Decades of Peacebuilding Must Not Be Undone By One “Misencounter”

Decades of peacebuilding must not be undone by one “misencounter”

It is difficult to think rationally when you are experiencing great emotional distress upon seeing many dead bodies of young men killed in what DILG Secretary Mar Roxas first described as a “misencounter” between members of the police Special Action Force (SAF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), later joined by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last Sunday.

And then mainstream media are spinning the grievous incident in a way that promotes demonizing propaganda, framing the narrative as an “Us versus Them.” Reinforcing the mistrust between the predominantly Christian Filipino population and the Bangsamoro people and sowing doubts on the wisdom of pushing through with the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal’s first reaction was: “It was self-defense.” I could understand why he would say that from the point of view of the MILF in the area seeing armed troops in camouflage entering their territory without warning in the middle of the night (or at three in the morning). If I were a warrior who have experienced several betrayals from the government (the point why I joined the liberation movement in the first place), my first thought would be “we’re under attack.” And although we are a little high-tech now, I don’t think armed rebels would reach for their cellphones first to text or call whoever to verify what this unidentified group of armed men are doing in their territory disrupting their sleep and making them nervous. Of course, they would reach for their guns and be in full battle mode. That’s the knee-jerk reaction of an armed combatant. It’s the warrior instinct that will kick in. I am not making excuses for the violence, I am just trying to understand where they could be coming from.

But what is the excuse of some of our government leaders? How do they explain their knee-jerk reaction of withdrawing their support from the BBL because of this “misencounter”? Why are they participating in demonizing propaganda and creating more divisions among already divided people? What happened to the rhetoric of giving peace a chance?

As 1-BAP Party List Representative Silvestre “Bebot” Bello III, a member of the Ad-Hoc Committee on the BBL, told his colleagues in the House: “Now is not the time to suspend the hearings on the BBL or to withdraw support. In fact, what happened in Mamasapano underscores the importance of the BBL and the peace process to make sure incidents like that will not happen again.”

The tragedy happened last Sunday and we have yet to hear from the leader of our nation, the one who wants the BBL passed before his term as president ends (it is Wednesday afternoon and PNoy is expected to give his public statement later this evening). Three full days of silence. Not even a message of sympathy to the families of his elite police force who were killed. No assurances of this government’s commitment to peace. No firm resolve to get to the bottom of this. Three days is too long. It makes one think of many scenarios.

Either PNoy knows more than what they want us to know and he is still looking for the most convincing way to spin the story to save himself from culpability or his administration is not behind him all the way in supporting his peace agenda. It’s not looking good either way.

The MILF, on the other hand, already came out with their official statement reiterating their “full commitment to the peace process with the Philippine government.” In a statement signed by MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, they clearly declared: “An enduring peace and justice remain to be our primary objective. In this regard, all actions and pronouncements of our political and military units of the MILF should advance and adhere to this primary objective as much as possible and with due regard to the safety and security of our people and communities.”

Sadly, the PNoy administration cannot say the same of the actions and pronouncements of its political and military units. With the demonizing propaganda directed against the Moro rebels, most people already expect them “to do the worst” (“We are better than them.”).  But, as for the Philippine government, still supposedly inspired by the recent visit of Pope Francis, we expect more mercy and compassion and better appreciation of the bigger picture. Decades of peacebuilding must not be undone by one “misencounter.”

First appeared on Mindanao Times, January 29, 2015