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PEACETALK: Caught in the crossfire: listening to the women of Mamasapano

Totoy bilisan mo, bilisan mo ang takbo
Ilagan ang mga balang nakatutok sa ulo mo
Totoy tumalon ka, dumapa kung kailangan
At baka tamaan ka ng mga balang ligaw
Totoy makinig ka, wag kang magpa-gabi
Baka mapagkamalan ka’t humandusay diyan sa tabi
Totoy alam mo ba kung ano ang puno’t dulo
Ng di matapos-tapos na kaguluhang ito” -Tatsulok, Buklod

MAMASAPANO, Maguindanao (MindaNews/17 Feb) — The preceding quote (from the lyrics of a popular OPM) might as well provide an unheard-of but telling account of what also transpired in Mamasapano. The real situation that befell the civilians came to be vivid in my mind with the stories told by the women in Mamasapano during a Women’s Solidarity and Listening Mission on February 11, 2015.

Consider this scenario…

It was early in the morning while the sky was still dark when Badrudin told his wife Sara that he was heading to the market to have his mobile phone charged and to attend to their cow. Shortly thereafter she heard the shooting and intense firefight which led her to scamper to safety taking her two small children with her. The day came to end without him ever returning home. It was later learned that he was one of those killed along with the SAF commandos at the dreaded cornfield. Stories went around that on his way out he must have seen the armed SAF, was accosted and brought along to the cornfield either to serve as a guide or to be prevented from alerting others in the community about the presence of the SAF. Community members who have buried him reported that his hands were tied at the back with a plastic cable tie.

It was obvious that Badrudin was a victim of the armed conflict. What the man suffered was not a mere case of one getting caught in the crossfire. A clear violation of human rights was committed against him. That her husband was a civilian was what Sara insisted. When he left home that early dawn of January 25, he was unarmed carrying only a backpack with a flashlight. With what happened there was no way that his human rights as a civilian was protected and upheld.

And then this…

A grandmother taking care of her eight grandchildren woke up early morning finding their community surrounded by armed men, who turned out to be police forces conducting operations to arrest terrorists hiding in nearby area. They were held at gunpoint, prevented from leaving the place. No amount of pleading worked for them to be allowed to evacuate. The children were hungry but were not allowed to eat while the SAF forces took all their 18 chickens and roasted them for their own meals that day. They were held until an order came from higher officials past five in the afternoon for them to run for safety to a nearby barangay center. The grandmother’s right foot is swollen for two weeks as she tripped while running for one’s life, along with her children and grandchildren, with the youngest a three-year-old. One grandchild who endured abdominal pains and diarrhea is yet to fully recover. Her family remains displaced to this day along with nine other households who left for the evacuation area on January 25. Her husband returned to their house the following day of the incident to find out it was in shambles with missing kitchen utensils he wishes could still be retrieved. She said their neighbors managed to go home to their place during the day and be back before night time at the evacuation area. But in their case, they cannot go back as there are no longer vegetable farm and animals to tend. Her husband tries to eke out a living with a motorbike whenever there’s chance (“Nag-e-extra sa motor”).


Consider this too…

After hours of intense exchange of fire, it was finally quiet and a mother thought the fighting had stopped. In the morning, she asked her 15-year-old son to check on their cow out in the field. The son was shot and wounded and was brought to the hospital with a bullet taken from his side. “Tinamaan ng ligaw na bala,” so people said. As her son waits to recover, his mother struggles from the pain of seeing her son having difficulty moving about and aching from the wound. She wants all the violence in their community to stop. All she is appealing for is peace – in their minds, in their hearts and in their community.

Under the International Humanitarian Law or the Law of Armed Conflict, rights of civilian population must be protected at all times. The Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), 8 June 1977, states in Part II Humane Treatment, Article 4 Fundamental Guarantees:

  1. All persons who do not take a direct part or who have ceased to take part in hostilities, whether or not their liberty has been restricted, are entitled to respect for their person, honour and convictions and religious practices. They shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction. It is prohibited to order that there shall be no survivors.2. Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, the following acts against the persons referred to in paragraph 1 are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever:
    (a) violence to the life, health and physical or mental well-being of persons, in particular murder as well as cruel treatment such as torture, mutilation or any form of corporal punishment;
    (b) collective punishments;
    (c) taking of hostages;
    (d) acts of terrorism;
    (e) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment, rape, enforced prostitution and any form or indecent assault;
    (f) slavery and the slave trade in all their forms;
    (g) pillage;
    (h) threats to commit any or the foregoing acts.

Further, Part IV Civilian Population, Article 13 on Protection of the civilian population:

1. The civilian population and individual civilians shall enjoy general protection against the dangers arising from military operations. To give effect to this protection, the following rules shall be observed in all circumstances.
2. The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.
3. Civilians shall enjoy the protection afforded by this part, unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.

Republic Act 9851 which is the Philippines domestic International Humanitarian Law, states in Chapter III Crimes against IHL, genocide and other crimes against humanity, Section 4 (b) In case of a non-international armed conflict, serious violations of common Article 3 to the four (4) Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, namely, any of the following acts committed against persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including member of the armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention or any other cause;


(1) Violence to life and person, in particular, willful killings, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

(2) Committing outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment;

(3) Taking of hostages; and

(4) The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all judicial guarantees which are generally recognized as indispensable.

No matter how the law of armed conflict and the rules of war are observed, war is and will always be violent. War will always lead to collateral damage. War will always affect the lives of civilians. War will always have civilians for casualties. War is not the solution.

The stories above are not scenes in a war movie. The stories are real and culled from first-account narratives of those who live in and are confronted with the difficulties of armed conflict for so many generations.

What right have we to judge and label them with our own prejudices and biases outweighing rational thinking?

What right have we to promote hatred and animosity against a population who have lived and coped with the violence of the gun and the armed conflict it entails?

What right have we to condemn them and prejudge them to be guilty of harbouring criminals or terrorists?

On this I wish to directly quote one of the women in Mamasapano:

Lahat kami ay nabulabog nang makita namin ang maraming armadong pulis noong umagang yon. Hindi namin alam na mag-aaresto pala ng mga terorista, hindi namin alam na nandoon si Marwan at Usman, nakilala lang namin sila sa TV. Wala kaming kinalaman sa kanila. Kung alam namin na nandoon sila hindi kami papayag.”

[Carmen “Memen Lauzon-Gatmaytan of the Women Engaged in Action on UNSCR1325 (WE Act 1325) joined the “Tingog Mamasapano: Surfacing the Unheard Voices of Civilians Caught in the Crossfire A Women’s Solidarity and Listening Mission” on 11 February 2015 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao] 

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