PEACETALK: Grieving, Doing Justice,Working for Peace (A Letter To All Christians)

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews /08 March) — Fellow Disciples of Christ: Greetings of peace in the Lord!

As a Filipino and Mindanawon, I grieve profoundly for our gallant SAF (Special Action Force) troops who sacrificed their lives in pursuit of justice in Mamasapano. I grieve deeply with their families.

As a disciple of Christ I likewise grieve for the other Filipinos, Bangsamoro civilians and combatants, who perished in the same horrible tragedy. I grieve deeply with their families.

With the families of all the victims I demand that justice be done, that answers to the many questions raised by the whole nation be forthrightly answered. Those responsible for the tragedy must be brought to justice without fear or favor. The attribution of guilt must not be one-sided. It is now coming to light from the ground that inhuman brutalities were committed by both sides. Guilt is on both sides of that fateful, clearly avoidable, combat.

Yet in the face of outrage and calls for all-out war for the manner by which our law enforcers lost their lives, I call for peace. I call for rationality rather than emotionalism. I call for justice that is not selective. I call for openness and fairness rather than bias and prejudice.

For in the wake of Mamasapano our age-old Christian biases and prejudices against Moros have quickly and most sadly resurrected. Biases and prejudices have colored and clouded our judgment.

We hear ourselves say, we cannot trust the Moros. We cannot trust the MILF (Moro Islamic Libreration Front). We cannot trust them to lay down their arms, we cannot trust them with the money they need for development, we cannot trust them to go after terrorists once they have their own government, we cannot trust them to practice democracy, we cannot trust them to govern well. We simply cannot trust them.

The bottomline of the Mamasapano tragedy is mistrust—on both sides of the conflict.

It is sheer human tragedy that such sentiments come from the dark side of our hearts. And as a Christian religious leader, I grieve also for this eclipse of the Christian heart. From an anguished heart I ask the Lord to forgive us.

Our biases and prejudices have brought us to convictions and conclusions that are totally wrong:

  • We lump all Moro armed groups together (MILF, MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front), BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters), Abu Sayaff group, private armed groups) as lawless groups that advocate secession and independence ;
  • We believe that the MILF claims the whole of Mindanao;
  • We conclude that the Bangsamoro government will have agencies that will be totally independent of their national counterparts;
  • We assert that the MILF will become the police force of the Bangsamoro;
  • We dismiss as sham the conversion of MILF from a secessionist movement into a principled partner for peace. We persist in calling them “secessionists.”
  • We threaten to do away with provisions that protect a proposed fledgling Bangsamoro government from the negativities of warlordism and clan domination. Yet it is so easy to ask our own peace negotiators why it is necessary for the Bangsamoro to be “MILF-led” in the short term.
  • We mistrust the MILF’s determination to govern well and thus to reverse Bangsamoro political history.

On the contrary, my brothers and sisters in Christ, the following are at the heart and soul of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL):

  • Bangsamoro self-determination will be exercised within a limited territory under the sovereignty of the Philippines. National sovereignty and territorial integrity will be preserved;
  • The over-all principle that governs the BBL is the Catholic moral and social principle of subsidiarity, a principle already enshrined in our own Constitution. The principle requires the intervention of the national government and its various entities when the common good of all requires it. Therefore, no entity of the Bangsamoro government, such as a Bangsamoro auditing department or police force, is absolutely independent of their national counterparts.

My fellow disciples of Christ, self-determination has been the cry of the Bangsamoro for centuries. They struggled to preserve it against the Spaniards and the Americans. They insisted on it in the face of our government’s efforts to neutralize and domesticate it by democratic processes and the lure of economic development.

Rightfully we are outraged by the manner by which our valiant SAF forces were killed. But in the past 100 years the Bangsamoro have seen hundreds of their own people, including women and children, massacred in mountains and mosques. And we did not open our eyes and ears to see and hear their plaintive cries for justice.

The lesson of history is not one we can sweep under the rug – the fundamental aspiration of a “nation” for self-determination does not die. It will seem to fade away with the passing of old leaders but if unrealized the drive for self determination will rise with the radicalization of younger generations.

I have been a missionary among Muslims for the most part of my priestly life. I have been a parish priest in Jolo. I taught Muslims and Christians in a Catholic University which now has a predominantly Muslim student population. I have witnessed a harmonious dialogue of life among the students. Many of our soldiers and high ranking officers studied in our Catholic schools. So, too, did members and leaders of the MILF. They are not terrorists. Terrorists have in fact broken away from them. The MILF only aspires and struggles politically for a place under the sun in freedom and dignity. The BBL was negotiated painstakingly with stops and detours for at least five years. It is not an agreement that was hurriedly done. It fulfills the Bangsamoro aspiration for self-determination. It preserves our fundamental principles of national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Yes, by all means we must refine the BBL so that it will hew closely to our Constitution. But let there be consensus among constitutional luminaries on what is constitutional and what is not constitutional among the provisions of the BBL. Let us make sure that we do not “improve and strengthen” the BBL such that the idea of self-determination that is imbedded in various provisions of the BBL becomes once more an illusion, a desire begging despairingly to be realized.

I am for peace, the peace that God grants to people of good will. I am for the peace that God gives through the collaborative work of men and women who work conscientiously for the good of the whole country. By focusing on the good of a Bangsamoro minority in the “peripheries” who have suffered social injustices for centuries, they are working for the common good of all Filipinos. They are healing historic wounds that have caused great suffering to all Filipinos.

And so must I grieve for our courageous SAF troops who have lost their lives. I must also grieve for all the other Filipinos who perished in Mamasapano. I grieve and pray for the families they left behind, their inconsolable widows and children, for their uncertain future. For their sake I seek justice and accountability.

I beg you as fellow disciples of Christ, the Prince of Peace, to pray and work together for peace so that Mamasapano will not repeat itself. Let not emotions, biases and prejudices prevail over objective reason and over our most cherished Christian values of justice and peace, truth, love and harmony.

It is the Spirit of God that gives hope and infuses love and harmony among peoples of different faiths and cultures. With God’s Spirit we can soar over tragedies, we can restore trust for one another, we can strive together for harmony and peace. Ultimately it is in the enlightened heart where love and peace begin.

May the God of Justice, Peace and Love bless us all.

(Orlando B. Cardinal Quevedo, O.M.I., the Archbishop of Cotabato, is Mindanao’s first Cardinal. He served as President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines from 1999 to 2001 and from 2001 to 2003, within which two wars against the MILF were launched – the all-out war in 2000 launched by the Estrada administration in the midst of the peace talks, and the Buliok war in 2003 launched by the Arroyo administration, also in the midst of peace talks).