REMEMBERING:  “That Our Sons May Come Home” – Cordi Ritual at Mamasapano and PNoy

I do not intend to comment on the Mamasapano incident which has been much politicized (and exploited by trolls with renewed vigor even now in PNoy’s passing). Let history judge and shed light to the truth.

What I’d like to share is a personal insight about PNoy in relation to a trip by a group of Cordillerans on January 25, 2016 to perform a ritual on the site where the valiant SAF44 died in Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

This was spearheaded by the Indigenous Peoples Education (IPEd) Council of Elders of the Cordillera Administrative Region and involved the ritual, in accordance to indigenous belief and practice, of calling the spirits of the 13 Cordilleran SAF members who were deemed restless in the place where they died, and bringing them back to their ancestral abode. (As explained by one of the elders, “brutal and sudden death causes the spirit of persons to remain in the place where they died; therefore, they have to be called to come home where they properly belong along with their physical remains.”)

Ritual on January 25, 2016 at Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao for the fallen Cordilleran members of the Special Action Forces who were among those killed in the cornfield a year earlier. Photo courtesy of BILL STA. CLARA

It was meant to bring healing and spiritual closure to the families and communities of the slain Cordilleran SAF members – “that our sons may come home.” The group who undertook the trip consisted of selected elders and ritualists (mandadawak and mumbaki) from Kalinga, Mt. Province, Ifugao, and Benguet, representatives from each of the SAF families, myself, and facilitators from the Interfaith Center for a Culture of Nonviolence (ICCN).

As head then of the DepEd-Indigenous Peoples Education Office (IPsEO), the elders relayed their initial ideas about this initiative as early as April 2015, and requested for assistance in executing their plan. There were issues, however, that had to be addressed and it took several months before it finally pushed through, coinciding with the first anniversary of the unfortunate incident in Mamasapano.

Just before the actual trip to Mamasapano, the group had to resolve some issues that would have otherwise jeopardized the undertaking. Doing the activity at that particular time was not that simple given a host of factors. I will not go into details (lest this post be as long as a book chapter, and because there are information that I feel may not be appropriately shared without the proper context, consultation and permission from the elders).

As one of those performing a supportive role to the elders’ mission, the group knew that I had to make calls and appeals to different people in addressing some of the snags we’ve been encountering. Since PNoy has now passed on, I think I can now share that at that critical point of the endeavor, he himself was informed about the activity and his support enabled the trip to push through and to proceed more smoothly.

To PNoy’s credit, he didn’t even attempt to let the group know of his intervention. He understood the significance of the ritual that the elders and SAF families wanted to do and he respected that. A typical trapo would have exploited the situation and used it for “pogi points” (especially if the Mamasapano incident continues to be a major issue in your administration). But no, a decent person that he was and in typical PNoy fashion, he did what he needed to do to facilitate things and stayed in the background. Hindi siya nagpaka-epal.

The Cordillera group was also welcomed and accompanied by then Col. Cirilito Sobejana, now General and Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Photo courtesy of BILL STA. CLARA

I wasn’t asked to inform the group about PNoy’s direct intervention and I kept it at that. I knew then that some of the group members wondered why, suddenly, problems with logistics got resolved. Things began to run more smoothly – from the C-130 ride, to security arrangements, logistics on the ground, and even preparations at the ritual site.

Similar to many accounts being relayed now about PNoy’s eye for detail, there was only one thing that he was curious about, aside from the logistical concerns – whether the ritual would involve sacrificing a pig (I assumed he was aware of rituals in the Cordillera) and if so, wouldn’t this be an issue with the Muslims in the area. I was quite surprised and impressed at the same time that PNoy had thought about this and asked this very specific question. I immediately responded that the Cordillera elders had actually discussed this very concern on cultural sensitivity in their preparatory meetings and decided early on that only chickens will be used in the ritual.

***

(After the successful conduct of the first part of the ritual at Mamasapano, the group returned to Manila on the same day, had a brief meeting with then DepEd Secretary Br. Armin Luistro, and immediately returned to the Cordillera to complete the ritual with a wider group of elders and representatives from the 13 SAF families and communities. The ritual was held at the Baguio Teachers’ Camp pakedlan, a permanent indigenous ritual area built by the Cordillera elders and inaugurated together with IP representatives from different parts of the country also during the PNoy Administration.)

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Rozanno ‘Butch’ Rufino was former head of the Department of Education’s Indigenous Peoples Education Office, established during President Noynoy Aquino’s term. In partnership with indigenous cultural communities, the said office worked towards the crafting of milestone IPEd policies and the establishment of the National Indigenous Peoples Education (IPEd) Program, which formed part of the key education reforms pursued during the PNoy Administration. MindaNews was granted permission to publish this piece first posted on his FB page on June 30).

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