An Uncertain Peace — The Mamasapano Bloody Clash

A lot have been said already, although the investigation have not started yet. Speculations abound the airspace and cyberspace.

The January 25 incident brought to the spotlight the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), an otherwise insignificant political exercise to the common Metro Manilan. That apolitical reaction is due because people from the North feel that the land and the people being stated here is too foreign to them. Or maybe because they don’t just understand the situation and the BBL itself. This goes both ways, I believe that the Bangsamoro people do not feel that they have strong affinity with their brothers and sisters up North.

We need to see who the players and the future possibilities and repercussions of that Sunday bloodbath.

Warriors on Both Sides

There is no doubt that the Moro people are warriors. They have been living and protecting the same culture and religion even before the Spaniards arrived. For 300 hundred years, Spain tried to steal their land and convert them to Christianity. Even the Americans came but failed as well. The Bangsamoro people have been suffering from atrocities by foreign invaders (please see the massacre of Moro fighters, children and women by American forces by Googling “First Battle of Bud Dajo”). But probably the last straw for them was the Jabidah Massacre. A concocted dirty war by then President Marcos to take Sabah from the Malaysians. Filipino soldiers on orders of their superiors massacred Filipino Moro Muslims that they themselves trained. This incident was the catalyst for the Bangsamoro Insurgency (Moro National Liberation Front and Moro Islamic Liberation Front). What will you do if your way of life and family, land and religion that you love so dearly is in danger of being taken from you? They did not start this struggle just because they want to, they were forced to trudge this path.

tagaligtas photo
Photo by U.S. Embassy, Manila Philippines

The PNP-SAF is probably one of the best in the world. Their training is one of the hardest and very few earn the right to be called PNP Special Action Force. They are battle hardened. They are the ones being sent to missions too dangerous for ordinary police and military force. But you also see them during disasters and tragedies to help people in need. I had the privilege to meet some of our PNP-SAF (Cavite) in Tacloban a week after Typhoon Yolanda hit. They were there on orders to secure a hospital and prevent the looting of donated relief goods. They did not have enough sleep, food and decent bath but they helped bring order to an otherwise hopeless and chaotic situation, with no complaint whatsoever. They will follow orders to go to anti-terrorism missions for months at a time and be away from their families and love ones. You can’t help but shed tears once you think about the harrowing experience they endured on that fateful day. They surely feared for their lives, one by one they were shot on that Mamasapano field. One by one, they saw their friends fall from the enemies’ bullets. Muslims and Christian PNP-SAF died side by side. For hours, they waited for the rescue that never came. The PNP-SAF are the Tagaligtas of the Filipino people and we are in grief that this happened to our young brave men. We salute our heroes who sacrificed their lives so that we can continue with our own without fear and uncertainty. They are the best of the best, they deserve respect and better treatment from our government.

The American Connection and the Mission

The Americans admitted that they provided the intelligence to pinpoint the whereabouts of the wanted terrorists and even paid in cash the informant. I personally believe that this support coming from the U.S. is what we need against terrorist groups who wreak havoc on the lives of our countrymen in the south (Muslims and Christians). It is glaringly obvious that the Mamasapano operation was taken from the playbook of the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. The Seal Team Six mission that eliminated Bin Laden was done in utmost secrecy. Even the Pakistani government was not informed, intelligence report suggested there were Pakistani officials who knew of Bin Laden’s hiding place and were actually protecting him. They opted to bring in the Seal Team to kill Bin Laden rather than drop a bomb. The reason for this was to have evidence that they indeed killed him (they took pictures, DNA sample and documents from the safe house). Every move of that mission in Pakistan was monitored in real time by President Obama.

Now let’s compare it with the Mamasapano mission. It was also done in secret to prevent any leakage of the said operation and cause an escape (again) of the terrorists. They decided to use troops to eliminate the target (they took photos and a finger of the terrorist Marwan for DNA testing). But unlike the Bin Laden mission, there were no high-tech choppers to drop our troops to the target area and pick them up again. They had to walk for hours just to reach the hideout of the terrorists. And walk back again to safety! So are you wondering why there’s anger towards our government officials? Because they did not give our troops enough firepower and support to escape cleanly after the mission. We support the elimination of all terrorists but our government officials clearly did not make a Plan B or even a Plan C. There were no plans at all to rescue our troops if things gets awry, it looked like they were sent there to be slaughtered!

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF)

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Photo by Keith Bacongco

It is now known to everyone that Mamasapano is home to the MILF and BIFF. And we now know that their ties are not ideological but rather more of familial connections. When the PNP-SAF were retreating after their mission, they encountered both the BIFF and MILF. As reports mentioned, the MILF fighters claimed that they didn’t know who these enemies they were firing at. Let’s remember that MILF camps are also home to their families and children. They probably engaged the PNP-SAF to protect their community since they don’t know the armed men that entered their territory. They probably contacted the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) since they have an open line with each other but the AFP have no information who these armed men fighting the MILF that morning. Whether it was a misencounter or an ambush, our government knew they were taking a gamble when they entered Mamasapano without coordination with the MILF and our own Armed Forces. That gamble is the reason why we are in this situation right now.

The BIFF is an extremist group. It’s a breakaway faction of the MILF. Simply put, the MILF supports the BBL (Google: Q and A The Draft Bangsamoro Basic Law)) while the BIFF wants a separate independent state for the Bangsamoro people. They are different in so many ways. They even had armed conflict with each other. The MILF is a legitimate political entity that represents the Bangsamoro people.

