To be in the Philippine Army headquarters at their Grandstand in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City (home to the 85,000 strong army men and women ) on October 5, Day 136 of the Marawi Crisis is jarring, almost out of the world for me. I would not think I would still continue to be a member of the Army Advisory Board but here I was attending the Change of Command Ceremony of General Glorioso Miranda turning over to Marawi-based commander Joselito Bautista.
Akward, shaking their hands when I spoke about one, few men in uniform and their abuse while in Congress.
And to even face guest speaker President Rodrigo Duterte (a few rows away) would be seemingly impossible after my July 21 speech at the congressional hearing on extending martial law and speaking out against him and Mocha Uson for entering the mosque with their shoes on last September 11.
But here I was with a mission, to shake the new General’s hand, appeal for a return to Marawi. I pray to Almighty that I be given that moment and have my collective senses to say something right, not cry.
Shots rang celebrating the ceremony but it was instead a sad recollection for us, of dead soldiers, many young, and first time assigned in Marawi and also of civilian deaths, displacement. What would the soldiers’ families think about meeting or making friend of a Muslim in the future?
The cannon bombs blowing made my mission more important. I felt sad every time a shot was fired, 21 times at one moment, I was almost jolted….. imagining homeland, Allahuakbar. Around me were all uniformed, army personnel around who were deciding the fate of Marawi.
Then when that moment came face to face with the man assigned the past months in Marawi and now the new Commanding General of the Philippine Army, I smiled with my malong wrapped on me. Sir, from Marawi I said….. That was all I could blurt out, God God God……
And to the President, it was a shock he passed by so close and so I had to shake his hand, he clearly said ‘Assalamualaikum’ to me, smiling. Didn’t he recognize me enough as the girl who spoke in Congress against Martial Law Extension to ignore me hehe. And I just had to smile back, even bowed my head to his “fatherliness.” We want to return, President, I almost croaked, imagined saying but no words came out and the moment was fast, with him surrounded by the Presidential Security Group.
So I write things I would like to say and remind other advocates, too:
– endorse rescued individuals NOT TO THE ARMY at first instance but to DOCTOR, PSYCHOSOCIAL COUNSELLOR with Meranao background for documentation
– recognize third party peacekeepers
– we continue to assert our right to return as evacuees now that it is 130 plus days;
– avoiding Mamasapano in the past, strengthen coordination mechanisms with the local command;
– the appointment of the Marawi-based Army focal JOSELITO BAUTISTA to the Army Command signifies the long tested tradition that Army commanders who serve in Marawi are promoted;
– we urge the Army recommits to the whole of society approach in that preservation of peace commits to relationship building, transitional justice, a peace process mechanism; I have always expressed in various ARMY MEETINGS at the MSAB, Manila that peace process (as a way of life and mechanism with many signed documents on the ground by the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group, Coordinating Committees on the Cessation of Hostilities in joint peacekeeping with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front) must be understood as a Command document, not just as a reference;
– Islam and cultural sensitivity must be taught down the rank and file, ground soldier level; the Marawi crisis teaches us that the High Command’s commitment to a peace corridor might not be implemented (as in gunshots drawn) at the ground level thus few civilians stranded were rescued in June July attempts; No more peace corridor was supported thereafter
– women must be promoted to high command, they are an instrument of reconciliation, peace and trust – building in Mindanao which has a history and negative experience of martial law especially in Bangsamoro (imagine one woman in the past slashing her face to discourage being seen attractive by a soldier).
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Samira Ali Gutoc-Tomawis, Ll.B., co-founder of the Young Moro Professionals resigned as Commissioner of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission in late May, days after the Marawi Crisis started, citing personal reasons and policy questions. Samira is one of the organizers of the Ranao Rescue Team, a group set up to respond to the crisis. She had earlier served as an assemblywoman, women sector, of the Regional Legislative Assembly, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and was former director, Al-Amanah Islamic Bank, Inc. and former director of the Marawi Resort Hotel, Inc.)