Justice, forgiveness required for peace
The death of 44 Special Action Force commandos while on a mission in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, to arrest two terrorists has elicited much grief and outrage and left their loved ones pained and a nation aggrieved. How can such a thing happen in this postmodern world that professes to embrace plurality, peaceful coexistence and mutual trust?
That is a question, I believe, that has troubled thoughtful people since news of the firefight broke. Why in these times? Why now when a peace agreement has been forged and an end to decades of conflict in Mindanao has become a distinct possibility?
The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, now under deliberation in Congress, is said to be the way to peace, the way to compromise, the way to respect, and the way to affirmation that beyond all the differences lies the commonality at the heart of varying cultures and peoples—Christian, Moro, or lumad. All of us are Filipinos, all of us are human beings.
When images of and narratives about the “carnage” came out, the more it became clear that the way to peace is compromise. Some of my Facebook friends started posting questions about the sense of making peace with people who are capable of such “brutal” acts. In one post, a friend asks: “What’s the point of making peace with people who are capable of killing a fellow human being in such a manner that they kill them like animals, tearing off their clothes, disfiguring their faces?” Another post went to the extreme, saying: “An all-out war is the best way to get lasting peace in Mindanao!”
I’m not sure if these sentiments represent the general mood of the public, but I seem to sense that they do. I completely understand where these are coming from. Viewing the photos and TV footage of the caskets of the young heroes, the grief of the loved ones left behind, and the uniformed men shedding tears at the sight of their fallen brothers in arms is a moving experience. One would be numb not to be moved.
I would have easily felt the same—that an all-out war is the solution, that these “criminals” should be wiped out—had I not been immersed in Mindanao.
I have been living in Mindanao for four years now. I was born in Luzon, was educated there, and for the most part (like most people there), I thought that the entire island was a war zone and a place of poverty, conflict, tribulation and strife. When I came here, my presuppositions were proven wrong. More than the “war,” Mindanao is a rich place, a place where nature provides so much bounty, a place where different cultures thrive, interact and continuously develop, a place where people make sense of their lives in spite of its seeming fickleness.
I’ve seen how Mindanaons get on with their lives. Military trucks and uniformed men are a common sight, bomb squad trucks continuously roam, checkpoints are not unusual, especially when one is traveling. Yet in spite of all these, people here flourish. Everyone works hard to reap the riches of the land, everyone takes part in lauding the riches of the sea. People here have integrated with nature. They have come to accept the reality of living with varying cultures, ethnicities and religions. They celebrate festivals affirming harmony, camaraderie, cooperation and respect between and among the Christians, Muslims and lumad of Mindanao.
That’s why despite Mamasapano, I still believe in and support the peace process. I know Mindanao can become even greater. I know it can soar even higher if long-term peace is achieved. The effects of war are debilitating to the lives of the common folk, who deserve something better than perpetual conflict and strife. An all-out war will affect not only the combatants but also entire communities. It will destroy people’s livelihoods. It will put innocent civilians in the crossfire.
I understand the heartbreak and anger that people are feeling now, I can feel the heartbreak and anger, too. I join the nation in calling for justice for the Fallen 44. But let us be reminded that there is a thin line separating justice and vengeance. Let us not waste the sacrifice of these 44 heroes by shedding more blood, be it from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the military, or the police. All of us are Filipinos, all of us want to live with dignity and leave a beautiful future for our children. The fuel of war is heartbreak. If we continue killing one another by seeking vengeance that is cloaked in justice, we will continue the cycle of heartbreak. And enmity and hatred will go on.
The political theorist Hannah Arendt explains that one of the necessary ingredients for the fruition of democracy is forgiveness. For her, democracy can never work if those who engage in the political process are unwilling to let go and move forward. Despite Mamasapano, we need to return to the table and talk about long-term peace for our children. This can only happen if we are willing to forgive.
But forgiveness does not mean that we will let the death of our 44 heroes go unpunished. Forgiveness can only happen if there is a solid resolve among those engaged in the peace process to let those responsible for Mamasapano be brought to justice—be they from the ranks of the government or the MILF-BIFF. While we want peace, we also want justice. Together with our nation, I call for justice. Let those responsible be punished. Let them face the anger of a public that longs for peace.
I grieve with our nation, I grieve with the families of the SAF 44, I grieve with the many families and friends of those who fell in the decades of war in Mindanao. The conflict has caused so much heartbreak, and destroyed so many lives. I believe it’s time we put an end to it. Let there be forgiveness. Let there be justice. Let there be peace!
Jesse Angelo L. Altez, 26, teaches philosophy at Mindanao State University in General Santos City and is studying for his master’s degree in philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University.
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