Q&A with Cardinal Quevedo: “Peace is the only solution to living together, developing a territory together”

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/04 February) — Mindanao’s lone Cardinal, Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI, the Archbishop of Cotabato, was in Bergamo, Italy to celebrate the Santo Nino mass for 3,000 Overseas Filipino Workers on January 25 when news broke out about what was happening in Mamasapano.

The 75-year old Quevedo, who doesn’t’ have a Facebook or Twitter account, learned about the tragedy in trickles – through text messages, e-mail and news on the Filipino TV channel in Rome. “(Filipino) priests in Rome were listening to the news every night on TV.”

Cardinal Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI, Archbishop of Cotabato during the mass at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Cotabato City, upon his return from his installation as Cardinal in Rome. File photo taken on March 11, 2014 by TOTO LOZANO
Cardinal Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI, Archbishop of Cotabato during the mass at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Cotabato City, upon his return from his installation as Cardinal in Rome. File photo taken on March 11, 2014 by TOTO LOZANO

On Wednesday, January 28, hours before President Aquino delivered a statement to the nation, the Cardinal issued a statement from Rome expressing his grief for the families of the Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police. At that time, there were no figures available yet as to the number of slain members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and civilians.

“The circumstances and causes of this horrendous tragedy are still to be clearly unraveled,” Quevedo said, adding the demand of justice is for impartial investigation into how such police operation could result into “unimaginable tragedy” and the demand of wisdom is “to hold back the natural response of revenge and desire to break off the peace process.”

“I said justice has to be done because there is no peace without justice,” he said.

Among the Catholic bishops in the Philippines, Quevedo is the most exposed to the Bangsamoro peace process and has written extensively about it.

In a paper delivered at the 27th General Assembly of the Bishops-Business Conference in Taguig, Metro Manila on July 8, 2003, shortly after the Buliok war, he cited injustice as the root of the conflict with the Moro: “Injustice to the Moro Identity; Injustice to Moro Political Sovereignty; and Injustice to Moro integral development.”

“With the loss of political sovereignty came the loss of great chunks of Moro ancestral lands. Much of the loss resulted from a long series of legal enactments by the Philippine Commission, the Commonwealth government, and the post-independence government. Moro writers call this ‘legalized land grabbing.’” Quevedo wrote.

“The loss of land was compounded by government neglect of the Moro right to integral development during the Commonwealth and post-independence governments. In all dimensions of human development, political, economic, educational, and cultural, the Moro population continues to lag far behind its Christian Filipino counterparts. The latest national census bears this out in terms of educational improvement, political participation, and economic development. This is truly a tragic plight,” he said.

Two major wars occurred while Quevedo was President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines for two two-year terms (1999 to 2003: the Estrada administration’s “all-out war” in 2000 which displaced nearly a million residents and the Arroyo administration’s 2003 Buliok war which displaced nearly half a million residents. Both wars occurred in the midst of peace talks.

Cardinal Quevedo during the interview with MindaNews at the Bishop's House in Kidapawan on Monday, February 2, 2015. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano
Cardinal Quevedo during the interview with MindaNews at the Bishop’s House in Kidapawan on Monday, February 2, 2015. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano

The government (GPH) and the MILF signed a Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27 last year after 17 years of negotiations and are awaiting action from Congress on their draft Bangsamoro Basic Law for the future Bangsamoro Government that both parties hope will be installed by June 30, 2016, the same day President Aquino steps down from office.

A week before Mamasapano, the nation monitored every move, every statement of Pope Francis during his January 15 to 19 pastoral visit to the Philippines. The Pope ended his January 16 speech in Malacanang by expressing his “trust that the progress made in bringing peace to the south of the country will result in just solutions in accord with the nation’s founding principles and respectful of the inalienable rights of all, including the indigenous peoples and religious minorities.”

Quevedo returned to Cotabato City over the weekend. He talked with MindaNews’ Carolyn O. Arguillas about Mamasapano and the peace process on Monday afternoon, after attending the 25th anniversary celebration of the Poor Clares in Kidapawan.


