A surprise and clandestine mission for 392 police commandos to raid a Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) encampment in the town of Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, to serve warrants of arrest and capture a pair of high-value terrorist fugitives ended instead in a bloody clash of arms. On that Sunday, January 25, 44 members of the Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force (PNP SAF) were slaughtered. The MILF claimed self-defense and declared their casualties as 18 killed and 14 wounded.
Beyond doubt, the firefight is painfully tragic. But without the finality of unimpeachably definitive information, the nation is mostly driven to fever pitch anger, some threatening vengeance, calling for retribution and “all out war” against brother Filipinos who happen to profess a different religion and culture for which they have been rebelling for redress of decades-long inequality, injustice and ill-treatment.
In the midst of public anger, let me posit: What if an essential component of this tragedy is incompetence? Without equivocation, on the part of government authorities!
To be sure about it, fatal errors were committed from both sides for a long, long time now. But until the facts are all in concerning the present bloody mess, it certainly will not detract from the sincerity of the nation’s commiseration and sympathy for the painful loss and grief of the bereaved if patience, prudence, sobriety and circumspection were to reign over anger and outrage, effectively tempering the ugly consequences of runaway emotions. Engaging in political hysterics as is now rife simply intensifies and muddles further the search for unbiased and pertinent information. “Hinay hinay,” (slowly) as we Waray-warays would caution, is the appropriate posture when confronted with uncertainty.
The arduously designed plan for amelioration, peace, prosperity and progress in Muslim Mindanao (the very objectives of Bangsamoro Basic Law or BBL), after many other attempts have failed, must not be sacrificed as a collateral victim of latent bigotry coming mostly from Christian Luzon. Some prominent quarters have espoused scuttling the proposed legislation. Scuttling the BBL is giving up on peace. That would even be the more tragic for there is no substitute for peace.
Therefore, it was careless and precipitate of Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and J.V. Ejercito, and others of the ilk, to have publicly announced the withdrawal of their support and co-authorship of the BBL, while other Senators and Representatives are still calling for a Truth Commission to bring forth the facts. Every effort to unearth the truth and to engender trust among the parties must be undertaken to prevent their consignment as unredeemed casualties of war.
If simple body count of the dead make up for the single determinant of abandoning the process for the long sought peace, then sober minds, through all forms of media, must elevate to national consciousness and understanding the fact that from the beginning of the 20th century to the present, the number of Christians felled by Muslims in defense of their faith and patrimony pales in comparison to the totality of the equally bloody demise of Filipino Moros, women and children prominently included, slain due to Christian conquest, encroachment and resettlement in Southern Philippines.
Sobriety supported by empathy. The capacity to put oneself in somebody else’s shoes. How would Christians feel and behave if they were in the minority and treated as we have our brother Muslim Filipinos? Considering the side of the other side is not quite difficult to do!
It is a matter of historical record, long before the universality of self-determination as a concept of nation building, when the foremost political cry of Filipinos was for “absolute and immediate independence,” our Muslim brothers begged the American colonial administrators not to abandon them. Because of accumulated experiences, they loathed the idea of being under the government, “care,” and domination of Christian Filipinos. To this day, there is a continuing distrust, and evident parsimony of love and brotherhood, and in fact there is condescension, for our Muslim-Filipino brothers among many Christians in the Philippines. Such absence of generosity easily becomes the seedbed of bigotry. Only peace and shared prosperity can end the serial mishandling of a very delicate and sensitive relationship.
