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Do you really believe war is the solution?

I wish to ask those of our people who call for revenge and an all-out war in the aftermath of the Mamasapano tragedy: Do you really know what you are saying?

I am originally from Manila. I moved to Mindanao more than 15 years ago, have raised a family here, and have been grateful for the friendship of Muslim and Lumad friends and colleagues I have come to know and worked with in various places on the island. I have been a witness to so much violence and so many conflict situations, starting with President Joseph Estrada’s all-out war in 2000, the Buliok war in 2003, the Al-Barka incidents in 2007 and 2011, the debacle over the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain in 2008, the Zamboanga siege in 2013, and the Mamasapano clash on Jan. 25. And I say this is too much to bear. How much more for those who were born and raised in Mindanao, those who have lived the horrors of war in their communities, or the mothers my age who grew up in an environment where their families are constantly packing and running, evacuating then returning, then evacuating again, their schooling disrupted, their properties and livelihood destroyed then rebuilt, and then destroyed again? It’s a never-ending cycle of insecurity, instability and violence!

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I joined a group of women who traveled recently to Mamasapano in Maguindanao to listen to the civilians who were caught in the crossfire. Believe it or not, they want to live in peace. They want an end to the armed conflict. They do not want to evacuate every so often, as they used to. They do not want guns to rule their lives. They want their people to unite and live in harmony. They want the peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to be implemented. They want development to come to their communities. They want their children to have education. They want their sons and daughters to experience a future different from what they had.

Hence I ask: You who are clamoring for war to finish off the rebels in Mindanao, you who have been demanding a stop to the peace process, you who believe that all Muslims or Moros are terrorists, do you really know what you are talking about?

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Do you know that in 1970-1996 the government spent a total of P73 billion in its war with the MILF? Estrada’s all-out-war policy in 2000 alone cost P1.3 billion. Did the rebellion stop after that? Was he able to exterminate the MILF? On the contrary, the MILF has thousands of followers to this day. In studies, the economic loss of war has been estimated at P20 billion per year. Some P640 billion has been lost in terms of damage to businesses and properties and potential investments in the region caused by the war in Mindanao.

Now tell me: Do you really believe that war is the solution? Have you ever experienced running for your life whenever a fire fight happens? Have you ever stayed in an evacuation center? Have you ever heard the deafening sound of gunfire? Have you ever seen what life is in situations of armed conflict?

The children of Mamasapano and in other conflict areas in Mindanao have experienced it all. Don’t tell me you want them to live the rest of their lives under such conditions? As a mother I feel for these children, and because I have children of my own, both born in Mindanao, I pray that they will never go through the same experience as the children in war areas do.

This is precisely why the government has been pursuing the peace process with the Moro rebels: that the roots of armed conflict are adequately and finally addressed so that there will be no more reason for another rebellion to take place. This is what the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which was signed last year, is all about. This peace agreement has given the people of Muslim Mindanao the hope of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel after the long years of armed conflict in their midst. This peace agreement defines the roadmap to peace for the Bangsamoro, where the forces and weapons of the MILF would be decommissioned.

Why don’t we give peace a chance? I air this appeal as I believe that deep in our hearts, we Filipinos are peace-loving people. I believe that we can rise above our anger, above our prejudices, and not allow emotion to get the better of us. I believe that given the chance to hear what the ordinary Moro people dream of, you will agree with me that there is no other way but to resolve the conflicts in Mindanao through peaceful means.

Ma. Carmen Lauzon-Gatmaytan was a human rights worker and community organizer in Manila. She has actively worked on peace and human rights issues in Mindanao and also in other Asian countries like East Timor, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Burma (Myanmar), Thailand and Indonesia. She is now a member of the steering committee of WE Act 1325 (Women Engaged in Action on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325).

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TAGS: Al-Barka incidents, all-out war, Joseph Estrada, Mamasapano, Zamboanga siege
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