Q. Some people are crying for justice but equate justice with vengeance. What kind of justice are we..
A. In my understanding of the situation, justice is about giving the true answers to the many questions that have been asked. What really happened at Mamasapano? What were the circumstances and the causes of this horrible tragedy? Who gave the orders? Who did the planning? Why was there no coordination in accord with the protocols set up by the MILF and the military to prevent misencounters? Why was not the local military informed until it was too late? Those are questions that need to be answered. Mamasapano was a terrible tragedy shrouded in mystery. Questions that demand answers. And the answers are demanded by justice for the victims. And the victims were not only our 44 gallant officers and members of the PNP SAF but there were also 18 MILF casualties with 14 wounded. Justice has to be done for all the victims.

Q. And meron pong civilians.
A. Yes there are several civilians caught in the crossfire I believe.

Q. So it should not be a justice that is selective only for 44 but for all the victims in that tragedy.
A. Inclusive justice. In the way that the widows and the children and the families of our 44 police officers are grieving and mourning and asking for justice, so I’m sure that the widows and the children and the families of those MILF casualties are also grieving and mourning. I’m sure that they, too, are asking for justice. Why did this happen? I say that it is a tragedy that could have been avoided if only the rules of engagement previously agreed upon by both sides were followed faithfully. And why were they not followed? Because there is mistrust. There is mistrust.
The SAF officer (sacked Chief Insp. Getulio Napenas) who sent troops was reported to have given the reason: he did not trust the MILF. And the questions are also asked by the MILF: “here are the rules, they were violated . Can we trust the government? Can we trust government troops? Why should they enter without any coordination with us? Don’t they realize that their sudden incursion in great force into our area was a serious threat to us?” Such questions indicate the breakdown of trust and the resurrection of deep biases.

Q. Before this incident happened, the debates on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) were already starting. Now, because of this tragedy, all these biases have surfaced again. Nasagasaan ang peace process.
A. In the debates, I think there were some political posturings. Senators and Congressmen were supposed to evaluate the BBL and refine it so that it can be thoroughly in accord with the Constitution. But some of them seem to say “this is totally bad, it cannot pass, it cannot pass.” It’s their work to refine the BBL so that it can be within the Constitution and if they don’t do it, I think they are failing in their jobs. So we see a lot of political posturings. Then when the Mamasapano tragedy struck, the posturings became realities. So, they said “no more, we must withdraw our sponsorship of the BBL.”

Q. Before Mamasapano, the Ad Hoc Committee of Rep. Rufus Rodriguez was scheduled to sign by Feb. 17 the committee report but because of what happened, Rufus said that until after the investigations on Mamasapano are done, they will not discuss the four security provisions in the BBL: national security, public order and safety, the Bangsamoro police and the Armed Forces Command. In the end he said, “I don’t know when the signing will be.”
A. Investigations are going on… but at the same time I think the debates should continue on the provisions on those same issues.

Q. So you think they should not be suspended, that they should continue?
A. I think they should continue but given the sentiments of today, a lot of inflamed sentiments, of anger and grief, mourning, there should be low profile type of discussion on this without the grand posturings and the inflammatory language that merely incites peoples’ anger and desire for revenge. What fails here is the peace process itself which seems to be the only hope right now.

Q. Do you see the peace process as the biggest casualty here?
A. For me, the casualty is not only physical life but the future. The future is represented by the the BBL. If it falls by the wayside, the future is unthinkable. Where else can we go without its promise of a just and lasting peace? Where else do we go after many, many years of discussion? The Board of Inquiry should look into the fatal errors of the Mamasapano Tragedy and be surgical about the miscalculations, the mistakes and provide just remedies for them. But to throw away the BBL is like throwing away the tub of water and the baby as well. That would be total disaster. There’s just no hope.

Q. But with the inflamed sentiments as you are saying, how can you continue with the debates?
A. Maybe there can be a postponement for a few days, until such time that rationality can operate, until wiser minds can prevail in the leadership of the government and while the MILF can be tasked to provide reports about what they did and what they are supposed to do now. I think this is essential to the rehabilitation of the peace process.

