Give peace a chance, female Muslim solon tears up
A female Muslim lawmaker was a rare voice for peace in the rising beat of war drums in the House of Representatives, one of at least eight bodies investigating the death of 44 police commandos in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province.
The tense atmosphere was made more combustible by a police official’s appeal for vengeance and by the emergence of a six-minute video of alleged Moro rebels’ brutality.
Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema was in tears and her voice was cracking when she appealed for sobriety in a raucous room of lawmakers, military and police officials, government officials, and local government executives pumped up by an emotional speech by Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, officer in charge of the Philippine National Police.
Lives at stake
“Our emotions are high. I saw Espina and (relieved Special Action Force [SAF] Director Getulio) Napeñas cry and hug each other. But more than these emotions, more than grandstanding, it is the lives of the people in the Bangsamoro area that are at stake,” said Sema, wife of former Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema, chair of one of the factions of the Moro National Liberation Front.
Sema expressed concern that with the Senate and the House suspending public hearings on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the peace pact with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was in danger of collapsing.
“So that lives of police, military and others will be spared, may we ask for a reconsideration,” Sema said after the House committees on public order and safety and peace, reconciliation and unity debated on whether to show the YouTube clip of the alleged brutality that wounded SAF members suffered at the hands of MILF fighters on Jan. 25.
Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon also cautioned the committee against playing with the “emotions of many people” by showing the cruel acts on the video.
Davao Rep. Karlo Alexie B. Nograles said he wanted the video shown because he did not want the House to be accused of covering up.
But Lanao del Sur Rep. Pangalian Balindon said showing the video could set a precedent in all House hearings.
Quezon City Rep. Jose Christopher Belmonte said the House would make a mistake by showing the video whose contents have yet to be authenticated.
The committee later agreed not to show the video but asked Napeñas to confirm if the man shot as shown in the video was indeed a SAF commando.
In Mindanao, an Italian priest also appealed to those lobbying for “total war” in Mindanao to stop pushing for that path in light of the recent clashes between Moro rebels and government forces in Mamasapano.
“As a Christian priest I want to ask forgiveness for the voices calling for total war in Mindanao, coming often from Christian sectors and politicians,” said Fr. Sebastiano D’Ambra, PIME, founder of Silsilah Dialogue Movement.
“What will happen if there will be war in Mindanao again? What will happen if this war will give more space to international terrorists who justify their violence through ideologies that already are circulating in our midst?” the priest said in a statement posted on the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines website.
D’Ambra said the recent conflict in Maguindanao involving SAF personnel and members of the MILF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) had affected the celebration of the World Interfaith Harmony Week on Feb. 1-7.
BBL hearings suspended
In the wake of the Mamasapano incident, lawmakers suspended hearings on the proposed BBL, a key component of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro that the government and the MILF signed last year, putting the deal under a cloud of uncertainty.
The lawmakers said the proposed law seeking to create a new autonomous government for Muslims in Mindanao, to be known as the Bangsamoro, would not pass if put to a vote now because emotions were running high after the Mamasapano clashes, where 44 police commandos died. Eighteen rebels and five civilians were also reportedly killed.
Before the Mamasapano debacle, lawmakers had promised to enact the BBL in March and to hold a referendum in May.
The MILF said that it would not accept a watered-down version of the BBL.
Congress is holding hearings to find out what led to the bloodbath in the aftermath of the police operation on Jan. 25 targeting two known terrorists, particularly Malaysian bomb expert Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan.” Marwan was confirmed killed in the operation.
Support for peace
In the wake of Congress’ decision to defer action on the BBL that would move forward the Mindanao peace process, more countries are prodding the Philippines to continue with the peace process and the fight against terrorism.
Among these countries was Norway where Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario was on a two-day visit to thank its leaders for their firm support for the peace process and to discuss cooperation between the two countries in peace mediation, maritime affairs, disaster risk reduction and management, and trade and investment.
The latest countries to send messages and statements to the Department of Foreign Affairs were Russia, Palau, Libya and Norway.
Earlier, the countries that sent similar messages of support for the peace process were Australia, Canada, Spain Switzerland and the United States.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende lauded government and MILF efforts to keep the peace process intact as he warned that “armed conflict is a serious threat to development and has negative consequences far beyond the actual battlefield.”
“A lasting settlement in Mindanao would benefit the entire population of the Philippines,” Brende said.
Norway is a member of the International Monitoring Team for the government-MILF peace talks and serves as vice chair of the Independent Decommissioning Body that oversees the decommissioning process of MILF forces and arms.
In a Jan. 29 letter to Del Rosario, Russian Ambassador to the Philippines Nikolay Yudashev expressed shock and grief over the killing of 44 police commandos.
“Memory of their valor and self-sacrifice shown while pursuing a noble mission of fighting terrors will remain in our heart,” the Russian ambassador said.
Through its embassy in Manila, Palau said it had “unwavering support and solidarity with the Philippines in condemning such heinous acts of terrorism against government security personnel.”
Libya through Charge d’ Affaires Abobaker I.W Ataweel of the Libyan Embassy told Del Rosario that the country hoped that Filipinos would “triumph over this tragic incident and continue the pursuit to attain peace in Mindanao.”
D’Ambra said the World Interfaith Harmony Week became a fitting reminder for people to unite against ideologies of violence and war.
With the tension rising in Mindanao, D’Ambra described the fear among Christians and Muslims alike. “While Christians are leaving places more populated by the Muslims in Mindanao, Muslims also feel suspicious being in cities populated mostly by Christians.”
“I appeal especially to religious leaders, both Muslims and Christians. We have a big responsibility. I advice the Muslim leaders to be more active in promoting the concept of mercy and compassion, the central message of Islam, and to the Christians to recall the central message that is love,” he added. With reports from Tina G. Santos and Christine O. Avendaño
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