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Editorial

What peace can achieve

/ 05:12 AM January 30, 2018

On Jan. 25, 2015, the remote village of Mamasapano in Barangay Tukanalipao, Maguindanao, with a sparse population of 2,700 mostly comprising farmers and their families tending to corn fields, was thrust into the national spotlight due to a police operation gone grievously wrong. In the botched mission to capture a Malaysian terrorist hiding in the village, 44 members of the elite Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police, 18 Moro rebels, and 7 civilians died in an hours-long firefight, with scores expiring in the corn fields and woods of the area, while the residents themselves fled for their lives.

That gruesome experience scarred not only the small village but also the national psyche. Reports of fatal battle planning and execution by the administration of then President Benigno Aquino III—along with his controversial decision to loop then PNP chief Alan Purisima into the operation despite the latter’s suspension from office by the Ombudsman—led to nationwide outrage. Another casualty of the Mamasapano debacle: the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, which at the time was on track to be discussed and voted on by Congress after exhaustive talks between the peace panels of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front achieved a series of milestone agreements leading to a substantive BBL draft.

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But Mamasapano derailed that peace process altogether, with various politicians suddenly exploiting the volatile, polarized environment by fanning fears about the MILF’s trustworthiness as a peace partner, and the supposed potential dismemberment of the republic should the BBL be passed. The legislation envisioned to finally give Muslim Mindanao breathing space for peace and progress through a cessation of hostilities and a formal grant of autonomy—after the failed and costly experiment that was the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) under Nur Misuari—was demonized as an Aquino folly in the run-up to the election of Rodrigo Duterte.

But the new President, who hails from Davao, recognized the endeavor’s importance, took up the cudgels for the BBL, and has since also pushed for its passage—a development that has curiously silenced its former naysayers. Still, three years on, the BBL remains pending in a Congress that has devoted more time to trying to impeach Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and fast-tracking moves to amend the Constitution. And restiveness simmers among the Bangsamoro people over the central government’s continuing neglect of their needs.

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Perhaps, to jog their enthusiasm for this urgent task, legislators should be required to visit Mamasapano. The tiny village that had become synonymous with the bloodbath is now a markedly different place, characterized by peace and economic progress mainly through the efforts of ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman. As detailed in a report in this paper by Inquirer Mindanao correspondent Edwin Fernandez, Mamasapano now enjoys electricity, concrete roads, new school buildings and health projects, a permanent village hall, a “Bridge of Peace” that has made it easier for farmers to transport their goods to market, and livelihood training for its residents.

The infusion of attention and resources has jump-started progress in the long-neglected village, and with it, a greater sense of civic involvement and community. Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu compared Mamasapano with Buluan, a town rehabilitated from strife: “The more the economy improved, the more the town became peaceful because residents could devote more time to livelihood than guns,” he said.

Mamasapano experienced war but has since moved forward and is awakening from the nightmare of poverty. Its transformation inspires hope over what peace and good government can achieve in other parts of Mindanao—if only national leaders would take the urgent hint.

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