Quevedo on Mamasapano: “Justice should not be selective but inclusive”

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/ 03 Feb) — Justice should not be equated with revenge and should not be selective but inclusive, for all those who were killed in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, Mindanao’s lone Cardinal, Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI, the Archbishop of Cotabato, said.

Quevedo told MindaNews that questions have to be asked about what happened on January 25 in Mamasapano, where at least 67 persons were killed — 44 from the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police (PNP), 18 from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and at least five civilians – and these are questions that “demand answers and the answers are demanded by justice for the victims.”

Cardinal Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI. says the peace process should continue.. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO
Cardinal Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI. says there is no other alternative but the peace process. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO

“Justice has to be done because there is no peace without justice,” Quevedo said, adding justice is about giving the “true answers” to the many questions that have been asked.

To the government, he 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, he said, was a “terrible tragedy shrouded in mystery.”

The MILF, he said, should provide explanations, too. “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 of an international terrorist so close to their camp? Why do they allow the BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) to operate from MILF area and risk the suspicion that the two groups are supporting each other?”

Quevedo stressed that the victims “were not only 44 gallant officers and members of the PNP SAF” but “also 18 MILF casualties and 14 wounded. Justice has to be done for all” the combatants and the civilians, he said. The figures for slain civilians, among them eight-year old Sara Pananggulon, very between four and seven.

Biggest casualty

But the biggest casualty in the Mamasapano tragedy is not only the lives lost, Quevedo said, but “the future.”

“The future is represented by the Bangsamoro Basic Law (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?” he asked.

The government and the MILF signed a Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27, 2014, ending17 years of peace negotiations — from 1997 to 2014.

The parties agreed that the status quo was “unacceptable” and that they would work for the creation of a new autonomous political entity that would be called “Bangsmaoro” which would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) as soon as the BBL is ratified by the people.

The MILF is supposed to be given a year-long transition to prepare for the election on May 9, 2016 of the first set of officials of the regular Bangsamoro government which, under the roadmap, is expected to be set up by 30 June 2016, the same day President Aquino steps down from his post.

Total disaster

Quevedo said the PNP’s 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.”

“Inclusive justice” is needed “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,” said Quevedo, who served as President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) for two terms — 1999 to 2001 and 2001 to 2003.

“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,” Quevedo said.

Quevedo was CBCP President when the Estrada administration declared an “all-out war” against the MILF in 2000 and the Arroyo administration waged its “Buliok War” in 2003.

What happened in Mamasapano, the cardinal noted, is “a tragedy that could have been avoided if only the rules of engagement previously agreed upon by both sides were followed faithfully.”

He said the protocols were not observed because of mistrust.

But Quevedo continues to push for the peace process. An “all out war,” as some sectors are agitating, will just “deepen mistrust, prejudice and bias and this is on both sides — Muslim and Christian bias.”

Building trust

“The building of trust must be mutual on both sides but for leaders, especially,” he said.

Quevedo granted MindaNews an interview at the Bishop’s House in Kidapawan on Monday afternoon (Q and A will be uploaded tomorrow). after he graced the silver anniversary of the Poor Clares here.

The Cardinal, who served as Bishop of Kidapawan in the dying days of the Marcos administration, was in Bergamo, Italy, to officiate a Sto. Nino mass for 3,000 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) on January 25 when Mamasapano happened. He returned to Cotabato City over the weekend.

Quevedo said he hopes Congress will continue with the debates on the BBL but acknowledges the difficulties now given the “inflamed sentiments, of anger and grief, mourning.”

“I believe they should continue perhaps in a low profile. The provisions that they are talking about as suspended (discussions on the four provisions on national security, public order and safety, Bangsamoro Police and Armed Forces Command) 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,” Quevedo said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)