Take strategic pause
The call for the creation of an independent truth commission that would look into the botched police operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, is snowballing. It’s a call Malacañang needs to heed, if only because there is much more at stake here than clearing the miasma of conjecture, speculation and rumor-mongering that has been simmering in the face of scant information about what the government has disingenuously called a “misencounter.” The best remedy against the risk of false narratives becoming dominant and entrenched is the plain truth. But more than that, the truth in this case is also critical for something else: It may be the one thing that will save the peace process that the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have painstakingly cobbled together, achieving milestones as yet unprecedented in any previous attempts at forging a peace agreement for Mindanao, but which is now in danger of falling apart.
Days after the firefight in Mamasapano, while there was not only grieving over the deaths of the 44 Special Action Force commandos (the MILF lost 18 men of its own) but also rage at President Aquino (on two points: his seeming inability to own up to the command responsibility required to approve an operation of this scale and import, and his appalling, inexplicable absence at the arrival honors for the Fallen 44 at Villamor Air Base, choosing to attend the opening of a car-manufacturing plant instead), the government and MILF panels signed protocols for the decommissioning of the rebels’ weapons. On the face of it, that development would be a welcome one, confirming that the peace process was progressing apace, especially in the delicate area of the rebels laying down their arms as a good-faith measure that they are sincere in the quest for ending violence in Mindanao, in exchange for the government institutionalizing their stake in rebuilding and developing their land.
That is, by any measure, a development worth applauding. Unfortunately, in the immediate and volatile context of what had just happened in Mamasapano, the signing of the latest protocols, no matter that it might in fact have been on schedule, took on the appearance of a rushed response by unnerved peace negotiators bent on saving the peace agreement from the tide of public opinion that had swamped the MILF and its perceived less-than-honest participation in the peace process. President Aquino and his chief negotiators, Teresita Quintos Deles and Miriam Coronel Ferrer, echoed by their MILF counterpart Mohagher Iqbal, have all insisted, rightly, on not abandoning the peace process, and on seeing in the tragic deaths of 44 SAF troopers the opportunity to work, more than ever, on a just and lasting framework that would prevent more lives from being wasted on an endless, and endlessly brutalizing, war.
Who would argue with that? And yet, might it not have been prudent at this point to step back a bit, take a deep breath, and allow that strategic pause for the nation to dispel its doubts and anxiety? The negotiating panels are, after all, not talking to each other in a vacuum; they must know, above all, that the result of their extraordinary labors at attempting peace for Mindanao would have to pass the ultimate test—the support of the Filipino people. But the public is decidedly in no mood right now to proceed with hammering out niceties with the MILF in a business-as-usual fashion—not because it has become a convert to the idea of a tit-for-tat response against the rebel group (in social media, for instance, many more voices remain committed to peace than to waging all-out war) but simply because it is still grieving. Not all of the fallen have been buried, the tears haven’t dried up, and emotions remain high.
So many questions continue to swirl about the Mamapasano firefight. Aside from the board of inquiry that Malacañang has formed, the House and the Senate are set to launch their own investigations. The truth remains out there, and perhaps the government and MILF panels can use this period to take stock of how easy it took, despite the meticulous confidence-building measures forged in the peace agreement, to bypass its mechanisms and bring it to this dangerous pass. What happened in Mamasapano may have revealed a glaring blind spot worth studying—before it’s too late.
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