soaked in the blood of its sons and daughters. The MNLF, then the MILF took up the cause of Muslim independence, now on a more serious plane. This was countered by the national leaders from the north. But supported by Muslim powers from abroad. The armies from the north were sent to conquer the armies of the south. They did not. They could not.
Path to Peace on a higher, more noble plane
The only thing that could stop the wars was the mutual insight that guns, violence and wars do not solve problems, but only increase the need for guns, violence and wars. That insight put us on the path to peace. First, in partnership with the MNLF. Now, in partnership with the MILF. It is a path from which we must not stray.
Where we once thought guns and warfare could forge peace, we have now agreed to embark on a path to peace on a higher, more noble plane, the path of human conversation, of merging dreams for peace, negotiation, rational debate, and forging agreements for peace under the parameters of a shared constitutional democracy. Those agreements belong to the essence of the path of peace. They are made in good faith, and kept in good faith. Otherwise, the peace is imperiled.
One of the agreements for peace occurred as hostilities ended in 1997 in the Implementing Operational Guidelines of the Ceasefire Agreement: “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.” (Article II) It is an agreement made with our formal partner in the peace process, the MILF. It is not an agreement which can be unilaterally set aside or disregarded.
The reason we entered into the agreement is presumably because we are aware that the path to peace is arduous and dangerous. Peace has its enemies. It is attacked by the interests of traditional centers of political power, powerful armed clans, shameless avarice, the arms trade, foreign interests, religious extremism and even local and national terrorism. Our partners know of these enemies of peace. They are more intimate with their dynamics than any planner from the north can be. The peace process does not mean that these enemies of peace have been overcome. The peace process means that together we are journeying towards peace, and that overcoming the enemies of peace is in our shared interest. In Mindanao, the government’s partner for peace is the MILF.
It is a partnership that has been premised on trust, and a partnership that can only grow in trust. It is a partnership, the President says, that has many times borne fruit: “We have already made such great strides because we trusted one another. We have proven that we can work together.”
Why was our Partner in Peace in Mindanao not engaged?
It is therefore incomprehensible for me why our partner in peace was not engaged, as our 1997 agreement stipulates, in order to meet the problem of the presence of the two terrorists in the very sensitive town of Mamasapano.
In this context, President Aquino ‘s last night was opaque. He said the agencies involved in the pursuit of terrorists “are not always required to obtain my approval for each and every one of their operations, because it would be impractical for them to wait for my clearance before proceeding.” Here he is saying he did not necessarily have to approve the operation. He does not say that he did. He seems to say the approval came from below him.
Apparently, he was working with operatives in subsidiarity. “They decided to take action and serve the warrants of the two individuals.” Without admitting he was briefed about this particular operation, he was being briefed generally. “In the briefings the PNP gave me about the continuing operations against Marwan and Usman…”
In these briefings, he was giving instructions: “I repeated countless times the need for proper, sufficient, and timely coordination between the SAF, the military.”
Referring to volatility of Mamasapano, he says, “Strangers cannot just enter this territory.” Yet he says immediately thereafter: “Our troops needed to enter quietly and carefully….” But why did he not also instruct the operatives to coordinate with our partner in peace in Mindanao, the MILF. Or why his subordinate did to give this instruction. Was it ignorance of the agreement? Or mistrust of the peace partner? Or northern arrogance that thinks Mindanao is its back yard and Maguindanao a bed of roses without thorns?
Who failed to coordinate with the one group that could have helped government achieve its objective and prevent the carnage – not in the ways of the north, but in the ways of the south?
Why was trust placed more in a secret commando apparently headed by a man of tarnished repute? Was the path of peace abandoned for thirty pieces of silver?
Bangsamoro Basic Law should not be derailed
With the President’s statement, it is all the clearer to me that the peace process leading to the approval of the Bangsamoro Basic Law should not be derailed. The brutal manner in which human beings were killed in Mamasapano can never be excused. We cannot close our eyes to this. But blame cannot be laid solely at the feet of the MILF, as Senator Allan Peter Cayetano does inanely. The reckless planning and shoddy execution of this operation, whose responsibility lies with its author, caused the disaster.
But the disaster should not include the Bangsamoro Basic Law. On the contrary, it makes its passage – through “the wisdom of the Congress of the Philippines” – more urgent. Here, we need the wise legislator, the statesman obedient to the common weal. This is a longstanding debt to the Filipino Muslims in justice. We owe it to them in respect. We have agreed to this. We owe it to them in self-respect.
(Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ is president of the Ateneo de Davao University. He is also Vice President of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) and chair of its Advocacy Committee, and President of the CEAP in Region 11. MindaNews was granted permission to reprint this piece, first published in Fr. Tabora’s blog, http://taborasj.wordpress.com/author/joeltaborasj/)