They were made to stand in the middle of the road under the sun by their captors, said Michelle Candido, 27. They were fleeing to the local church after the MNLF group stormed their street in Zamboanga City when they were seized on their way there and made captives. Michelle was with her husband, George, and two-year-old son, Jeomi. Each time the government troops came near, they would shout at the top of their voices, “Ceasefire! Ceasefire!”
One time, however, the soldiers did not stop but pressed on. A gunfight ensued and the hostages scattered. Michelle and George jumped into a sewer with their toddler as bullets whizzed past them, Michelle keeping Jeomi’s chin above water. Suddenly, an explosion ripped the ground near the sewer and they lost consciousness. When Michelle came to, she saw that her son’s head was bleeding. But he was breathing. Her husband was gone, having been taken by the raiders as they retreated. Michelle headed for the day care center and got first-aid treatment for Jeomi.
A day later, George was released by his captors. But a day later as well, Jeomi died.
This is by no means the grimmest thing to have happened in Zamboanga, though tell that to Michelle who has just lost the world. Tell that to any mother who has just lost someone she has cradled in her arms for two years. War has a way of diluting the grimness of things, a plethora of suffering always does. But what makes this especially grim is the gratuitousness of it. War makes things like this happen. But this war needn’t have happened. This war shouldn’t have happened. It’s senseless. It’s idiotic.
Doubtless the MNLF will blame government for failing to stop its soldiers from attacking. But the rest of the world will blame the MNLF for putting them in harm’s way, in the first place. And for what?
Because Nur Misuari thinks that any Bangsamoro polity that doesn’t have him for its top honcho does not represent the Moro people. Because Nur Misuari believes that any peace negotiation between government and the Muslim rebels that do not have him as key figure may not bring peace, only war. Because Nur Misuari feels that, like Achilles, he has been slighted and may only make his pique known in this way.
Well, he is not Achilles, even if he has an Achilles’ heel in a huge ego. Certainly he is not invincible, as government has shown over the last couple of weeks, though at great cost to the Michelles of this world.
Misuari’s argument for being at the center of things, and for which he has set up his own Bangsamoro state, separate from the one agreed to by government and the MILF, is that 1) he represents the Tausug, and 2) he is the historical and spiritual representative of the Moro struggle, a fact recognized by various Islamic organizations abroad.
Neither means anything, and just makes of him historical flotsam. His obsession with formal titles and recognition has merely caused him to lose sight of reality, or what has actually been happening to the people of whom he claims to be the living symbol. Over the last couple of decades, he has ceased to be the spiritual and political head of the Bangsamoro struggle, that honor shifting to the heads of the MILF who have sacrificed life and freedom for that cause. While he languished alternately in comfortable exile and even more comfortable repatriation.
His alienation from reality became particularly evident only a few months ago when he backed Jamalul Kiram’s equally senseless incursion into Sabah on the ground that the Sultan of Sulu owned the place by an ancient treaty and it behooved every Tausug to claim that right. He forgot the very principle that had produced him, which was that sovereignty does not reside in yellowed documents but in the red-blooded will of the people, and the Sabah people certainly did not see themselves as subjects of Kiram. Or now that true representation does not reside in forgotten agreements but in those that have earned it, and the Moro people certainly no longer see themselves as represented by him.
Arguably, Misuari continues to wield much clout with the Tausug who teem in Sulu and Basilan, and whoever heads the Bangsamoro—if and when it will be forged, the pieces of the peace process needing to be picked up all over again after this—will have his work cut out for him dealing with them. But that also says a great deal about what Misuari has become, who is someone now merely capable of scuttling and not forging, producing much mischief and not much good, sparking much trouble and not much progress. He does not represent the Bangsamoro, the MILF does. Hell, he doesn’t even represent the MNLF now, many of whom disowned his hostage-taking in Zamboanga.
That is what makes the death of two-year-old Jeomi, and the hundred or so others who fell after being turned into human shields grim. (While at this, aren’t the Tausug supposed to be fierce warriors? This isn’t brave, this is cowardly.) It is the utter senselessness of it. It is the utter needlessness of it. You have to ask: What was all that bloodletting for? What purpose did it serve? What good did it do?
Misuari is finished. After this, he may continue to hobble along on the wayside of history, if he isn’t caught or killed over the next few days or weeks, but he is finished. He will never be able to raise his voice again with anyone willing to listen to him, including those he professes to represent. After this, he may never be seen again without anyone raising his voice in anger and derision at him, including those he professes to serve. He will have suffered a defeat more crushing than being driven back by those he has challenged. He will have ceased to be tragic, he will have become laughably comic.
He will have become wretchedly pathetic.