Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 31 January 2014


The statement of the Community Engagement and Advocacy Council and Ateneo de Davao University officials, members and friends published in the Inquirer (page B10, 1/30/2015) regarding the “misencounter” in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, is the most sober and objective analysis I have read so far. The questions it raises deserve to be answered by the authorities, and the conclusion it arrives at—a call on all to stand for peace and for Congress to stay the course—deserves to be heeded. God bless the Jesuits for their clear thinking. Also, they are the only ones who point out that everyone who died in that unnecessary violence (with the possible exception of the Malaysian Marwan, if he is dead) was a Filipino.

The word “misencounter” to describe what happened in Maguindanao (again!) was coined by government officials led by Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Defense Secretary Volts Gazmin and Philippine National Police Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina. I say “coined” because this is the first time I heard the term, but it is a brilliant description. “Mis,” I read, is a prefix that means “bad,” or “wrong,” or “erroneous” (as in misunderstanding, misleading, mistreat), and one of the meanings of “encounter” is “a hostile and/or adversarial confrontation.” Thus, the government, knowingly or not, has admitted that what happened in Mamasapano was wrong. It would help very much if the Moro Islamic Liberation Front admitted its mistakes, too. That’s the way trust is built.

Thus, the investigation—let us hope that it is done by an independent group—should use the Ateneo de Davao questions as a starting point: “Why did we again take the path of guns and violence and covert secret action to solve any problem, when we had already chosen, we had already agreed, that we would take the path of negotiation, consultation and trust to solve the problems?”

Ateneo de Davao quoted Article II of the Operational Guidelines of the 1997 agreement between the government and the MILF on the General Cessation of Hostilities: “Police and military actions and administrative logistic activities shall continue to be undertaken by the [government] throughout Mindanao and the entire country. In the pursuit thereof, confrontational situations between the [government] and the MILF forces shall be avoided by prior coordination with the latter.”

Ah, you say, but if there was prior coordination with the MILF, it is highly possible that it would deny the presence of Marwan and Filipino Abdul Basit Usman, and the two would conveniently (for them) disappear. But that’s what the peace process is all about, isn’t it?

Realizing the hope that “dialogue, negotiations, trust and kept agreements could replace guns and violence”?

I have questions of my own: If the Special Action Force commander could not trust the MILF, surely the PNP could trust the military, so it could provide backup if necessary. Why was the military not informed? Does the PNP have trust issues with the Armed Forces of the Philippines? After all, it is not as if the SAF mission was a spur-of-the moment action—my understanding was that SAF units all over the country were mobilized. And Marwan has been the object of monitoring since 2011, and even of past attempts at “extraction.”

But that is a digression. Let us go back to the questions raised by Ateneo de Davao: “How then could a police action for any motivation have violated this agreement? Does the suspected presence of a terrorist wanted by the United States warrant that we break our agreements with the MILF?”

Which leads to another digression and another question: What role did the United States play in this “misencounter”? Was it (God forbid) the initiator?

Then comes the strongest assertion of the Ateneo de Davao statement: “Whoever bears responsibility for the mission order to our men in uniform recklessly violated the agreement we had with the MILF. That person bears responsibility for the carnage in Mindanao. That person derails us from the path of peace the merciful and compassionate God leads us to. In God’s name, bring that person to justice.”

The investigation should provide us with the name of that person or persons. The operation was so big (350 SAF commandos, almost as large as a battalion) and so fraught with risk that, according to Rep. (former senator and AFP chief of staff) Rodolfo Biazon, it needed approval at a very high level. The Executive Secretary, who is in charge of counterterrorism? The President? I know that the SAF head accepted all responsibility, but that has no credibility. He is too low in the chain of command to have that discretion.

So far, we have concentrated on the government’s mistakes, some of which it has owned up to. But the MILF also has to be brought to account. Why did not the MILF authorities stop the carnage? Surely, they must have surmised that it wasn’t an attack on them, but rather an extraction operation (if it were an attack, many more of them would have been killed and more government forces involved). The SAF commander is quoted as saying that in the early morning of the fighting, the joint monitoring team of the government and the MILF called for a ceasefire but that the MILF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters continued firing. This needs to be verified.

And more to the point, if the MILF and the BIFF were like family, why did the MILF even condone the BIFF’s protection of the terrorist Marwan, who apparently was married to the widow of the Abu Sayyaf founder? Was that not bad faith on its part? And if it is true that some bodies were mutilated, why was that allowed? If the MILF leadership is weak, we should know now. Answers, please. Trust is a two-way street.