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Amassing Thoughts on the Massacre

  By Samira Gutoc-Tomawis  

I am Maranao. I come from Marawi City, where many of the political vendettas in the Philippines are based. I live three hours away from  Ampatuan town  where the infamous massacre happened. Some colleagues have been agitating for more aggressive statements from my end. Let me try to put my views in context.

Let me first say, I grieve, I am angry, I am more convinced that the peace imperative is high on the list of advocacies that I must engage in.

The last month I had been to many sharings that seem to have woven themselves into an inter-related tapestry of surrealness and reality. I had been involved in a research called Mindanao 2020 where the island is imagined 30 years from now . In our Scenario Building facilitated by a rare German trainor, I had joined a sub-group that would imagine the Worst Scenario in Mindanao . Just THREE days before the Ampatuan town massacre, we had imagined gangsteerism and ruthless violence taking its toll in the island. Entitled Islands of Despair , our report's discussants included an ARMM executive, Western Mindanao State University (WMSU) President Grace Rebollos, Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) representative Ruby and Indigenous People's leader Edtami. We acknowledged warlordism and possible martial law in the face of certain pockets of lawlessness although isolated in the island. The rent-seeking padrino leadership in the Muslim areas and geographic distance of a national government aggravated by displacements because of the protracted peace process lent to lack of basic services . This could lead to discontentment , disenchantment and grievance which were very potent causes for recruitment to the underground world of criminality.

Also a week before the massacre, we had tried to reach ARMM Regional Governor Zaldy Ampatuan and Rep. Pax Mangudadatu, among others to attend a youth-led Philippine Muslim Leaders' Convergence in the House of Representatives to sign a Covenant for Peace for the Elections 2010 and Beyond to be witnessed by Commission on Elections Commissioner Elias Yusoph. Would it have mattered that our politicians saw each other and showed other Muslim leaders present that they wanted to have good governance as well in ARMM?

While the discussions on Mindanao 2020 were ongoing albeit done in a cynical and yet realistic manner in Davao City, the Baclaran unrest spilled in the headlines where the Muslim squatter community fought back against its demolition by authorities. Three deaths and injuries were reported. Muslim civic groups were again caught flat-footed because of the lack of grievance-machinery mechanisms in Manila. Worse, the deaths the residents reported were not factual and cause for media concern. I remember that I had proposed to a Security Sector Reform Study Group months back that traditional mechanisms of conflict-resolution in ARMM must be recognized by National Government especially this incoming 2010 elections. The more the thought is relevant now. The mechanism is about institutionalizing the participation, spokesmanship and leadership of traditional leaders even before conflicts arise by establishing lines of communication and security orientation from the Police, SWOT teams and other authorities.

Election violence in ARMM was inevitable . On August, during a Medianation conference with big names in the industry such as Maria Ressa - ABS-CBN, Jessica SOho - GMA 7 and Isagani Yambot - PDI, I had told of elections in ARMM as being unique because of its clannish features and command votes. Automation may not necessarily enhance democracy for it may even hasten cheating. Voter's education is completely another advocacy in ARMM. The nature of ARMM as being unique was confirmed by election analysts who attended the event. I had earlier posted a "research" on a Cheating Manual in the ARMM areas, particularly Marawi and Lanao del Sur in the kusogmindanaw yahoogroup which brought together known academics, activists, politicians ie Rep. Didagen Dilangalen. This cheating manual acknowledged the use of terrorism as an electoral tactic.

Five days after the Massacre, a religious Muslim holiday ironically called Feast of Sacrifice was observed. Coffeeshop discussions in my hometown in Marawi were discussing their fellow neighbour, Maguindanao's appalling incident. The men were in agreement that it was a shame and whoever is adjudged wrong should be meted the strictest punishment. No sympathy for a fellow Muslim wrongdoer was to be spared. Women were also shocked that the pregnant were killed, breasts slashed, bodies raped. This was no longer an issue of religion but wanton , brazen disregard for all human ethical values.

The khutba of the 6 a.m prayers was relevant. The imam (religious preacher) in the Pawak mosque in Saguiaran town said, every person/Muslim had a role to change things. Every person had the capacity to do good and make a difference. And the good must be done and operationalized in this world. I recall the facebook posting of former Basilan congressman Abdulgani Salapuddin, "For evil to triumph, good men do not do anything." Young people are doing their role through social networking. I have received emails of what to do next and are we condemning enough the Massacre.

After the noise settles down on the massacre, serious steps are needed to address political violence. For the cyber community, we invite you to blog and clog the net with exchanges to breed more understanding about Mindanao. Our web project called which has celebrity endorsers aims to bridge the divide between Manila and Mindanao and bring us together on social issues.

With every step we take, the imperative for coming together for the positive causes of conflict-resolution, justice and development are the more relevant. And this we take seriously as many of us work in the communities to solve the small rifts that can escalate to large confrontations. These are not documented but let me hail them now - the female and male conflict-negotiators in Moro areas who invest time, thought and space to solve the many domestic and political vendettas that prevented the loss of life. We , the young wanna-be peacemakers, are wanting in wisdom but wanting so much to learn and act and move and do our small part. Father Eliseo Mercado, thank you for believing in the role of the young, the Muslim, the professional . I see myself as writing some of the untold stories so that future stories of violence may see less space because more people have acted to prevent violence from happening . But for now, let us always be vigilant. When will the next beheading happen because the roots of beheading and barbarity aren't addressed.

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