What price peace?
Impunity must never be part of the price we pay for peace. We may have effectively compromised part of our territory in the 2012 peace agreement with Moro rebels, but we certainly did not bargain away our duty to condemn terrorism and go after terrorists. The peace agreement must not be used to allow the rebels to harbor terrorists, and immunize them from the full force of the law.
We grieve at the sight of body bags carrying the fallen troops, and, to quote Lincoln, pledge “to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.” But we must not forget how Lincoln closed that pledge: “to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
If the Bangsamoro stakes its claim for autonomy upon historical injustices committed over the centuries, today we stake our claim against impunity on the established rules of international humanitarian law, rules that punish war criminals and that prohibit the disproportionate use of force, the killing of the injured, and the mutilation of the dead.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front makes it sound like a simple case of miscommunication or lack of coordination. That doesn’t make sense. Does the MILF mean that the massacre wouldn’t have happened had the police commandos given prior notice that they were about to serve outstanding warrants of arrest upon the two terrorists? And have the arresting team telegraph its punches and allow the two targets to go into hiding?
The MILF explanation merely underscores the real problem. In the first place, why did two high-level terrorists enjoy sanctuary in the MILF lair? Was that part of the deal when the 2012 Framework Agreement and its annexes were signed? Isn’t “harboring” itself in violation of the Philippines’ own international antiterror commitments?
Worse, the MILF territory is respected by the government under the peace agreement, but the MILF apparently works hand in glove with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a supposed breakaway faction, and what President Aquino referred to the other night as a “private armed group.” It is not a signatory to the peace agreement, but can claim its benefit under the MILF umbrella while disavowing it when convenient—a classic case of “having one’s cake and eating it, too.”
Significantly, the ethnicity of the casualties affirms what we have long suspected. They include Muslims and also troops from the Cordilleras. The ethnic line is increasingly blurred between “us” and “them,” between the ethnic or religious majority and the groups allowed by the Constitution to have “regional autonomy.”
The 2012 peace agreement, by focusing on political and economic power-sharing rather than religious identities, correctly brings us back to the root of discontent. And that is why ending impunity pursues that spirit by punishing the guilty individual rather than blacklisting an entire political movement.
The first step toward peace is for the MILF to surrender the two terrorists who were the objects of the arresting team. If indeed simple coordination and prior notice would have saved the lives of 44 highly trained soldiers (and treasured sons, husbands and fathers, breadwinners and heroes all), then by all means let’s now coordinate and notify all we want, ex post facto and post mortem.
That would validate the MILF explanation, confirm the existing protocols under the peace agreement, and vindicate the mutual promise of good faith that underlies the pact.
The MILF must also surrender its troops who participated in the Jan. 25 massacre, and submit them to the prosecutorial process. This will enable them to explain their side with the full benefit of due process that was denied the fallen soldiers. Better to do this sooner rather than later, because later will mean before the International Criminal Court at The Hague, which can acquire jurisdiction over armed violence of this scale and severity, supported by a network of civil society advocates, among them an Italian group called No Peace Without Justice or Non C’è Pace Senza Giustizia.
Peace, to be lasting, must be just. There can be no peace without justice. We must not be held hostage by our desire for peace and allow the massacre to remain unpunished. It is only by keeping tabs of the price we pay for peace that we and future generations will know its real value.
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