It seems we cannot get out of the Mamasapano incident, but for different reasons. The heroism of SAF 44 has long been out of the main focus. Heroism deals with courage first, then using that courage to save others, especially the innocent. Many times, the brave die in the line of duty. Their deaths intensify their heroism, not lessen it.
Heroes become the main content of legends. Their nobility, their bravery, their skill and their sense of sacrifice, are the traits that are marveled at and talked about, generation after generation. And the more despicable their enemies, the more inhuman, brutal, or fearsome, the greater their heroism is considered. It is as if, if it’s not gory, then there’s no glory.
Too quickly, though, faded the heroism of the fallen SAF 44 as the center of our attention and appreciation. Even today, there is the blatant but really insincere use of their deaths to push other agenda. Heroism is set aside for the more prurient, or theatrical. When heroism does not elicit a sense of awe anymore, when it does not evoke a sense of patriotism, then heroism is subordinated to what has much lesser value than it.
So the Mamasapano massacre will not be like the execution of Gomburza, or Rizal, not if it does not stir us to love more our country, our freedom and our collective well-being. If we instead succumb to the fascination of speculation, of rumor or gossip, the Mamasapano incident can degrade itself to the level of the Ampatuan massacre. And the Filipino people would have lost their heroes.
Is it difficult to stay focused on heroism? Why is gossip, rumor-mongering and endless speculation more attractive? Even the euphoria of a Pope Francis visit could not last a few weeks. Have Filipinos become incapable of favoring good news over bad, of using optimism to build our lives instead of skepticism?
We have freedom, so we do not seek it anymore. We are disturbed every so often, especially when China makes a move to swallow one more island from our territory. But because there is no blood spilled, and no threat of even more blood to be spilled, the China threat is incidental, a secondary concern—until the next incident, that is. And only China appears to be the only viable threat to our freedom. That is why many of us take freedom for granted.
Most of us have safety, so most of us do not seek safety anymore. It used to be that the militant left, through their armed component, the New People’s Army (NPA), would threaten the safety of many communities in the country. The militant left is still there but their red flags and occasional rallies have become irrelevant as well. The NPA still bothers the military, and many businesses are still being forced to pay money to buy temporary peace. But the countryside revolution was never won, and will never be. As material progress makes its way from barrio to barrio, the water of extreme discontent is being drained out of the Maoist or Marxist pond.
In Mindanao, though, there remains a large swathe of land that does not experience safety with regularity. There are Christian and Muslim communities who are like constantly charged batteries—ever ready for violence. After all, more than 40 years of incessant or sporadic warfare that has resulted in more than 120,000 Filipino lives makes safety a rare commodity. The value of those lives, not 44 but 120,000, cannot be measured or recovered. Neither will these receive justice anymore—too many, too long ago.
Even before Marcos provoked the modern day war with the Muslims in the early ’70s, there was already a dark and heavy history behind it. Centuries of bloody conflict laced with religious bigotry on both sides have embedded in our historical and cultural DNA a simmering hatred and an active distrust. It takes little to stimulate it. Any incident that has Christian against Muslim, or Muslim against Christian, is fuse and fuel to a fire always ready to be lit.
This bedrock of hatred and distrust has unfortunately built a powerful platform for terrorism. At the moment, there are two kinds of terrorists who are quick to take advantage of this deep animosity between Christians and Muslims. The first terrorist is the most obvious, the one who kills to sow terror. It is incidental if it means beheading a policeman or bombing Megamall. What is primordial is to draw the most attention, and to plant the most fear. No gore, no glory.
The other terrorist is not as obvious because he or she does not kill the body but mangles the spirit. This terrorist does not want to sow fear but sows doubt and divisiveness instead. There is no other agenda but to take advantage of the existing hatred and distrust between Christians and Muslims so that hope turns to fear, confidence turns to doubt. This is the classic formula to weaken those who are popular, to destabilize those who have power—and to grab that same power, of course.
Technology has magnified the capacity for these two kinds of terrorists. Explosive devices are much easier to make and manipulate remotely. That was what the terrorist Marwan was teaching others. It surprised me why the Senate did not bother to ask what Marwan had done to earn the $5 million prize on his head but was so detailed in examining text messages to and from the President.
Technology, too, has spawned great speed and volume for social media. The other terrorist can sway millions of minds and hearts with slanted information or outright misinformation. Beyond the bad blood between Christians and Muslims is the gullibility of netizens who are too busy to discern between truth or fiction. Unwittingly, they will quickly spread doubt and discord until the puppeteer looks like a savior from the very mess he created.
Peace comes at a high price simply because hatred and prejudice are almost immovable obstacles. But peace is the only way to achieve the glory without the gore.