Peace was so close that we could almost taste it. In fact, even just having peace talks had greatly reduced incidents of armed conflict in Mindanao. That is why the Mamasapano controversy is particularly devastating, because that peace is slipping away by the day.
It seemed like only yesterday when a series of incidents provoked Muslims to cry foul in Mindanao. It was worse than the SAF 44 massacre which was an encounter between enemies. The Jabidah massacre of 1968 was not about rebels killing government troops, but government troops killing military trainees – all Muslims. After the Jabidah massacre were other massacres, not of 44, but of hundreds and of thousands.
Those who scream today for justice before peace may not realize it but Muslims screamed for justice, too, for the 1971 Tacub massacre, the 1974 Malisbong massacre, the 1977 Patikul massacre, the 1981 Pata Island massacre. Worst of all, the burning down of Jolo in 1974 may have killed an estimated 10,000 lives.
It is not justice that wins, it is superior force. If Christians did not outnumber Muslims almost 20 to 1, history will be very different today. Those who ask for justice today for SAF 44 can do so but they should remember, if they knew at all, that the demand for justice is what caused the war in the first place. And if lives are not just numbers, maybe they can think about 120,000 names and faces all with grieving families as the price our nation and people have paid for so far.
How much more can we afford beyond the SAF 44? Already since then, a few more soldiers have been killed in Mindanao. Unfortunately for them, their stories did not gain much media attention, their lives seemingly less valuable and heroic. And, consequently, their sorrowful families cannot be visited and condoled with by politicians because there is no media furor, not even in Facebook.
More than justice, it is the killing we want to stop when we work for peace. Justice the way the noisy ones ask for cannot happen without peace. There can only be retribution through superior force. Politicians who play the people’s emotions by cries for justice simply want war, no less. They know the justice they speak about cannot be extracted except by the barrel of superior firepower. They will not mind even if we lose more soldiers and policemen along the way.
Our leaders in government, from Malacanang to Congress, have to choose between war and peace because there is nothing in between but transitioning towards one or the other. Our media and netizens must know that stoking the historical prejudice between Christians and Muslims will lead to unthinkable horror, not only in Mindanao, but in every other city or town that hate and rage can reach. Just because the military and police forces greatly outnumber Muslim rebels, that will not assure final victory in the 21st century after it had not from centuries earlier.
Muslims know they will suffer, they know they will die, whether they are combatants or civilians, but they will fight if there is war. They have no choice if government and Christians will not give them any. They would rather not, they would rather rest, they would rather work, they would rather progress, they would rather see their children finish school for a better future. No one knows better than them how tired they are.
Peace will not come easily, though, not with so many massacres haunting both Christians and Muslims. Both sides have to swallow a lot of pride, offer a lot of forgiveness, because peace may carry a painful price if only to prevent an even more painful consequence without it.
The document that will finally define the peace we want will be written only if we, Christians and Muslims, insist on having peace. We cannot be quiet about it; we have to speak out. We cannot stand in the sidelines; we must make a stand for what we want to happen. If peace lovers are half as insistent as they noise of the naysayers and warmongers, peace will be an immediate reality.
The fate of 100 million Filipinos cannot be manipulated by those who need armed conflict in Mindanao to cover their terrorist plans, by those who need controversy to destabilize government, by those who seek to promote their personal careers. Yet, they can. History has shown how provocateurs can drive societies over the edge. Countries have gone to war over the trivial. All it needs is for pride to take over reason, for prejudice to overwhelm hope.
We are there now, at the brink of a rare peace. We are there, too, at the brink of war we know too well. We have little time to decide as a people whether we will openly push for peace or be dragged to war. Circumstances and historical animosity between Christians and Muslims give a small minority a powerful opportunity to subvert the desire of the vast majority to build peace.
The conflict that began some 45 years ago had little to do with us but we allowed it to happen anyway. I pray that the peace we can attain today will have everything to do with us so our leaders will have to make it happen. I pray extra hard because I am so afraid we are already losing the peace.