Q. Hindi pwedeng band-aid because the wound is so deep.
A. Yes, the wound is very deep: the killing of 44 SAFs, the killing of 18 MILFs. If only the MILF had a TV station, they would do the very same thing that we hear and see everyday – playing and replaying the grief and sorrow of widows and children, the loss of the lives of beloved husbands or fathers. But at the end the basic cause is mistrust. The reason for not giving previous information. Mutual mistrust at ground level.

Q. Even the President. He did not inform
A. Mar Roxas, the one in-charge of local governments and the police was not informed. One could very well ask: is this is also mistrust on the part of the government for Mar Roxas? Questions abound. They demand answers out of justice, out of justice. And I would like to see media more balanced on this rather than inflame sentiments, and anger through constant airing of the grief of widows and children.
Was it a massacre as media seem to have portrayed it? A revisit of the battle could provide a different answer. It was several hours of intense gunfight with many casualties on both sides. The SAF troops were not defenseless. But they were outgunned and urgently needed reinforcements and support. No report has been made about the number of MILF and BIFF. But the SAF troops certainly had the great disadvantage of fighting on a terrain they were not familiar with.

Q. The joint CCCH or ceasefire committees of the GPH and MILF learned about the Mamasapano operation after the fact na rin. Initially, a report to the MILF-CCCH said “sundalo.” For the people there, the camouflage uniform is generic for “sundalo,” so the GPH- CCCH had to check which military unit was operating without coordination pero SAF pala.
A. So the committee tasked to monitor any outbreak of hostilities and prevent any outbreak was saddled with lack of information.

Q. They were able to prevent it from escalating when they reached Mamasapano around noon. May putokan pa daw. By 2 o’ clock it stopped. As they always say, madali mag-start ng gyera but to disengage takes a long time.
A. That’s right. And to build up trust again also takes a long time. That is a problem. Parang husband and wife mistrusting each other and when finally there is actual infidelity, trust quickly breaks down. The same is true with protocols. Once rules of engagement are broken, mahirap ma build up ang mutual trust once again.
And I believe rationality should be restored here. Here we have a peace agreement that hopes, even with its possible constitutional frailties, to be the basis of just and lasting peace and resolve the rebellion intermittently going on for so many centuries. Here it is, a peace agreement that is suddenly jeopardized because of sentiments of anger and mistrust. Where can we go from here unless we again rebuild trust and work in the way the Bishops Conference pointed out – towards the one realistic hope for peace at the present time, the BBL, patiently and perseveringly drawn up in the course of many years.

Q. How do we build trust again?
A. I think the MILF should provide explanations of what happened. How did the fighting begin from their point of view? Why did they not stop? Another question the MILF should answer is: why did they tolerate the presence on an international territorist so close to their camp? Why do they allow the BIFF to operate from milf area and risk the suspicion that the two groups are supporting each other?

Q. This is on part the MILF, the questions that you want them to answer. What about on the part of government?
A. Questions as I said earlier: who ordered the operation? Why were the protocols that could have prevented the tragedy not followed? Why was the planning so mysterious, so confidential? And what was the role of (suspended PNP chief Alan) Purisima in it, and some Cabinet members? Why? The demand of justice is to answer those questions for the sake of the casualties on both sides and their families that are asking the questions. And the irony is that they’re saying: “help us Mr. President.” According to the evidence so far, it would seem that the President was the one who ordered the mission. And (former Philippine National Police chief and former) Senator (Panfilo) Lacson himself has said that only the President could order such a mission.

Q. Should he resign? Here are these talks again about an alleged coup d’ etat by the military and police. There is restiveness there because the few who knew about the operation broke the chain of command.
A. I don’t know if the restiveness is because they want revenge and the government does not seem to want all out war. Again we need to be realistic. As the Bishops Conference said, as long as age-old deep mistrust, biases and prejudices persist, violence can explode anytime, even after a peace agreement. And this should tell us how relevant the messages of the Pope were when he visited the Philippines – welcoming one another especially the poor, being in solidarity with one another, opening our hearts to the other, trusting, dialoguing.

