TUKANALIPAO, Mamasapano, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 27 January) – As war drums are beating elsewhere, residents in this village where a bloody misencounter Sunday left at least 54 persons dead – 44 from the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police (PNP-SAF) and 10 from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – are praying “irespeto natin ang usaping pangkapayapaan” (let’s respect the peace process) to avoid a repeat of Sunday’s tragedy.
“Dito po, pagod na pagod na kami sa pagbabakwit,” (Here, we are very, very tired of evacuating), Abdulkadir Kambal, 49, a volunteer teacher at the Hadji Salik Kalaing National High School, told reporters Tuesday afternoon. Kambal narrated he could no longer count how many times he has had to evacuate since he was little. The crowd that gathered around him, nodded.
Kambal claimed farmer Ismael Mangulamas, 29, was found dead Sunday morning, his hands tied and with bullet wounds on his back. The claim has yet to be verified.
The residents’ call for the peace process to continue is shared by the government and MILF peace panels, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, the Mindanao Business Council, and various peace groups even as calls for “all out war” are again drowning out the voices of peace– very much like what happened in the aftermath of the October 19, 2011 operation of the Philippine mlitary’s Special Forces in Al-barka, Basilan.
That opeation also did not coordinate with the GPH-MILF’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) and Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) and resulted in the death of 25 persons (19 soldiers and five MILF guerillas), 17 injured (14 soldiers and three from the MILF) and displacement of 8,000 villagers.
President Benigno Simeon Aquino III responded to the calls for military action in 2011 by saying no to war and yes to “all-out justice.”
In Dagupan City, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) decried the “act of violence against human life” in Mamasapano but said they remain firm in their support for the peace process.
On the side of peace
“While the CBCP vehemently condemns this act of violence against human life no matter what the avowed purpose of such violence may be, we cannot side with those who call for the discontinuance of peace talks,” Villegas said in a statement posted on CBCP News.
“If anything, the sad incident underscores the necessity and the urgency of arriving at a solution that is not rushed but that is inclusive, principled and just to all,” Villegas added.
Mindanao’s lone Cardinal, Orlando Quevedo, the Archbishop of Cotabato is presently abroad..
The Mindanao Business Council expressed “serious concerns” on the possible consequences of the Mamasapano tragedy but “we maintain our support for the peace process.”
“At this point when emotions are high and information are still vague, we appeal to our leaders in the government and the private sector to be careful and prudent in issuing public statements,” Vicente Lao, MinBC chair said.
Lao urged colleagues in the business community to “ extend their assistance to the victims and their families.”
Pray and believe, still
Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, Jr. in a statement said one of the SAF personnel killed was his cousin, “the breadwinner and hope of his family” and that several more ifugaos were killed, as well.
Baguilat admitted that it is “difficult but we still have to believe in the peace process,” recalling how his own brother, a captain, was killed in Basilan in 1998.
He said he had been dedicating his support to wage peace “in memory of his sacrifice.”
“Now, more young ifugaos have joined the list of martyrs. The natural emotional tendency is to condemn, to doubt, to grieve and to call for aggression. But the courageous thing for us to do is to pray and to believe, still,” he said.
Baguilat hopes the government and MILF can “sit down and analyze why despite the ceasefire mechanism, the peace agreement n the BBL being pursued aggressively in Congress, this tragedy still happened.”
“Answers must be given for we have a mood in Congress that’s not optimistic. God help our country and its peacemakers,” he said.
Retrieving the dead
Kambal said they were awakened at dawn by gunshots. He reckons the gunshots were heard in the first clash site at 4 a.m. and at 4:30 a.m. in the second.
Kambal was among those who helped retrieve the bodies of the slain SAF personnel in one of the clash sites 1.5 kilometers from the main road last Monday. They retrieved 34 SAF personnel, most of them bearing gunshot wounds on the head.
The police commandos, he said, were likely wearing bulletproof vests.
Classes have remained suspended in four elementary and secondary schools there and the women and children, Kambal said, have been seeking refuge elsewhere during evenings.
The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Humanitarian Emergency Action and Response Team (ARMM-HEART) hase sent assistance to 563 displaced famlies who are now staying at the evacuation camp in Madrasa, Barangay Daladap.
In Davao City, the Al Qalam Insitute of the Ateneo de Davao University reminded the public in a statement “about the importance of peace in Mindanao.”
“We reiterate that between an ‘all out war’ vs. an ‘all out peace,’ the former has been proven to be the most expensive. In an ‘all out war,’ innocent civilians are displaced. Properties are destroyed. Children are forced to live in evacuation centers,” the statement read.
Al Qalam is calling for a third party investigation on what happened in Mamasapano.
Fr. Bert Layson, head of the Inter-Religious Dialogue of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate appealed for “a peaceful process and not through the use of force in a violent manner.”
“War is inhuman. It kills fellow human beings. Ony a peaceful approach through negotiation could bring peace and development in this Land of Promise, Mindanao,” Layson said.
The Lanao Peace Advocates called for sobriety and urged legislators “not to derail nor halt” the legislative hearings on Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) “because this will just clearly hinder us in attaining our goals for lasting peace in Mindanao.”
“The tragedy should not be used to blind us in attaining what we desired as outcome of the peace process between the government and the MILF,” it added.
In Davao del Norte, Rep. Antonio Lagdameo clarified reports he withdrew his support for the BBL. “I would just like to clarify that I have NOT withdrawn my support for the BBL,” Lagdameo said in a statement. But “in the interest of peace in Mindanao,” he said, “I want answers. We need to know and understand what happened and why so that similar tragedies may be prevented in the future.”
Back on track, ASAP
The Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG) said there is no question that this tragedy is “adversely affecting the peace process” with some members of Congress and the Senate already withdrawing support for the BBL or calling for the suspension of the legislative process for its enactment.
In a statement signed by executive director Benedicto Bacani, the IAG said there is no doubt that apart from the lives lost and injuries sustained, “the public trust and support of the GPH-MILF peace process— an indispensable element in peacefully resolving the Mindanao conflict— is a casualty in this unfortunate incident.”
“The peace process seeks to avert violent incidents by reconfiguring relations and reforming public policies towards creating an environment where justice and peace prevails,” Bacani said, as it called on the GPH and the MILF “to exert every effort to put the peace process back on track the soonest possible.”
The IAG called on governemnt to “conduct an independent and impartial investigation on the circumstances that led to the bloody confrontation, identify quarters and personalities who committed criminal acts, lapses in judgment and/ or violation of rules and policies and institute criminal and administrative charges against responsible personalities;” and the MILF to “conduct its internal investigation, ascertain the facts in an objective manner and when warranted impose punitive actions against their members who violated existing laws, rules and protocols.”
Bacani said the parties “must show concrete results in the short-term out of the political and security reforms under the roadmap that include but not limited to tangible progress in entrenching the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in the BBL and in decommissioning MILF forces.
The government and MILF peace panels as well as ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman had earlier issued statements to preserve the gains of the peace process. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)