PEACETALK: Man’s inhumanity to man

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews/17 Feb) — Last Wednesday’s congressional committee hearing on the botched Mamasapano police operation was painful to watch. Unlike the Senate hearings effectively chaired by Senator Grace Poe, the congressional hearing was raucous, emotional, and marred by grandstanding.

The testimony of the Philippine National Police Special Action Forces (PNP-SAF) officers and the military turned emotional as well, when a video reportedly showing a combatant of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) or the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) shooting a wounded SAF policeman was discussed.

It is uncommon to see men weep; rarer still to publicly witness accomplished, valorous generals shed tears and hug each other. Acting PNP Chief Leonardo Espina could not help but tear up as he spoke about “overkill,” asking why the MILF shot his wounded policeman. A tearful Getulio Napenas (the relieved SAF chief) walked over to his superior officer whom he had kept in the dark about the operation. Napenas gave his chief a brief hug while Espina patted his cheek, two brothers in arms consoling each other in their grief over their fallen comrades.

Some congressmen wanted the video shown, but cooler heads prevailed. Congressman Rodolfo Biazon, former head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said that showing the video could fire up the “emotions of many people.”

Tensions ran high, as the peace process and the Bangsamoro Basic law were pummeled. Maguindanao Congresswoman Sandra Sema wept, even as she called for sobriety. Her voice broke when she spoke about war and how those who never experienced it cannot comprehend the full impact of its consequences.

I decided to watch the video on YouTube. I was amazed to find out that there are several videos, purportedly about the Mamasapano misencounter. The video discussed in Congress showed a combatant, possibly the “videographer,” shoot the wounded SAF trooper at pointblank range and then move on. Another video showed true brutality, with the “videographer” egging on the combatants to hack away at the dead and wounded. And one rebel did exactly that. However, it could not have been in Mamasapano, Maguindanao: all the combatants spoke Tausug, which is the lingua franca of Sulu.

Another video (purportedly from Mamasapano) showed a wounded rebel on the ground surrounded by soldiers, as at least six troopers took turns in kicking him. A voice could be heard, speaking in Tagalog, “Pinatay na lang sana nila yan, kaysa pahirapan pa (They should have just killed him instead of making him suffer).” Later, the rebel was dragged around. After a few minutes, several soldiers shot the captive repeatedly. I heard maybe 50 shots fired.

I understand why Congressman Biazon objected to the showing of the video. Watching the execution of a helpless, wounded human being hits you hard and makes you want to hit back. Discussing a report about it, on the other hand, distances you from the inhumanity and reins back emotions. Do the lawmakers want reason to prevail? Or emotions?

Congresswoman Sema said it well, even as she choked on her words. The violence must stop. Revenge will not end the violence but will add fuel to the fire. An all-out war will not bring peace, but will awaken man’s inhumanity against man. Only a douse of the cold waters of reason and mediation can end the raging emotional fires that could lead us to another war in Mindanao.

My family and I have suffered through war during the ’70s, as the government justified martial law by citing the Muslim secessionist movement. In 1974, the military stormed Jolo, Sulu, and burned it to the ground to repel the Moro National Liberation Front. I was in my third year at the University of the Philippines School of Economics at the time. My parents had to go abroad and left my two sisters under my care. However, my three brothers — all in grade school — were in Jolo. My aunt and her four kids were with them.

For days, no one knew what was going on in Jolo. My parents rushed back. Mom (former Senator Santanina Rasul) was a provincial board member at the time. She was worried sick about my brothers, my aunt and my cousins. She begged the military to allow her entry to Jolo, as she was a local government official. Finally, the late Admiral Romulo Espaldon, head of then Southern Command, let her go with the Navy.

Mom is a very levelheaded woman, a rock in times of crisis. But when she related to us what she saw and experienced, I remember thinking how fragile she really was, how brave she had to be so that we would not despair. Truly, it is the women — like Mom and Bai Sandra — who bear the brunt, as they care for their families and seek an end to the violence.

Our hometown was gone in the fires that took days to end. In our neighborhood, only the Cathedral, the Notre Dame Girls High School and a few other buildings survived the shelling by the Navy and the Air Force.

Our home was razed to the ground. Overnight, we lost almost everything. My father, the late Ambassador Abraham Rasul, aged overnight. Almost everything he had worked for to secure our future was gone.

Luckily, my brothers, aunt and cousins were safe. The MNLF troops had gone house to house to warn everyone that Jolo was going to be bombed. My family escaped, on foot, to the forest. The eldest of my brothers, Cheng, told us that they did not eat for days. After the fires ended, he bravely went into town to scavenge for food. He headed to the Chinese bakery, which was gone. But the baking machinery survived. Cheng took all the burnt bread he could find and brought it back to our family.

When we were finally reunited in Manila, the joy of seeing our brothers alive made us briefly forget the pain of losing our home.

Congresswoman Sema and I share this experience, together with hundreds of thousands in Muslim Mindanao. We do not want anyone else to go through this hellfire. Those who call for an all-out war or for scuttling the peace process or for revenge have never experienced the pain of losing family, home and friends. Those who are grandstanding for whatever political reasons should take time to really talk to the victims of war before they seek to stoke the emotional fires raging after the deaths of 44 SAF troops, rebels and civilians.

For years, the sight of a military man in uniform would make me shake with fear. Only after years of understanding what happens to ordinary men during war have I come to appreciate that the military folk are human, too. It is war that brings out the worst in men. Some turn evil and brutal, but most just do their duty, many times sacrificing their lives.

War brings out the beast in man. Congressman Biazon knows this well, as he sought to stop the showing of the video. Let sobriety and sanity prevail in the halls of Congress — and outside of it

Otherwise, I fear that we are being shepherded onto a bloody field of armed conflict, with war drums beating a steady march. When that happens, the videos shown of brutality will pale by comparison as, to quote Robert Burns, “man’s inhumanity to man, makes countless thousands mourn!”

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Amina Rasul is a democracy, peace and human rights advocate, and president of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy. This piece was first published on February 21, 2013 under “Surveil,” the column of Ms Amina Rasul for Businessworld. Ms Rasul granted MindaNews permission to reprint this piece. You may email her at [email protected])