(Statement of the Zamboanga-Basilan Integrated Development Alliance, Inc. on the tragic death of over 40 members of the PNP-Special Action Force in Maguindanao Province last January 25, 2014)
As an active civil society consortium who with its partner-members have been for many years involved in the peace process and socio-economic amelioration of local communities, the Zamboanga-Basilan Integrated Development Alliance, Inc. (ZABIDA) expresses its deep concern and apprehensions over the new crisis that imperils and complicates the hard-earned establishment of a new Bangsamoro autonomy as means to an enduring peace in Mindanao. The crisis is caused by the wholesale death of more than 40 members of the Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force (SAF) in an encounter with alleged men of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, despite its current ceasefire with the government, in Maguindanao province last Sunday, January 25.
The magnitude and seeming brutality of the killings have stirred up a highly emotional response in many corners and levels of the nation calling for the suspension or outright termination of ongoing legislative and other efforts to grant the MILF a better system of political and other forms of autonomy. Fortunately, there are many more than the angry and cynical who continue to believe a peace deal with the Bangsamoro people, and therefore for Mindanao, is the only way forward, is urgent even more, is truly within our grasp now more than ever. We especially laud the steadfast commitment of President Aquino and MILF chairman Ebrahim Murad to stay the course.
We also join the nation in condemning the unwarranted massacre of the policemen. The tactical lapses they and their commanders may have incurred while in the line of duty cannot justify the enormity and depravity that characterize their bloody fate.
Every crisis presents an opportunity as well. Let not the lives of the over 40 SAF elite policemen be wasted on the altar of peace, and so too with the over 150,000 other lives sacrificed since the start of the Mindanao war. Instead, the crisis should test the commitment of all parties and constituents to the hard labors of peace-making, for this incomprehensible and ineffable tragedy to supercharge the forces of peace. To achieve this, we petition that:
For government to conduct an independent, thorough and prompt investigation of the incident so that the truth and findings about it may correctly inform the future action of people and communities in relation to their peace and security;
For the MILF to similarly conduct its own investigation to accurately determine the accountability of its men and organization and thereby facilitate the rendering of justice to all the aggrieved and offended;
For government to ensure that obligatory justice be given to the victims and their families, and for the nation as one to exert every means to bring speedy healing and closure to this painful and foul experience so that in solidarity with one another Mindanao and the nation shall carry on with the tremendous tasks and challenges of peace- and nation-building at this most critical of times.
For the past decades, Mindanao’s search for peace has seemed like Sysiphus’ stone, rolling down again and again just when it is about the reach the summit of success – and the Maguindanao massacre threatens to be such an experience anew. But like Sysiphus, every time we have to go back down to pick up the pieces, to roll up the stone again, we gained and continue to gain new strength of spirit to journey on towards our everlasting rewards. May this tragedy in our hands be such a fire in our hearts.
Rev. Fr. Angel Calvo, CMF