Tougher | Inquirer Opinion
There’s The Rub


/ 12:53 AM October 31, 2011

Those were some awesome things 2nd Lt. Erren Khe had to say last week in “Strictly Politics.” Erren is the brother of Lt. Jose Delfin Khe, one of the officers killed in Al-Barka, Basilan.

First off, he cried to the heavens, why did his enemies have to mutilate the body of his brother and those of the other dead? He understood of course that being soldiers he and his brothers had one foot in the grave. It was the nature of their profession. He could accept that his brother died in the line of fire, but he could not accept that his brother was savaged beyond belief.

“I personally witnessed what they did to the bodies. One of the victims, well, let’s just say his body was defiled. Another had his organ lopped off. Isn’t a bullet enough to kill an enemy, a soldier? Isn’t an M16, an M14, enough? Do you have to hack off the dead again and again?” (Roughly translated from the Tagalog.)


Second off, he spoke to the earth, while he and his brother’s family wanted justice, they did not want revenge. He said that was what the families of the other slain soldiers wanted too. They wanted justice—through legal means and not through more bloodshed in Mindanao.


“Ayaw po nilang dumanak ang dugo sa Mindanao. Ayaw na ayaw na po nila sapagkat sobra sobra na raw po ang mga naibuwis na buhay sa Mindanao. Subalit gusto po nila ng hustisya sa pamamagitan ng tamang proseso, ’yung ligal na proseso. (They do not want more blood spilled in Mindanao. They say too many lives have already been lost in Mindanao. They want justice, but through the right process, the legal process.) We want transparency and accountability (in the investigation of the Al-Barka incident).”

There’s nothing like a voice in pain speaking in a tone of reason and not of fury to slap you into sudden sobriety. Erren’s anguish you can empathize with and sympathize with, although it’s always presumptuous to say that you can understand where someone who has just lost a loved one, and in this gory way, is coming from. You can only stand in stunned silence before that sorrow and commiserate.

But you can also raise your voice in anger to say that it’s time these displays of barbarity, which have come plentifully of late from that part of the world, stopped. Neither religion nor culture justifies it. And in any case the Muslim faith itself expressly forbids mutilation of this sort. And in any case Muslim culture itself testifies to the loftiness of the human spirit, whether that is couched in human rights or not. Islam itself condemns barbarity as an affront to God and man.

Beheadings, hackings and mutilation have no place in a civilized society, or in those proclaiming themselves to be guided by Christ or Mohammad. It’s horrible tactics at that. They do not put fear in the hearts of one’s enemies, they put rage in the hearts of one’s enemies. The people who wreaked this monstrosity should be thankful their enemies count people like the Khes who have refused to pour fuel into the fire or fan the flames of public outrage that led to calls for all-out war.

It’s time the MILF was made accountable for the un-Muslim, quite apart from un-Christian, savagery of its men, whether they are regulars or rogues, whether they are MILF or Abu Sayyaf. The premise for a ceasefire, the premise for talks, the premise for negotiations may not just be the cessation of hostilities, it should also be the cessation of atrocities. There is no sense talking to people who cannot control their men, who cannot discipline their men. You cannot hold them to their word.

But the other side of Khe’s grief, which is his refusal to be blinded by it, to be stoked to mindless fury by it, is the more awe-inspiring. It should put to shame all those who reflexively launched into war mode, calling noisily for God and government to smite their enemies, oblivious to the effects such a call will have upon the innocent, oblivious of the consequences such a call will have upon the nation. Khe might as well have said, as the Americans did when their voices were being conscripted to a war of their leaders’ making: “Not in our name.”


Not in the name of the victims, however their mutilated bodies shout out to the heavens and beg them weep. Or their kin, however deep their wounds, however unfathomable their grief. They want justice, the kind that puts closure to a tragedy and not brings it to befall others. Not in the name of the soldiers, however their lamentation for their fallen comrades makes them seethe with rage. In the end, it is not their generals who will take on the dying, or worse carry out the killing, it is they, the foot soldiers and their counterparts in the MILF. They too want justice, of the kind that makes the stingiest bargains with the Grim Reaper and makes deaths mean something when they happen.

And not in the name of the nation, however stunned it is by the unspeakable acts, however roused it is to an unbearable need to lash out, to strike back. It needs justice, but not the kind that comes from a lynch mob that leads to wanton bloodletting, that lays low the innocent far more than the guilty.

Truly, courage is not external, it is internal. It is not feral, it is moral. It is not loud, it is quiet. No one proves this more luminously than 2nd Lt. Erren Khe. He is the ideal soldier, he is the true soldier. The one who doesn’t swagger and posture but walks quietly and carries a big stick. The one who doesn’t bring the world to share his fate but does everything in his power to spare the world his grief. The one who does not unravel at the first sign of adversity but has the discipline and fortitude to withstand the severest blow of it. What P-Noy has done, which is to refuse to dance to the beat of the war drums, is tough.

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This one is tougher.

TAGS: Abu Sayyaf, Al-Barka, all-out justice, Basilan

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