In the wake of the recent Mamasapano tragedy, social and print media have been a-swirl with calls for justice, often interspersed with cries for vengeance and “all-out war.” Some of our more august legislators have even called for the suspension of hearings on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), without much reflection on the long-term consequences of such actions. I wanted to get some clarity on these issues, and find someone who could help shed some light, in view of all the heat that’s recently been generated. This week, I turned to Secretary Teresita “Ging” Quintos-Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, to ask her questions on the Mamasapano incident and the Mindanao peace
“There are mechanisms in place [for coordinating military and police action] that, in fact, have been working so well that I have not had to be consulted in the past three years.” Still, she adds, “People more competent in this knew the situation on the ground, knew the level of coordination that happened or did not happen. There are many narratives coming out about recent events. Categorically, I will say that CCCH was never informed. I myself am asking the hard questions. I think it’s clear that something went very wrong to have ended up with 44 killed. So I am waiting for the results of the investigations.”
I had to ask about Jemaah Islamiyah and why Marwan and Usman, the terrorists targeted by the SAF operation, were in the middle of an MILF camp.
The combination of a long history of oppression and displacement and a complex, layered landscape makes it easy for clan-based societies to organize resistance and elude attempts at capture. Such conditions dim any prospect of a military solution. This makes the peace process all the more imperative. “The peace process and the BBL are precisely for the protection of all Filipinos — Christians, Muslims and lumads,” Sec. Ging said. “If Muslim-Filipinos are convinced that the Christian majority were unwilling to give them their space, that’s when they look for more extremist alternatives. But if they can find within the system a place where they feel that their ways, their culture [is respected] and where they can have the same rights as the majority, then why would they want to break away? Why would they want to fight?”
What is then to be done about de-escalating armed conflict in the region?
“Certainly, it adds to the very challenging security situation in the area. The MILF have said, ‘Ok, we are making a commitment to decommission our weapons pero kung yung iba meron pa, kami naman ang sitting ducks dito.’ There is no question that the decommissioning of armed groups will be one of the hardest tasks ahead.” She pointed out that such a process, in fits and starts, is already under way. “The Normalization Annex under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) is dense and complex. The challenge is to prove that this is the way to go and bring in those who do not trust the process and are still on the fringes.”
The process is supposed to work this way: “Decommissioning is to be done in phases. The MILF is already set to surrender 75 high-powered crew-served weapons. A list of the weapons to be turned over is already with the Independent Decommissioning Body. This will serve as a model. The intent, we feel, is there on the part of the MILF. However, decommissioning cannot happen overnight. As the Mamasapano incident shows, many challenges remain. But you cannot discount the three years when there were no clashes.”
What would happen if we didn’t continue with the peace process, particularly in this era of rising global conflict?
“Without the peace process, there will continue to be great instability, proving a hindrance to development. During the 2000 war, for example, over 100,000 persons were displaced — higher than the number during the Sarajevo war at that time. Where do you think the young people there will go? They will be driven to the marshland and the hills where it is easy to hide. They will even flee across the border, wanting to avenge their dead fathers and mothers.”
Finally, Sec. Ging alludes to the opportunity structure that is the BBL: “I hope our people can prove to the world that we can arrive at a just solution to this conflict. The eyes of the world are upon us. We might even serve as a model for the conflicts in the Middle East. Resolving this conflict will mean people will be less drawn to extremism, which will serve as our ultimate protection. It will mean giving Filipino Muslims hope, that in fact it is still possible to gain full respect and recognition within a democratic Republic such as ours