COMMENTARY: The Widow, the Children of Mamasapano, and the Bangsamoro

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 31 January) — As I prayed over the Gospel of Jesus calming the storm today (Mk 4:35-41), two images from yesterday’s events stood out in my reflections: the image of the widow, Erica Pabalinas, representing the widows present of all the fallen, controlling wrenching emotion enough to cry to the President to bring justice to their fallen loved ones. Then the image, many miles away, but necessarily part of the poignant necrological services, of the children of Mamasapano walking in the heat of the day for peace.

I think if Pope Francis were here, he would have looked to the widow in vulnerable silence and whispered with her a prayer within for justice. If Pope Francis were here, he would have walked in the sun with the children in Mamasapano and joined his hopes with theirs for peace. Somehow, he may have signaled, that the cry of the widow for justice and the hopes of the children for peace, even in the wake of 63 Filipinos who perished at Mamasapano, were intimately conjoined.

If it not be disrespectful to the grieving of the widows, I wonder if it is permissible for me to think that the justice she called for – in tearfully coming to accept that her husband is a national hero fallen – moves beyond the gut-wrenching demand in grief for retributive justice. Was she demanding, somewhat in the spirit of the law of retribution, the lex talionis, that for her husband and every fallen soldier, an enemy’s wife lose the same number of husbands among the enemy be killed? Was she demanding an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, so that for every soldier shot at close range in the face, and enemy soldier be shot in the face, for every limb severed, an enemy limb be severed? Was she demanding that the cycle of violence be renewed with a vengeance so that Mindanao be returned again from a land of promise to a vale of tears?

Or was she calling for justice for the lives of the fallen because the militaristic police operation had evidently been botched? The somber ceremony of the necrological services was eclipsing this. Was she calling for justice even for the person to whom she was appealing for justice, the Commander in Chief, who had entrusted the sensitive mission of heroes to the discretion of a police commander of assailed integrity whom the Ombudsman had suspended for suspected graft and corruption? Was she calling for justice because the mission of heroes was now associated with baser motives covetous of a foreigner’s bounty? Was she calling for justice because the mission that could have been successful failed because the proper coordination with the military had not been made, or the proper coordination with the nation’s partner for peace on the ground in Mindanao, the MILF, as had been agreed for such operations, had been discounted?

I would like to think that she was also calling for a higher justice, the social justice, that took the deepest desires and loftiest dreams of her hero husband into account as he trained hard and sacrificed much to be able to defend our Philippine society against the aggression of a foreign enemy or against the Machiavellian brutality of the terrorist. In Mamasapano, he was missioned to address the violence of two terrorists, to liberate our people from their dark power, to guarantee our people that they can live in peace and prosper in happiness without the will or ideology of any terrorist being imposed on them through bombs, bullets and fear. He laid down his life for the courageous pursuit of the Philippine dream of which we daily sing: “…buhay ay langit sa piling mo.” It is this dream that is the stuff of Philippine heroes, “ang mamatay nang dahil sa iyo.”

It is with the strains of our national anthem in mind, that the image of the children of Mamasapano is so poignant. They are children, Moros and Filipinos too, walking for peace. They are not walking in a circle of violence, which in their future leads them only to be the parents of children of violence in unending killing and war. They are walking out of decades and centuries of war into the dream that we all share of something of heaven marking our life on earth in the Pearl of the Orient Seas: “…buhay ay langit sa piling mo.” It is a dream, an appeal, a journey for peace.

In this light, the three hundred bayani were not sent into Mamasapano to kill Muslims, nor to kill the peace process, nor even to kill anyone. They were sent in to serve arrest warrants for terrorists, to serve the instruments of justice in peace. They were not sent in to distinguish between the BIFF and the MILF in a small town of intertwined families and traditions nor to make judgments on any of them. How could they do this? They were sent in to serve warrants of arrest on two persons.

Indeed, in being sent against the terrorist, they were sent in in defense of the peace process and all of the many MILF who had under its leadership committed themselves to the peace process. They were sent in because even in the peace process our MILF partners in peace must also contend with forces and powers not of their liking, as all must contend with weeds among the wheat, where the weeding must be postponed to a future day of harvest (Mt. 13: 24-20). The soldiers are heroes because against the terrorist they were also securing the dreams of the children of Mamasapano.

Under the leadership of the MILF, we must all appreciate, these are children of warriors who themselves are walking away from the way of guns and violence into the way of peace. They are our partners in peace. The decommissioning of arms accord in Malaysia yesterday between the MILF and the Philippine Government brings this partnership a step further. It is an agreement that goes deeply counter to local culture of power and personal recognition in the possession of arms, but it is an agreement forged in the hope of a higher culture of democratic negotiation and waging peace through forged agreements.

Those who have little opportunity to learn of Islam and perhaps even of Christianity and come to an appreciation of the history, culture and peoples of Mindanao, and those who have not yet had the opportunity to appreciate the provisions of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law nor had the opportunity to learn of the spirit of the autonomy provisions in1987 Constitution must appreciate that the MILF is not calling for an Islamic State that uses centralized power to eliminate the non Muslim. The MILF is standing to a Bangsamoro which recognizes a diversity of religions, the Philippine Constitution, the rule of law, the wisdom of democracy, the vested rights of current property owners, the importance of a second and more difficult Jihad of education, the full demands of social justice.


The social justice provisions of the BBL are arguably more specific than those of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, calling explicitly in a predominantly Muslim culture for the participation and rights of women in all facets of the Bangsamoro; in a society currently plagued by entrenched clans and warlord, the rights and prerogatives of the poor and marginalized are emphasized. But the Bangsamoro as a political entity shall be a robust autonomy which redresses historical injustice done in the past to Moro identity, Moro self governance, and Moro integral development. It is an arrangement that recognizes that Manila cannot make the Moro into a Filipino. It never has, and never can. Only the Filipino Muslim can do that in autonomy and freedom. That is what the Bangsamoro is about.

May the cry of the widow be heard, and the walk of the children for peace be blessed in the Bangsamoro. May the Lord still the storm, and “guide us into the way of peace”(Lk 1: 79).

(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,