In The Name of Justice

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

It has not been easy watching the Senate and the House of Representatives go about their investigations of the Mamasapano massacre. Somehow, the very cause why there is an investigation, the death of the SAF 44, seemed dishonored by the whole process. If the BIFF and MILF rebels were brutal and barbaric to our policemen, I felt the investigations were not less so.

The difference between the massacre and the Congressional investigations is that the Muslim rebels meant to defile the SAF 44. It is not unusual to read about brutality and barbarism nowadays. The ISIS in Iraq and Syria are frightful in the way they massacre their victims, wholesale and retail, and particularly deliberate in executing select victims on video so that a whole world would be shocked. It is not difficult to comprehend that the propensity for many of us to imitate will not make an exception of the way to create terror if terrorism was one’s cause.

I must assume that our senators and congressmen did not intend to demean the heroism of the SAF 44. That would have made them monsters before the eyes of our people and I am sure the opposite was what they had wanted to be. But I wonder why I reacted the way I did, why I felt that the heroism of SAF 44 was dishonored along the way. Somehow, it seemed to me that heroism in any form cannot be investigated, and least of all, investigated by those who do not understand what heroism is all about.

The SAF 44 are heroes. They are heroes not because they were brave but because their bravery served to save lives. That they died is part of the reason for their heroism. That their bodies were mutilated is part of the reason why their heroism is even greater. When brave men go against an enemy that is especially brutal and barbaric, and die to protect and prevent mass killings of the innocent, their honor is not debased but instead made to shine brighter. Every year in the Philippines, in the season of Lent, the inhumanity of man against man is replayed in many Christian communities. The victim of that inhumanity Jesus Christ, did not lose his nobility for his martyrdom but amplified his courage and the nobility of his mission.

What make the investigations in Congress more ironic is that justice is the proffered reason why they are being done. The scream for justice from many Filipinos is the tidal wave of the moment. Politicians can never resist riding a tidal wave, not even if recent deaths and a national grieving are disrespected by both the timing and the manner of Congressional investigations. In the name of justice, much can be sacrificed. In the name of justice, much can be disguised.

I want to apologize to heroes. I want to apologize to their grieving families. If the SAF 44 did not deserve to die the way they did, their noble example does not deserve to be diluted or stained after their death as well. Stories of their heroism should be the talk of the nation that is so wanting of role models for nobility. It is not often when the general population is emotionally touched by the death of 44 when deaths of tens of thousands have been offered in the altar of armed conflict in Mindanao. Heroism in modern times is rare and best handled with utmost care.

And the other noble process is a people’s struggle for peace. For too long, brother Filipino has been killing brother Filipino. Why? If we listen to the rhetoric surrounding the centuries-long drama of violence between Christian and Muslim, the cry for justice has been most loud. Muslims want justice. They claim grave injustice has been done to them, to their rights, to their culture, to their future. To extract justice, they fight, they kill, they die. For justice.

Christians, too, cry for justice. They claim Muslims break the laws of the land and should be punished. That is justice after all. To enforce the law, to see to it that justice is done, government sends troops, soldiers and policemen, to fight, to kill, to die. For justice.

Two sides demand justice, and two sides go to war for justice. And when both sides reach a point when the killing has become objectionable, when too much grieving is suffered by those who have been fighting, killing and dying for justice, they think of peace. Only then do they think of peace. Only then the first thought is about stopping the fighting, the killing, the dying—even if such conflict was caused in the first place in the name of justice.

The ongoing peace talks and the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law are not coming from the hearts of peaceful men and women. They are happening because Christian and Muslim Filipinos are tired of the fighting, killing and dying. There is strong pride in the hearts of the combatants. No one has surrendered, not even after 120,000 have been killed from the 70’s to 2013, and now still counting. It is not a lack of resolve to fight, kill and die if need be that two sides are trying the peace option, it is just a desire to give the future a chance to be better.

A culture of suspicion and hate between Christians and Muslims is deeply embedded, and the same, too, between government and rebels. When leaders from both sides try to rise above history, conflict and death to give our children and their children a chance to be brothers and sisters again, they have to accept that suspicion and hate still run deep in the hearts of many. But peace is a virtue not because it is easy to attain, but because it must be attained. The road to reconciliation is full of potholes, even a massacre or two, because hate does not easily surrender. It has been around too long.

Peace, though, can be easier sacrificed, again for the pursuit of justice. It is at the brink of going away. And we are at the brink of doing what we have been doing for so long—fighting, killing, and dying in the name of justice.

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