PERSONAL ESSAY: Who would have known that the most peaceful assignment can become a war zone overnight?

 (written 26 May 2017)

More than 30 years ago in Sulu, in a small hut we played and laughed and dreamt.

It was common to see our uncles land in Sulu via helicopters then.

After playing inside the small hut, as small boys we talked about one day landing home on a helicopter with both of us on board the open space near the house.

He eventually became an Integree to the Army assigned to one of the peaceful areas in Mindanao. Last year I was requesting him for detail to me because I wanted to fulfill our childhood agreement to land home together on a helicopter. Buddies on a chopper.

It just happened he was under training and was assigned at the 51st IB in Marawi City in Lanao del Sur.

Who would have known that the most peaceful assignment in peaceful Marawi can become a war zone overnight?

Now his batchmates are saying their post was overrun and they could not be reached since this morning. He was hit last night but today he and his team could no longer be reached.

They say their bodies remain out in the open as it is in the middle of a still ongoing fierce gun battle.

It seems we could no longer fulfill our dream of being on a helicopter together with my cousin bro…

Inna Lilahi wa inna ilayhi rajioon..

From Allah we all came and to Allah we shall all return…

Sometimes it’s only when a person very close to you is affected that you are forced to really empathize with the situation.

You feel very sad for what happened. The victims of these battles — the soldiers who receive salaries to feed their wife and children and have no option but to obey orders to  defend the land, the civilians who must leave everything except their clothes to run for safety and even the lawless elements may as well be victims of the systemic illiteracy, poverty and neglect.

When a drug addict kills another, is the addict totally at fault? In essence yes but on the bigger scope somebody has responsibilities too – of being a better parent to the addict that would have prevented him from becoming one, that government run after the drug lords and pushers that may have prevented him from being an addict, that government should have provided all the education, protection, welfare, training, sports and livelihood that would have prevented him from being an addict. No one is fully to blame as all of us have contributions.

It’s hard to be angry when one sees the system as the cause and the system must be fixed.

No matter how much we weep for the fallen leaves, leaves will always fall from the poisonous tree, unless the tree itself, the root of these, is cut.

Teenagers led this violence and the best way to solve this on the long term is to ask what could the government, the academe, the CSO, the parents, the communities, the religious sectors have done that could have prevented these teens to believe what they believe and do what they thought was right in their eyes and mind.

This is done by a hundred disillusioned kids.

I hope something concrete would come out from the current GPH-MILF  peace agreement as I believe it would be best to flee early if 10,000 more will get disillusioned and may start to wreak havoc to our homes and communities.

The Marawi incident has opened up cancerous cells in our system that if not treated well, systemically, will metastasize and spread to other systems and organs of our nation.

This is a wake up call for everyone to become better parents to their children, nephews and nieces and for the government to fulfill its most important mandate of being “Parens Patriae” or the parents of ALL its citizens.

(Don Mustapha, a civil engineer, is Secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. A graduate of the University of the Philippines, Mustapha was former Provincial Administrator of Sulu. He was co-convenor of the Young Moro Professionals and founding director of the Bangsamoro Executives and Leaders League).