WHILE we share the anger and sorrow of the nation for the slaughter of 44 of its elite police officers in the Mamapasano massacre, and the shameful embarrassment of many at the selfishly dismissive behavior of President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd toward important ceremonies to honor the fallen heroes and comfort their families, we must remind ourselves there is now serious work to be done.
The heroes of Maguindanao will not have died in vain if their sacrifice leads to the lasting peace everyone wants to see in Mindanao. Their deaths, however, remind us of just how far we are from achieving that peace, despite what the Aquino administration and other backers of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) would have us believe.
In a forum with journalists on Thursday at the National Press Club, Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. explained his decision to suspend hearings on the BBL in his Senate committee on local government in logical, if somewhat disturbing terms. “The BBL flows from the peace treaty,” he said. “If there is fighting, there is no peace.” We cannot in good conscience proceed with the BBL if that is the case, Marcos added, until we fully understand what happened and justice can be served.
That is a sensible perspective, and sounds compassionate, too. Peace treaty or not, brutal crimes were committed against law enforcement officers and all those responsible for it must be held accountable and meted the appropriate consequences.
That applies to those who created the circumstances for the crimes to take place, as well as those who actually carried them out, and the effort to bring them to justice should take precedence over everything else.
Doing that, however, will not by itself bring peace to Mindanao, and neither will the BBL. The BBL may, indeed, be a part of the solution. But any peace that excludes any of Mindanao’s stakeholders – particularly the armed groups, which probably number in the hundreds – will not be real peace at all.
That cannot be welcome news to people whose lives have been disrupted for years because of the conflict; making them wait even a day longer for a normal, productive existence is also an injustice. But it is not a bigger injustice than tempting their hopes with a promise of peace that only exists on the paper on which it was written.
What the Mamapasano massacre may have shown us is a terrifying example of what may happen if the BBL is rushed through Congress, as the President has clearly sought to do. A repeat of last Sunday’s tragedy is a risk the country cannot afford to take, and which no other government or group has the right to ask it to take. It is encouraging that a few other legislators have also taken a stand against following the administration’s script for passage of the BBL before the Mamapasano massacre is fully understood and addressed.
That inquiry must be done as quickly as it reasonably can be while still being thorough and impartial. And it must have tangible consequences, not only for those who must be held responsible in some way, but also for the overall peace process.
What those consequences may be are unknown now, but they are likely to benefit all concerned if they are the result of an honest assessment of efforts to achieve peace in Mindanao, and sincere determination to create a just and inclusive framework to accomplish it.