Decommissioning’s significance: “ a promise of peace after Mamasapano”

SIMUAY, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 17 June 2015) – Mindanao’s lone Cardinal, Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI, attended the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in the well-manicured gardens of Malacanang on March 27, 2014 but finds Tuesday’s decommissioning of 75 high-powered and crew-served weapons and 145 combatants of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) held in a dilapidated gymnasium in the old provincial capitol as “much more significant” event, especially after Mamasapano.

Quevedo, the Archbishop of Cotabato and lead convenor of Friends of Peace, told reporters in his residence Tuesday afternoon that the CAB signing “was a signing of great, great promise, akala mo wala nang mangyayari (you’d think there’d be no more problem) then Mamasapano took place and the whole optimism collapsed.”

Orlando B. Cardinal Quevedo is hoping that the congress will pass a Bangsamoro Basic Law that would not be "less than ARMM" during an interview at his residence in Cotabato City on June 16, 2015. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano
Cardinal Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI, talks to reporters about the peace process in his residence in Cotabato City on Tuesday afternoon, June 16, 2016, after the ceremonial decommissioning in the morning. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano

The tragedy in Mamasapano, Maguindanao happened on January 25 when an elite team of police deployed to arrest a Malaysian national wanted for terrorism as well as Filipino Abdulbasit Usman, clashed with MILF combatants and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and other private armed groups, resulting to 66 persons dead: 44 from the Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force (SAF), 17 from the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) and five civilians.

The biggest casualty in the Mamasapano tragedy, Quevedo said in an interview early February, is not only the lives lost 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.

A fisherman casts his nets near a bridge in Sitio Aliling, Barangay Tukanalipao in Mamasapano on February 24, 2015.A site of a deadly encounter between members of the PNP-SAF and MILF. MindaNews file photo by Toto Lozano
A fisherman casts his nets under the bridge in Sitio Aliling, Barangay Tukanalipao in Mamasapano on February 24, 2015,  site of a deadly encounter between members of the PNP-SAF and MILF on January 25. MindaNews file photo by Toto Lozano

On Tuesday, he told reporters that after Mamasapano “came another time of distrust and so parang CAB fails in significance with regard to the present, because the present event, ceremonial and simple … is a promise after Mamasapano, a promise of peace, that trust is being restored.”

On the part of the MILF, Quevedo, Mindanao’s lone Cardinal, said they are tying to show the people that even if Mamasapano happened and even as there are people who say ‘reject the BBL,’ they will “continue to pursue peace” and to show that they can be trusted, lay down some of their arms and continue the peace process.

“Much more significant”

“It is the building of trust, the restoration of trust, the building of confidence after everything seems to have collapsed” that makes Tuesday’s event “much more significant even though it was very simple,” Quevedo said.

The Grand Mufti opened the prayers at the Ceremonial Turnover held at the gymnasium of the old Maguindanao Capitol, while Quevedo delivered his on behalf of Christians.

In his “Prayer for Peace,” Quevedo said Tuesday’s event was “one big step in the gradual process of decommissioning that is so essential to the peace process.”

He said it was God’s will “to make this simple handing over of weapons of war as a sign of trust in the peace process, a symbol of resolve to pursue peace, no matter the odds or obstacles placed by biases and prejudice,” to make the event a significant step towards rebuilding of trust and confidence “so badly broken.”

“Our Moro brothers and sisters made a commitment, and before us is the concrete proof of their sincerity,” President Aquino said during the ceremonial turnover.

New journey

Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed, the Malaysian facilitator in the GPH-MILF peace process, was among those who attended the ceremonial decommissioning. He described to MindaNews Tuesday’s event as “the beginning of a new journey.”

“We have to do a lot more things,” he said.

Members of the International Contact Group (ICG) in the GPH-MILF Peace Process, were also present.

Emma Leslie, Executive Director of the Centre fore Peace and Conflict Studies in Siem Reap, wrote a short prayer as she was thinking of the 145 men “whose lives will change today forever through decommissioning.”

“Let us all put political wrangling aside for one day and focus on them. Not on counting the guns of war they bring with them, but on the very human stories they represent – the horror they have seen, the injustices they have known, the future they still hope for. Today is about them, no matter how symbolic, and nothing else. Full of respect for their lives they have lived and the choices they have made. Hope we can do right by them,” Leslie wrote.

In a statement, Governor Mujv Hataman said the MILF’s symbolically laying down their arms to show their commitment to establishing a lasting peace in Mindanao “is the act of peace, the show of sincerity in the peace process, that we have all been waiting for from the MILF and the government.”

“Beginning today,” Hataman said, the MILF will “beat swords to plough shares as soldiers will begin to bring life to the land instead of taking from it. Today, mothers will begin to send their children to school again without fear, and welcome them home happily. Today, children will start learning to be children, and hope never to learn about war again.”

Hataman is resigning from his post as governor when the BBL is ratified and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) appointed by the President to prepare the groundwork for the setting up of the Bangsamoro government, takes over.(Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)