Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
The Christian-Muslim conflict has wrought the Philippines for almost half a century. With the crafting of the Comprehensive Agreement of the Bangsamoro (CAB) in 2014, the government was pinning its hopes on the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in Congress and the Senate early this year as a pivotal point in finally bringing peace to our war-torn and poverty-stricken Muslim-populated provinces in Mindanao.
The BBL has spawned debate on its constitutionality and has triggered protests among some Indigenous Peoples, Catholic groups, and other factions of the Bangsamoro on the lack of inclusiveness of the law to serve the interests of all. The BBL seemed to stand on a bog, ready to be swallowed up with any provocative move from the government or the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) that would spark sentiments of antagonism. And then it happened. On the 25th of January, amidst the ceasefire agreement between the government and MILF, the Special Armed Forces (SAF) of the Philippine National Police attacked the armed camps of Muslim rebel groups in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. The SAF soldiers were in search of two “terrorists”, “Marwan” and “Usman”, who had a price of $6M and $1M on their heads from the US government. Usman escaped but “Marwan”, a Malaysian national tagged as the Osama bin Laden of Southeast Asia, was killed in that battle as the DNA reports of his cut finger revealed. But what was the price of killing “Marwan”? Forty-four SAF elite commandos and 18 MILF combatants were killed and several others were wounded in the crossfire.
Due to this ill-fated bloodbath, the Senate withdrew its scheduled hearings on the Bangsamoro Basic Law. Fingers wagged, pinpointing the culprit. Both camps from the government and MILF expressed feelings of frustration, disgust, and mistrust. The SAF accused the MILF of hosting the terrorists secretly in their camps. The MILF denied this and blamed the SAF for not honoring the ceasefire agreement. Skepticism loomed in the Senate as to whether the BBL could ever be passed with the sentiments of betrayal that has warped the relationship between the government and the MILF.
At this juncture of the on-going peace negotiation, could anyone declare it as a success or failure? Good fate or bad fate? Who knows? It is too early to say. As what I have learned and understood from Professor Chaiwat Satha-Anand of Thammasat University in our class yesterday on “Teaching Non-Violence Secrets”, it is the intensification of conflict, but not its escalation, that serves as a fertile ground for non-violent actions to breed. I asked myself, “What is the difference between intensification and escalation of conflict?” An answer came to my mind by way of an image. If conflict were like water, intensification is the increase of heat under which water is exposed which eventually lets it boil until it lets off steam. Water evaporates as heat is intensified. In the same way, conflict dissipates when the heat of its complexities intensifies. Opportunities for non-violence are released as the worthless costs of conflicts are realized. Escalation of conflict, on the other hand, is like the sudden rise and overflow of water from the Pak Moon River Dam that can flood nearby communities and wreak havoc in the lives and property of the people.
Success and failure are understood by how an individual wishes to perceive it. I agree that belief lies not in practical evidence but in perception. No matter how sincere I may be, for example, if someone does not like me for some “bad chemistry” of our personalities or unpleasant imprint from the past, it won’t really matter what I do.
Right now, what is it that matters in Mindanao? If either camp, whether it is the government or the MILF, washes their hands of that fateful Mamasapano massacre, such a self-righteous stance can only further divide and harm. In reality, both camps carry bloodstains in their hands. To do no greater harm when harm has already been done is to explore endless non-violent possibilities of human interaction, beyond finger-wagging, blaming, and betrayal that breeds only justifications of killing and more killing and increases death statistics. For the SAF chief commander to take pride in declaring that contrary to the media news, they killed not only 18 Muslim rebels but a total of around 250, is even more appalling. Why must we pay this price of sacrificing precious human lives? DO NO FURTHER HARM.
Maria Lourdes Aseneta, Philippines
Rotary Peace Fellow
January 2015 Session