ANATOMY OF MUSLIM AFFAIRS
I recall that in 1970-71, a responsive Filipinas Foundation, Inc. (now known as Ayala Foundation) undertook an in-depth survey and interdisciplinary study of our Moro problem. It was called “An Anatomy of Philippine Muslim Affairs.” Its panel of consultants included high ranking academics from UP, UE and MSU, luminaries and professionals of Filipino Muslim society from the South, all representing the disciplines of economics, sociology, anthropology, psychology, statistics, political science and of daily life. The project arose from the acceptance of the reality that government has indeed neglected the largest of the Philippines’ cultural groups. It was an attempt to begin to overcome “nearly 400 years of human failure in tolerance, acceptance, understanding and communication.” (Dr. Peter G. Gowing/United Church missionary--Siliman U and Marawi City--in ‘Mosque and Moro’)
The currency of events make it opportune for the Filipinas Heritage Library, a division of the Ayala Foundation, which has custody of this study to digitize it, making it available online to all who ought to have an interest in the matter. In this regard, I will attempt to make the proper representations to make it happen.
[I must disclose that I had the good fortune of overseeing this study, its concept having been my recommendation, duly approved by the Board of Trustees. I was then the Foundation’s operating head as Program Director, among other corporate assignments in Ayala.]
What ensued soon after the release of the study was a great loss of momentum and opportunity. The findings and recommendations of the “Anatomy” were waylaid by the declaration of Martial Law which as we all know paved the way for President Marcos’ “reckless adventurism.” Evidently, Marcos had his own nefarious schemes and these formed the very roots of what today remains a festering malaise. And the study was soon forgotten. I know that President Marcos was the recipient of the study’s first copy. It was personally presented to him in Malacanang and discussed by then Foundation President Enrique Zobel. We must remember that it was during Martial Law when, as a reaction to it, the problems of Muslim Philippines took a severe downturn towards unstoppable deterioration. Perhaps, those findings and recommendations ought to be revisited and with minor tweaks and updates, made more relevant and become of utmost usefulness today.
ROLE OF RELIGION
Prominently and early on, that study identified “Religion as the sole culprit of strained Muslim-Christian relations.” The role of religion cannot be absent in the deliberations, mainly the freedom to practice whatever faith suits one and the respect that must accompany such choice.
Of course, a healthy debate always brings about sober considerations and is therefore welcome. Unfortunately, I am unable to convince myself that many of the objections centering on the interpretative unconstitutionality of some provisions of the BBL are not merely concocted ”nuances of legalism” and are not a selfish parade of ego and erudition on the part of the objectors over a sincere desire to solve a grim problem.
Peace and prosperity in Muslim Mindanao must be accepted as likewise progress for and beneficial to the entire country. There is absolutely nothing undesirable about its objectives. Its existential necessity to the future of this country is a challenge to the legalistic limitations of the constitution as presently written. This, we must overcome. Therefore, Congress must pass upon and install the principles of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and the Bangsamoro Basic Law as a constitutional amendment requiring a nationwide plebiscite.
A hopefully forthcoming favorable outcome of such an event will be a godsend opportunity for the majority of Filipinos to express genuine altruism, self-confidence, a trusting maturity. I am unable to imagine a national event with greater impact than the expression of solidarity and integration embodied in a constitutional amendment that recognizes past prejudices, ameliorating these and inculcating the blessings of oneness and shared prosperity as a nation. All available forces must be recruited to see that amendment into fruition. The most poignant and strongest of such forces can come only from the Catholic Church.
For the sake of peace, Christian evangelization can take a well earned rest. Pope Francis will most probably not only understand but will render encouragement for this epic gesture. It is not at all naïvete but the irresistible call for human pragmatism that prompts me to dream. The dream of unsurpassed magnanimity on the part of the great and unshakeable religious majority of the Philippine Catholic Church through the leadership of its Bishops and the Archbishop of Manila Cardinal Tagle, aided no doubt by the non-Catholic Christian clergy. All of them campaigning and marshalling the national plebiscite towards a resounding YES to a constitutional embrace of Bangsamoro. It will be an extraordinary display of magnanimous selfless brotherhood unheard of in human history. Am I calling for a miracle? Yes. Could any other gesture be more pro patria? More Christian?
The search for the path to peace and prosperity must not be allowed to end at the graves of all the fallen.
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