AT the end of the Philippine National Anthem, with our right hand over the heart, we solemnly sing this verse: “Lupa ng araw na lualhati’t pagsinta/Buhay ay langit sa piling mo/Aming ligaya, na pag may mang-aapi/Ang mamatay nang dahil sa iyo.”
For the past several weeks, those lines, especially the last one, comes to life at the dying breath of every fallen soldier. Our military fell into the trap of initially believing that they are just fighting a band of brothers. It turned out that the Maute Group is part of and an extension of the dreaded Islamic State. They have succeeded in gaining recognition from the foremost terrorist movement of the world even prior to this bloody siege.
Our brave soldiers are not fighting just a band of brothers. They are engaged in a full-blown war with IS, and the body count on both sides continues to rise. Those of us who cannot even get up from our seats and lift hand over heart each time the national anthem is played at the last full show of a movie should wallow in shame.
Former Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro broke his silence about current events through this Facebook post: “Air strikes are used not only to neutralize targets but also to protect our troops from greater harm. It also helps to end engagements quicker rather than prolonging fighting. It is a legitimate tool at the disposal of government forces when the engagement commander determines that its use is appropriate and reasonable given the level of the threat faced. Damage to property is an unfortunate consequence not only of air strikes but of any weapon, yet we must ask what piece of property is worth the life of a single soldier? On the other hand, the real menace is the fact that the Maute gang takes refuge in dwellings and other urban locations, use rocket-propelled grenades without regard to surroundings, IEDs, snipe at civilians, rob, pillage, murder and terrorize! This is the threat faced. This is what must be condemned!”
These are days of quiet sorrow, when children serve as human shields and widows weep for spouses they could no longer embrace. We, in Metro Manila, cannot and shall never know the pain of a student in Marawi City yearning for the normalcy of life or a parent staring blankly into invisible walls filled with memories of previous armed encounters. When will this end, many of them ask.
Unless those of us in urban areas have specific and concrete answers to provide, then we owe these victims of war the dignity of respectful silence. Senator Risa Hontiveros learned this lesson the hard way when she tried to differentiate terrorism and rebellion in the context of the ongoing war in Marawi City. This quote was taken from her Facebook page: “Magkalinawan tayo. Ang Maute Group ay hindi mga rebelde. Sila ay mga terorista. Ang mga rebelde gaya ng CPP-NPA, MNLF at MILF ay kausap na ng pamahalaan sa peace process. Ang Maute ay hindi. Wala silang karapatan umupo sa lamesa ng kapayapaan. The essence of rebellion is ideological. Terrorism is pure terror.”
Her statement clearly rejects terrorism but why make that distinction at all? When people are dying, they don’t care how a legislator defines the categories that best describe the enemy. When our soldiers are at the receiving end of rockets fired from grenade launchers, those words mean nothing. It is not the time to pontificate, from afar, through the media. Not at this time, because this is a purely military operation and their mission is difficult enough as it is. When you see your comrade lying in a pool of blood, you don’t have time to reflect whether the bullet that did him in came from a gun held by a rebel or a terrorist. You simply move because you have a republic to defend. There must not be an iota of doubt in a soldier’s mind about his mission; to split hairs on the motives of the enemy can only make shallow the supreme sacrifice that every soldier is called upon to make.
Lawyer Rogelio Largo, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Davao City chapter, explained that what is happening in Marawi City is pure rebellion as defined in the Revised Penal Code. “As defined, it (rebellion) refers to the public uprising or rising up in arms against a duly constituted authority for the purpose of removing allegiance to that authority, so that’s rebellion.” The lawyer noted that the rebels in Marawi City were trying to occupy government buildings to hoist a flag of a foreign entity, namely, the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (IS). Such acts, he said, constitute rebellion.
This much is clear: our soldiers and police personnel are the only people that stand in the way of the plans of the Maute Group and IS to conquer Philippine territory. They are doing their damn best to keep our republic and the entire world safe. They need everyone’s support. Our freedom to live in peace is at stake.