COMMENTARY: Do we blame the fighters or the decision makers?

MAKATI CITY (MindaNews / 5 Feb) – As the morning sun burned away the mists over Central Mindanao on January 29, 42 flag-draped caskets were lined up on the tarmac of the Cotabato City airport for the long, last flight home. When the mournful sound of taps rolled out from two buglers, a hush descended on the assembled crowd.

Moments like these, amidst hundreds of other people, amidst the growing outcry for blood, one suddenly feels all alone.

A lot has already been written and said about Mamasapano and what the January 25 tragedy should mean to all of us. Most of it alarming. Many are calling for justice, and rightly so. But here, the nuancing is important.

Justice means accountability and fairness, a reckoning for errors and mistakes. Justice does not mean revenge, as some have called for. And it most certainly does not mean bloodlust.

Do we blame the fighters, or do we blame the decision makers? We have read all sorts of posts from people who demand all-out war, who say “ubusin na ang mga iyan,” “you can not trust their kind,” and then bravely thrust an uplifted finger at the peace talks. Our favorite president, and I do not bother to hide the sarcasm here, repeated his old quotable quote – kung hindi madala sa santong dasalan, idaan sa Santong paspasan.

Please, please, bother to listen to all sides before you give in to the emotions of the moment. Please, please read more about what really happened. And please, please, know what you are asking for because you just might get it.

When real warriors die, keyboard warriors sometimes rise from their armchairs, wave the flag, call out the troops, and then grumble about internet service.

So why didn’t the MILF stop firing when they found out they were engaging government forces? Veterans from both sides of the conflict will tell you that it is always easier to start a battle than to end one, in the same way it takes greater courage to end a war than to start one.

When two forces are locked in heated combat, there is little time to think beyond how to overwhelm the enemy. We have seen this many times over, in so many examples that we should have learned from in the past.

Allow me to show you some insights from my friends.

Dana Batnag: “I know rational, reasonable people, are willing to sacrifice the peace talks now, without finding out more what led to the killing in the first place. So many are asking for blood, instead of facts. Let us have war, if you must. But may that war come to your doorsteps first. And when thousands die, I will remember your names and point my finger at you and say, as you weep for your homes and your loved ones and the peace that once was, YOU WANTED THIS.”

Samira Gutoc-Tomawis: “So many peace protectors, but who will investigate and guard against peace spoilers, war investors, conspirators. When it only takes a few seconds of reporting to destroy the gains of hundreds of hours of sleepless nights into documents.”

Stella Estremera: “And the non-Mindanaoans are calling for war… ehem. Kayo kaya gyerahin namin? Try mo lang.”

Ayrie Ching: “Gusto mo ng ‘all-out war?’ Ipaghiganti ang mga PNP-SAF at iba pang mga pwersa ng gobyerno – ‘mga bayani’ – na namatay sa kamay ng mga ‘Muslim rebels’? Sige, pero ito naman ang gusto ko: Gusto ko ‘yang gyerang hinihingi mo ay sa probinsya mo mangyari, sa mga sulok ng bansang ito kung saan ka may minahal o minamahal, at sana mangyari ito sa oras na hindi mo inaasahan – isang Linggo nang umaga kung kailan naghahandang pumunta ng misa, isang Biyernes nang gabi habang nagbibihis para sa isang gimik, isang Miyerkules nang madaling araw at sa kalaliman ng pahinga. Sinasabi ko sa iyo, hindi mo gusto ng giyera. Gusto mo lang ng giyera kung malayo ito sa iyo at patuloy kang makakapamuhay nang walang takot kung aabutin mo pa ang umaga.”

I couldn’t have said it better.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Ed Lingao is a multi-awarded journalist and TV presenter who has extensively covered the conflicts in Mindanao, Afghanistan and Iraq.)