Q. Para ngang the way people are asking for blood now, murag wala man niabot si Pope Francis sa Pilipinas.
A. It is part of the Filipino culture, when our faith is lived in one area and does not influence daily life. It is called the dichotomy between faith and life. We express great fervor of faith when someone like the Pope comes, but his teachings remain separate from daily life. His message about integrity and honesty falls by the wayside.

Q. Given what has happened and given the fact tha the biases and prejudices have surfaced again, what would be your appeal to the Christians, Catholics, Moro and the Lumads?
A. I think we Christians should look at history, the history of Mindanao before Christanity and base our ideas of peace from that history and not on our own biases and prejudices.
Our conception of Mindanao history seems to start with the coming of the Spaniards and the Americans. That radically differs from the Muslim and Lumad conception of Mindanao history. Theirs go back to pre-Spanish times.
We Christians in Mindanao are relatively new. And so knowing Mindanao history as it is, we Christians, would then be able to recongize as very valid the profound aspiration of Muslims for self determination in their own territory, for identity and integral development. Thank God there are Muslims like (MILF chair Al Haj) Murad (Ebrahim), like (founding chair) Salamat (Hashim), (Ghazzali) Jaafar and Mohagher Iqbal who say “we have learned our lessons from history too, we cannot claim the whole island, we can only claim self determination in the core territory.” We need to know Mindanao history. Christians ought to know Mindanao history.

Q. To the Moro?
A. I would raise also the issue of Muslim prejudice, the prejudices of Muslims regarding Christians, of Muslims regarding lumads. Muslims should also know the history of Christians. We Christians came over not because we wanted to grab the land of Muslims and Lumads. We came by virtue of government proclamation, policies and decrees.

Q. What about your message to the President?
A. (Pauses). Once the Board of Inquiry makes its report, I think that the President should also admit responsibility. I believe it’s an act of courageous and humble leadership to say “I’m sorry, and I shall make amends.”

Q. But he didn’t. He could have last Wednesday.
A. We’ll see what the investigation will… or maybe the investigation will come up with results quickly.

Q. In the meantime the debates, the proceedings on the BBL should continue?
A. I believe they should continue perhaps in a low profile. The provisions that they are talking about as suspended (the provisions on security, etc ) should be looked at again more closely in the light of the situation and on the evidence that is there now. There are a lot of evidences about what happened, what are the circumstances, the causes, that have already emerged without waiting for an investigation.

Q. You’ve been following this for so long already, the peace process, and there have really been major bumps along the way, all out war, Buliok war, etc. Can we survive this?
A. I think we can survive this because it is like the (2011) Al Barka tragedy where there was also lack of communications. There are incidents that have taken place that resulted in great government losses of personnel and we survived. Many massacres of Muslim civilians have also taken place. We can hurdle the challenges to peace. I think we need sometime to recover rationality.

Q. In the meantime, we are talking here of a major problem considering that supposedly one year ang transition period ng Bangsamoro but because of the delays, that might not even happen.
A. Yes. I think the leadership of the Senate and the House are important in this. I think already (Senate President Franklin) Drilon has said “we shall not put the BBL aside.” He did not say the BBL is

Q. Is dead.
A. Is dead. The same for Congressman Rufus Rodriguez. I think the discussions can be rehabilitated despite inflamed sentiments of anger and revenge. And we know that sentiments of revenge and anger are on both sides. Victims have fallen on both sides. That poses another challenge to the peace process.

Q. Both sides
A. Yes. And that’s one thing we don’t see in the press. If media can go to the area of the MILF and ask the widows and the children how they feel… you are telling people hindi lang pala tayong Christian.

Q. The President declared a National Day of Mourning but only for the 44.
A. The one sidedness of grief and mourning is most unfortunate. I think the Bishops Conference was more rational, when it urges that we grieve for all the casualties and their families and pray for all the victims.

