'If peace talks fail, there will be more Marwans'

Dangerous situation: Philippine military personnel riding past armoured personnel carriers in the town of Mamasapano after Philippine security forces clashed with Muslim rebels in the south, where Marwan was said to have been killed.

COTABATO CITY, Philippines - Even in death, international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias, "Marwan," could still end up victorious if the peace process collapses because an outbreak of another war in Mindanao could give birth to future radicalized young Moros disillusioned with the government, a congresswoman from Mindanao said.

"They may have killed Marwan but they forgot to consider that in war, there could always be young radicals who could perpetuate this terrorist's misguided beliefs," Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema told the Inquirer over the weekend.

Sema, wife of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leader Muslimin Sema, tearfully reproached her fellow lawmakers last week at the Mamasapano congressional hearings that they had no idea what war looked like after many of them wanted to show the video of a Special Action Force (SAF) commando being executed by unknown men in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on Jan. 25.

The SAF trooper was with the 55th Special Action Company that lost all but one member in an encounter with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as they carried out an operation to take down Marwan.

Sema said showing the video could inflame the public's emotions, especially those who are already calling for war against the MILF even if the different investigating bodies had yet to release the results of their inquiries.

Sema said pushing on with the peace process and keeping the guns of combatants silent would pave the way for the security and development that the people of Central Mindanao deserved.

The passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which will create an autonomous Bangsamoro region, has dimmed following the withdrawal of support by several lawmakers as a result of the Mamasapano debacle that left 44 SAF commandos dead. Eighteen MILF members and five civilians also died in the clashes.

Several lawmakers have blamed the MILF, saying that the Moro rebels cannot be trusted.

Wave of bias, distrust

Teresita Deles, presidential adviser on the peace process, told the Inquirer in a separate interview that her "big concern" in the aftermath of the botched police operation was the "wave of bias and distrust" against the Moro people.

"The way of peacemaking always tries to consider where the other side is coming from, and if you cannot get to understand and try to understand the other side, then you can never get to the common ground," Deles said.

Asked what the worst-case scenario could be should the peace process fail, Deles said, "War … and that the Filipino people will not appreciate what this moment is and believe in that."

Breakup of MILF

A senior government official, who closely monitors the peace process, warned that if the peace process fails, the MILF leadership could implode as it would be tantamount to its failure to deliver on the political promise to their followers.

"One possibility is that the MILF could break up into smaller armed groups that would wage another war for a separate state. That would make it more difficult for the government to engage these smaller groups in peace negotiations," the official said, asking for anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

Moro phobia

At a press briefing in Quezon City on Tuesday, Gus Miclat, executive director of the Initiatives for International Dialogue, said the death of the 44 police commandos led to calls for an all-out war against the MILF and "demonization" of Moros in news and social media as a way of seeking justice for the deaths of elite officers.

"We appeal to groups and individuals to stop fanning the flames of prejudice and hatred in an already tense condition in the aftermath of the Mamasapano tragedy," Miclat said.

Mus Lidasan, executive director of Ateneo de Davao University's Al Qalam Institute, observed that Christians had failed to show mercy and compassion to non-Christians.

"Two weeks after the Pope left, it seems that our Christian brothers have forgotten his message. Mercy and compassion only apply to those who are also Christians and not to those who are non-Christians," Lidasan said.

"That's a painful realisation," he said at the press launch of an "All-Out Peace" campaign.

The Pope's visit from Jan. 15 to 19 brought together leaders of different religious groups but weeks after his visit, prejudices against Muslims reemerged following the Mamasapano incident.

All-out peace

To counter the calls for an all-out war, 30 networks of civil society organisations met in Davao City last week to push for "all-out peace."

The campaign aimed to mobilize Filipinos from Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao to "take a stand for peace and reject war or any form of armed violence to prevail," Miclat said.

Lory Obal, vice chair of Agong Peace Network, said, "Those who call for an all-out war, especially those from Manila, and political leaders, do they know the pain and the struggles that people in Mindanao go through in times of war?"

The Mamasapano tragedy was devastating but civilians were also evacuated, some were killed and most of them lost their livelihood, Obal said.

"Not only the 44 SAF commandos have fallen, also our livelihood is gone, she added.

War would only aggravate the problem but resuming the talks on the peace process and the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in Congress is the solution, Obal said.

"There is no other option but all-out peace," she added.

Lidasan said the "BBL will democratize the Bangsamoro people. This is the law that will help our people understand that it is through the ballots and not through the bullets that we can achieve self-determination."