COMMENTARY: Demanding justice without abandoning the desire for peace

by Paul Adolfo

Peace and genuine autonomy have been very elusive in Mindanao, and for us as a nation. Several attempts to end the conflict between the Government and the Muslim revolutionaries were undertaken – some of them were successful, some were not. The conflict branched out, and led to a cycle of violence and animosity between Christian, Muslim and indigenous communities. This web of conflict and violence has been one of the greatest challenges we faced as a nation and people.

Last year, we were all in high hopes when the Government and MILF signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. We were proud as a nation to have achieved another milestone in the history of peacebuilding and to have set a model for the world to follow. We convinced the world, that the path to peace is through genuine discussion and compromise.

These past two weeks we mourned the death of our Special Action Forces who died in the Mamasapano covert operations. We empathize with those wounded and those families who lost their loved ones. We have been enraged, we felt betrayed and we have many questions to the Government and the MILF.

Sadly, we also doubted that proud moment when our Government and MILF signed the peace deal. We extinguished our hopes for genuine reform and peace in Mindanao. It’s perfectly understandable – we thought the whole process was good and trust was high, until this situation proved otherwise, or did it?

I agree that we seek justice and proper compensation for those affected in that fateful encounter. And I also affirm that justice should not be selective, it should be inclusive to all affected – the Special Action Forces, the MILF and equally important, the families and civilians who were affected directly and indirectly.

At this crucial time, it is important to put things in perspective and balance, seeking justice without forgetting the longing for peace and stability for our people and country.

Personally, I feel even the quest for justice has two components. Firstly, the legal and administrative liability and accountability of those involved, and perhaps more critically, continuing of the Special Action Forces mission to create a secure and stable environment for the Bangsamoro, ensuring long-term peace in Mindanao without the use of force. The worst error we could make is to fail to realize that the long-term goal of those fallen heroes was to provide a stable environment for all people to live and build lasting peace – addressing peace spoilers and threats such as the bombers Marwan and Basit.

Some sectors call for war and a halting of the peace process without realizing the social and economic cost of such action. When we send soldiers to war, we don’t only send a soldier, we put the soldiers’ family’s future in jeopardy. When a soldier or a revolutionary dies, how many families lose their breadwinner and provider of fatherly care to their children? How many mothers are left with the burden of raising the family on their own?

If we choose war and halt the peace process, how many more families will have to evacuate and go hungry because they can’t till their lands? And how many of these families’ kids would end up not going to school, leaving us with a generation of illiterates?

If we choose war and halt the peace process, we choose to invest in bullets, killing our own people and an essential resource for labor and trade. We divert funds for modernizing our agricultural industries and supporting small enterprises that raise our productivity, to fuel chaos and unproductivity.

If we choose war and halt the peace process, we choose to close our senses and pretend we are not humans, becoming instead robots that process data according to what has been fed. We do this without considering the complexities and conducting deeper analysis of the situation using a human dimension.

The Bangsamoro Basic Law is not the ultimate peace solution, however it is the essential propeller that starts the long process for normalization in the Bangsamoro. It is the foundation on which we build our systems and processes for governance and strengthen social order and welfare services in Mindanao.

The Bangsamoro Basic Law deliberation is a political process, and if we leave it solely to the politicians, we run the risk of politicising this process. This means the interests of the whole will not be represented – remember that the 2016 elections are just around the corner.

While the Bangsamoro Basic Law is deliberated in Congress, it is important to know that the Government, MILF and civil society have been busy in preparing the groundwork for the law and transition process to be implemented smoothly.

To ensure a wider public participation in the peace process, women’s groups in the most remote areas of the Bangsamoro were consulted on how they would like the justice systems, community security and social welfare in the Bangsamoro to take form. Most importantly, they were consulted on how they can access the said institutions and participate in the processes.

The MILF has been tireless in conducting advocacy and information dissemination to popularise the Bangsamoro Basic Law and inform their combatants on the process of decommissioning, normalization and the productive role each of them will have when they go back to mainstream society. The Government has been implementing the Sajahatra Program, a comprehensive social and economic program for MILF communities.

All of these efforts, resources and expectations that we managed and invested in will be wasted, if we do not support the Bangsamoro Basic Law and the peaceful means to end this conflict. We run the risk of losing this moment to attain peace and stability for our country.

I am a Cebuano, but I have seen the horror of war first hand. It is ugly, evil and inhuman.

I am a Cebuano, I demand Justice for our Special Action Force, I support the Bangsamoro Basic Law and I support the peace process. (The author is also the Mindanao Projects Manager of Conciliation Resources a peacebuilding organization partnering with civil society groups in Mindanao promoting public participation in the Mindanao Peace Process.