Q. This is the worst, I think this is the highest death toll in a single day clash in the entire history of the Bangsamoro peace process, at least post-EDSA.
A. But the ultimate casualty is the peace process

Q. And the future as you said.
A. And unless something is done, we might have decades of years more to go before anything happens again – years of more fighting. Moro aspirations for self-determination will not die. That is the lesson of history.

Q. What is the worst case scenario?
A. The worst case scenario is all out war and the dismantling of the peace process.

Q. We go back to zero naman.
A. Oh yes. As I said, beginning with zero and a new government and a new team, but the team of the MILF will

Q. Still be the same
A. May not be the same but they will also be asking the question: “can we trust them?”

Q. Did you know that PNoy did not call Murad after the fact?
A. Was there any communication between the President through OPAPP and the MILF panel?

Q. OPAPP and panles. After the fact. Two days later. Pero the GPH-MILF mechanisms were really working that Sunday so in fact there could have been more deaths if the CCCH of both panels had not been there.
A .That’s what I understand.

Q. So malaking bagay na nandoon sila
A. They had to crawl, literally crawl, between the middle of two groups to say no to war. I don’t know how much more dramatic that can be but I think ..

Q. How about the US role there?
A. Some sectors will always suspect US involvement. But let’s distinguish between possibility and fact. For me it is possible that FBI gave the data on the location of the terrorists because our SAFs seem to have pinpointed the house. With regard to strategies, it is also possible that Americans made some suggestions. But to go from possibility to fact is a leap of reason.

Q. What can you tell people who have been working for decades for peace and who feel really bad now. How will you lift their spirits? A. For me, peace is a goal for everybody — Christians and Muslims, Lumads, peoples of other faiths, government and MILF. Peace is the only solution to living together, developing a territory together.Peace is not acquired overnight. There are ups and downs and this Mamasapano tragedy may be the worst of the downs. But if any heart can lift itself out of the pieces of a broken peace, it would be the heart of a sincere peace advocate, with no hidden agenda but peace. The spirit of peace is the Holy Spirit of God. It can soar over ashes and shattered houses and give hope where seemingly there is none.

Q. Considering that an agreement had been signed..
A. But there’s an agreement there on the table which needs to be rehabilitated and which is for many, a foundation for a just and lasting peace. It is there. We need to grab it again. We do not have to reinvent the wheel. It is already there. It needs some refinement. When? The only possible time and place is now, here, with a government ready to push and welcome it.

Q. Beyond?
A. Beyond? Well, who is going to be the next president?

Q. But the next President would likely also go for the peace process.
A. Hopefully. Hopefully.

Q. Did you actually think that we could have, that within the Aquino administration we’d
A. Yes, I think so.

Q. But with what has happened now?
A. Now I do not know because the time schedule is going to be pushed back. Maybe the next President will say “let me take a look at it again, but from the beginning” unless the people who are trusted by Aquino will lead the next government. They have been in the know, they could have an open mind about BBL.

Q. Your message to the peace panel of both sides
A. Continue your work and if your work is detoured by investigating what went on, help in the investigation. MILF panel, help in the investigation, provide as much information as you can but stay your course towards peace.

Q. And to Congress?
A. I would like to appeal to them that ‘all out war’ will make the peace process the biggest casualty and with the peace process and the BBL gone (pause) then it’s just pure hell again for the people of mindanao. Specially here in central mindanao. It’s ok if you live far away but here in the arena of conflict, there is no alternative

Q. But
A. But go into the peace process. An “all out war” sentiment will just perpetuate, will just deepen mistrust, prejudice and bias and this is on both sides — Muslim and Christian bias. The building of trust must be mutual on both sides but for leaders, especially.

Q. The public?
A. We appeal for justice for the casualties on both sides. We pray for their families and loved ones. But let us not be driven by anger and revenge posing in the guise of justice. We must make sure that investigations as to what has happened will be credible and will pinpoint those on both sides who were responsbile for the debacle. Let us together pray for peace and work for a just and lasting peace. For peace is the only option for the future. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / Mindanews)