But here’s what bothers me. Compared to the MILF, the BIFF is a small group of extremist bandits. The BIFF resort to kidnap and ransom activities and terrorize the Bangsamoro land and its people. These illegal activities of the BIFF are against the laws of the MILF. The prickly question now is, why can’t they eliminate the BIFF who were harboring local and international terrorists? Is it because of familial ties alone? Or maybe the BIFF is the MILF’s lapdog. A group that will do the dirty work. A group that everyone can easily blame. If the MILF is indeed powerful enough to make the Philippine government sit down and make demands for the creation of a new Bangsamoro political entity, then why can’t they control their own territory against groups like the BIFF (?). I find it hard to believe that they didn’t know that there were terrorists being protected by the BIFF.

The President

Since 2010, the country have already experienced several tragedies. These tragedies needed the presence of the Commander-in-Chief to assure the Filipino people that everything is under control. But time and again, the President always lacked the backbone to take responsibility and manage the situation.

In this case, I believe that the President lied to all of us when he denied his direct involvement. He knew that the Mamasapano mission will happen that day. Just like what Obama did, I believe that the President was monitoring the mission. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were photos and videos showing the President in a war room getting real time updates, ready to be released once the operation was declared a success. Those evidences unfortunately will not see the light of day anymore. This mission was big enough for the go signal of the President, big enough for the redemption of Gen. Purisima and huge enough to boost the sagging popularity of Sec. Roxas. This is a police operation with political implications. They were hoping to hit two birds with one stone. Kill a terrorist and create political superstars. This is not to be.

The Media

Most media corporations are only after high ratings to boost their advertising profits. They live for sensationalism. Majority of our journalists build their stories without any historical, political and anthropological reference or background. This is because they are not trained to develop such techniques. If you will observe carefully the social networking sites we use, there are so many Filipinos who will believe anything written in it. Even satirical websites are thought to be real and factual. Maybe Filipinos are innately gullible and the mainstream media take advantage of it. We all deserve responsible journalism. We do not need more hate. The death of all these people are traumatic enough for the nation and does not need extra fuel from the media to flood our feelings with anger. Our journalists should help teach our people to be more discerning when it comes to news like this.

Where are we going?

After this incident, these possible scenarios might happen:

First scenario. The BBL will be passed. It is widely known that when it comes to natural resources, Mindanao is the richest region of the Philippines. It is also a fact, that investments coming from rich Arab and Muslim countries will flood the Bangsamoro land and its neighboring provinces once the peace agreement have been finalized. Malaysian companies have actually invested hundreds of millions of pesos already in Mindanao right after the Framework Agreement. They are planning to send more investments worth billions in the near future. The lives of the Bangsamoro families will be better in leap and bounds. There will be no more reason for an armed struggle. The BBL is vital for the Bangsamoro people to achieve lasting peace. Let us remember that our Moro brothers and sisters are not immigrants to this country, they have been tilling their lands even before our country became the Philippines. There will be no doubt that in the decades to come, the Bangsamoro land will be prosperous and will be an economic and political giant. Will they ask for more land and resources in the future? Right now, even the MILF will not be able to answer that.

Second scenario. The BBL will be passed but extremist and terrorist groups remain. The global influence of terrorist groups like the Al Qaeda and ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) is far and wide no thanks to the internet. The peace between the Philippine government and the MILF will be strong but terrorist groups like the BIFF and Abu Sayyaf will remain to be a big challenge in giving the whole of Mindanao the peace it rightly deserves. The Philippine government can now concentrate their resources in fighting and eradicating our country of these terrorists. Will the MILF join the fight against these groups? Or will they help hide such terrorists? Clandestinely supporting terrorism will anger their benefactors (rich Muslim countries who are also against terrorism). They don’t want that to happen.

Third scenario. The BBL will not be passed. A clear reaction to this despicable incident. An all-out war will ensue. Although with great casualties from the government forces, the MILF will be defeated. Their camps will be destroyed. Camps where families also live. Moro women and children will die. It will be a humanitarian disaster. The MILF, their backs on the wall will ally themselves with the terrorist groups and will plan their revenge. One of the mantra of these groups is to bring the fight to the doorstep of the enemy. Sleeper cells in Metro Manila will be activated. They will bomb the most important establishments in our cities. Government offices, hospitals, transportation system and to show their anger for the death of their children, they will bomb schools. The rising economy will be disrupted. Foreign investments will be cancelled. Tourists will not visit. Fear and Chaos. Are you ready for this?

You. Yes us.

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Photo by Keith Bacongco

How do we give justice to our fallen troops? I think this is the hardest question right now. Will peace still reign while we avenge their deaths?

I’m obviously not a journalist. I have no conclusion whatsoever. I might be just paranoid. But right now, paranoia is good. It gives us a view of dread and fear for the future. You may agree or disagree with what I wrote but what I really want to know is, what is your stand? What really do you want to happen? Should we remain apathetic? They tell me it’s blissful on that side of the fence. Doubt crept inside me after this incident, doubt that peace will not be possible in the south anymore. Should we fight back? Not thru armed conflict but fight back to rebuild the trust again. Or is hope all gone? Is the animosity too strong it is beyond repair? There are angry calls in the social media that’s so distorted it’s borderline ethnic cleansing.

I hope the Pope comes back and smack us right in the face.

Breathe in breath out. Control. Peace.