ADVOCACY MindaNOW: Mamasapano: What next?

DAVAO CiTY (MindaNews / 01 Feb) — For those many  of us who are watching from the sidelines and from  a distance the  events unfolding, it’s been an emotionally draining week due to the Mamasapano incident.    It’s a mixture of shock, disbelief, anger, grief!  Many a tear has been shed. The  agony that struck the sensitivities of all Pinoys still lingers and will continue to linger.

So, where do we go from here?

That reminds me of  that favorite line of the Romans of yore that became the title of that old  movie “QUO VADIS”, meaning “where to”,  “where are we going” “what next”. On this, I have a few thoughts of my own I wish to share.

FAMILIES. For the families and loved ones  of those who died, it is still about grappling with the reality, accepting the painful loss. It is still denial to some. It is about recalling those last moments like the last phone call or the last “goodbye” or those last intimate moments.  It is also about how to  grapple  with  life without them. At this time, it is still grief and pain.  The human dimension of it all is replete with anecdotal vignettes that if recalled, told and re-told  help numb the pain  and give temporary solace to those grieving, shunting aside  for some fleeting moment about grim death and its concomitant pains. But then, for now, it’s more about getting satisfactory answers for their question: “why this?”

MALACANANG. For the palace,  it is about telling the angry and suspicious public what actually happened. It is about accountability for what has been perceived as a blunder, a big mistake,  a “faux pas”, a seeming cover-up. It’s about bringing justice to all by punishing those responsible.

Many believe there’s a cover-up story to evade accountability  even in  the highest level: the presidency. It is about stemming the tide of  anger and discontent that may lead to public disorder that can seriously undermine the stability of the  government. To some it is about President Aquino showing sincere compassion and owning up to his role and responsibility. It’s about Citizen No. 1 having the integrity and moral courage to say “I’m sorry”, if necessary.  It’s about the public expectation that President Aquino stops his glib, insincere  and evasive posturings    and instead takes  full responsibility for what happened. Then and only then can he lead  in the  first step of healing a badly divided nation. Anything short of this will not be acceptable. Anything less  will not  mollify an already  angry and grieving nation.

CONGRESS. As for Congress, it must learn from the lessons of the incident in crafting the law that will entrench the peace agreement by providing the necessary safeguards in the so-called BBL. It must give the mandate to an independent high level body which must look into what actually  happened, sparing no one. Never mind  the never-ending congressional investigation. Political alignments will screw  things up. It will only bring more unnecessary agony and disbelief  to all.

Moreover, there is more urgent need now NOT  to rush the BBL entrenchment but allow a longer transition period to heal the wounds of distrust worsened and inflicted by this Mamasapano incident. The congressional hearings may have to await the report of that independent investigative body. Also, we need to give sufficient and reasonable time for the MILF to regain lost ground and show its capability to clear its area of the bad guys and do good governance. As of now, there is preponderance of anger against them and distrust. Moreover, it has to mature into a political party to be able to fairly compete with others who will also stake claim on the bangsamoro political leadership. To maintain the earlier  schedule as spelled out in the peace agreement, pre-Mamasapano, was  ill-advised. With the post Mamasapano scenario, it will spell doom.

MILF.  For the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, it is about accountability and taking  responsibility for  the carnage. Being now a recent partner and no longer operating outside the mainstream having signed a peace agreement with government, it assumed responsibilities  and must show  sincerity and capability.

The decisive steps taken to disarm is a timely positive move, unlike the earlier signs of hesitance and seeming resistance by its armed elements. It must now clearly prove that the trust it was accorded was well deserved and that government was not hoodwinked into a peace settlement.

Here are a few ponderables.

First, the MILF must first explain why its so-called “controlled areas” have become virtual sanctuaries of terrorists and criminals not only now but for as long as we can remember;  why  its armed elements  and communities  not only harbor the bad guys but even go to the extent of protecting and fighting and even killing government forces who were on a mission to take them out.

This excuse about “lack of coordination” leading to a  “misencounter” to explain the carnage of 44 SAF commandos will not stick.  It’s pure baloney! “Misencounters” are about friendly forces initially fighting by mistake. But it’s NOT about  fighting for several hours, finishing them off, mutilating them and cannibalizing dead bodies of  our SAF commandos.    This is  “barbarism” pure and simple. And MILF cannot escape responsibility by blaming this on roque elements, the BIFF or other armed groups  with whom government has not signed a peace accord. The other bad guys  have nothing to explain. But the MILF, as our peace partners, must! And  MILF must take decisive steps. It must cleanse its areas of the bad guys. It must even try to haul in the other high value target who got away: the notorious bomber Basit Usman.

At the very least, it should not stand in the way as government  forces scour its areas to flush out the bad guys. It must erase the doubts  and fears of many, triggered by  Mamasapano,  that the Bangsamoro territory may eventually  become the impregnable  lair and hotbed of terrorists, local and  international.  This is MILF’s proverbial litmus test that it must pass.

PEACE PROCESS. Those working in the peace process must not lose its bearings inspite of the seemingly unsurmountable new obstacles in the way.Winning back the people’s trust in the badly bruised  peace process is the call of the moment. We must disabuse the minds of many who call for war! There is no other route to the future but through sustainable peace through a peaceful settlement. We have seen how the violent past played out. We can understand for the moment the popular clamor of many that we annihilate the enemy; that we attack their camps, that we finish them off. If only this is a fool-proof solution, why not. But it is not!

WAR NOT AN OPTION. For us who had  seen it close and clearly understand the nuances of the situation, going to war is never an option. It will not address a generational aspiration of the Bangsamoro. Just ask the one million displaced and suffering civilians who were the victims of  so-called “collateral damage” of the 2000 war. They will tell you the true and unquantifiable  costs of war.

The agony of the nation and what we all go through with our fallen commandos of the infamous Mamasapano carnage must be avenged, by all means through accountability and justice.

The casualties of this tragic event are  not only be the lives lost. The biggest casualty here is the peace process! Hence, we must all help to revive it, heal its deep wounds and resuscitate it. But an all-out war amongst Filipinos should  never be an option.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Jesus “Jess” Dureza served in various capacities under the nine-year Arroyo administration, including the posts of government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF from 2001 to 2003 and as Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process).