Bapa Butch, justice and peace worker, passes away

PIKIT, North Cotabato (MindaNews/16 November) — They all rushed here – Muslims and non-Muslims, some traveling four hours from Davao City, others from Cotabato City and neighboring areas – to pay their last respects to the softspoken, low-key but very effective justice and peace worker, Bapa Butch Gilman.

In the tradition of the Muslims, Baps Butch, who passed away at 3:30 a.m. in his residence in poblacion Pikit, was buried on the same day, at around 1 p.m. in Barangay Lagundi.

Most of those who came from Davao City arrived a few minutes after the burial itself but stayed on at the site to offer prayers and to reminisce the life and contributions of this former member of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) who became one of the most active justice and peace workers in North Cotabato, even when he was already suffering from a stomach ailment.

Bapa Butch was a member of the OMI-IRD (Oblates of the Mary Immaculate Inter-Religious Dialogue) based in this town and was provincial coordinator of  the grassroots-based Bantay Ceasefire in North Cotabato and co-founder of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus.

In  the 2003 war, Bapa Butch was the frequent companion of Fr. Roberto Layson, OMI, then parish priest of Pikit and head of the OMI-IRD. Together they went around evacuation centers and villages where the displaced stayed, talked to officials of both the military and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. When the “bakwits” returned to their homes, they attended village meetings, dialogues and helped set up the “Spaces for Peace” in seven barangays here, getting both the government and the MILF to respect their areas.

Layson, now parish priest of Kulaman in Sultan Kudarat, could not make it to the funeral but in his book “Fields of Hope: Stories of Inter-religious Dialogue and Peace-building,” he wrote several pieces that would give readers glimpses into the life of Bapa Butch.

One piece, titled “Truth and Reconciliation,” talks about how they were trying to mediate a conflict involving Robert, a  parishioner who strafed a store owned by a Moro woman, Babu Karilya, during a drinking spree. Babu Karilya’s house was also demolished as it allegedly encroached on the farm lot of Robert. The conflict was starting to threaten the peace in the village.

During the dialogue shortly before Christmas of 2003, Robert sought forgiveness and promised he would not do it again. Babu forgave him.

But Layson said Bapa Butch, politely asked if he could speak. And when he did, Bapa Butch said, “We are all happy that the Truth has come out; that Robert has shown repentance and that Babu has extended forgiveness to Robert. But I think there is one thing lacking in the process.”

Layson recalls everyone fell silent. Bapa Butch then asked: “How about justice? How shall the damages be treated? Do we just forget them or does Babu deserve some form of reparation?”

In the end, the P1,500 worth of goods Babu Karilya lost, Robert’s elder sister promised to pay. . The community decided to help Babu rebuild her house – the village officials, the police officials contributing lumber, nails, nipa, labor.

Mary Ann Arnado, MPC Secretary-General, in a statement said, “We just lost a loyal, hardworking and veteran Bantay Ceasefire volunteer and founder of MPC. A true Muslim who has a heart for Christians and Lumads. We will never forget you.”

Arnado thanked Bapa Butch “for showing me the power of the grassroots” and “for teaching us how to serve, live simply and help people with utmost generosity and compassion” She said she is “sad that you died without seeing the fruits of our peace efforts. We will continue your work, Bapa Butch. Shukran, Bapa. Now you are finally at peace with Allah.”

Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo said Bapa Butch was “a very good man of peace. May his tribe increase. Rest in peace.:

Guiamel Alim, chair of the Kadtuntaya Foundation, Inc. and a member of the Council of Elders of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society, said, “we will continue his peace-building work.”

“Bapa Butch was a wonderful person, steadfast in his own way. Our heartfelt condolences to his family. We pray to the almighty Allah to give them courage, strength and support in their time of bereavement,” Bobby Benito, executive director  of the Bangsamoro Center for Just Peace, said.

For Col. Dickson Hermoso of the Peace Process Office of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, a a former battalion commander based in Pikit and former head of the secretariat of the government peace panel’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, Mindanao lost a “peace warrior who believed we could achieve peace and justice in our beloved Mindanao.”

“Watch us down here, Bapa Butch. God bless you,” Hermoso said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)