CBCP statement on the ongoing Mamasapano investigation

Congress has commenced its inquiry into that sad episode of our recent history — the slaughter of 44 gallant men of the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police. We note that the two chambers of the Legislature have opted to conduct separate investigations when a joint inquiry would have allowed for a more expeditious investigation and would have obviated the possibility of findings at loggerheads with each other.

Truth and Accountability

The President and his advisers must give a full and satisfactory accounting of their actions in respect to this tragic loss. The targets of the SAF operations were characterized as “high value targets”. If the police went after them, it can only be because they were ordered to do so. Policemen do not order themselves, not even members of the Special Action Force. Indeed, that is what corroborated statements now clearly establish: The decision was made on the highest levels to go after these “high value targets”. The only thing that was awaited was “the window of opportunity”, a judgment that is made by people on the ground.

Questions call for unequivocal and truthful answers. Lives were needlessly lost because in many ways the operation was covert. Why, for one, were the highest-ranking official of the Philippine National Police and his civilian superior, the Secretary of Interior and Local Government, left out of the loop of information, consultation and command? It seems that a suspended police officer played more than a merely advisory role. Why should he have been giving orders? And if he was in fact issuing orders and commands, should it not be clear that his authority to do so, precisely because he was laboring under a legitimate order of suspension, emanated from higher levels?

The concealment of truth or the foisting of deliberate falsehood even to shield one’s superiors from embarrassment or to spare them indictment is always a moral wrong, especially in the context of legal processes and under oath. When one swears to tell the truth and invokes the help of God, one is morally obligated to speak the truth. We therefore urge all witnesses and all those in possession of information material to the resolution of facts in issue to speak the truth at all times.

Heroes Among Us

As we did almost immediately after being informed of the gallant deaths of our SAF men, the CBCP extols their courage, their heroism and their fidelity to the call to duty. We understand the heartaches of the SAF men and women who rightly have reason to feel that our leaders failed them. While it is true that every person who dons the uniform either as a police officer or as a soldier puts his life on the line in the performance of his sworn duties, it remains the solemn moral duty of the national leadership to protect them from needless harm and to uphold their interests as well. The human person is never merely a means, no matter how glorious, noble or desirable the ends may be!

The Peace Process

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines offers its assistance to the pursuit of lasting peace, a settlement of differences that will allow the people of Mindanao, Muslims and Christians alike including indigenous peoples to live in peace and as equals, citizens of one Republic, nationals of one country. We hold it to be morally obligatory for the government and for the restive segments of Philippine society to search for the paths of peace.

It is of course true that peace cannot rest on deceit, the suppression of truth and subterfuge. This is the reason that getting to the truth of the Mamasapano tragedy is of paramount importance. In fact we should learn from Mamasapano for we paid a heavy price to learn its lessons. We have painfully been shown the pitfalls and the traps, the gaps and the lacunae of deals we have thus far entered into.

The goal cannot be the cessation of hostilities at any cost, but a principled settlement of the dispute, and peace born out of truth, a commitment to social justice and adherence to the fundamental law of the land!

If anything at all, Mamasapano should instill in all, especially in our Legislators, a sense of circumspection in respect to examining the first draft Bangsamoro Basic Law. Let the document be assiduously studied, fully debated and exhaustively examined.

The Moral Requisites of a Just Settlement

There has to be SINCERITY on both sides—on the side of government forces and agents and on the side of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Hostilities must cease while legal processes must be observed. Officers pursuing fugitives from justice or identified terrorists can never be the legitimate objects of attack. Similarly where a truce has been agreed on, it is incumbent on all parties to hold their fire. The government must resolutely pursue its projects for the further development of Muslim Mindanao and for the speedy and lasting attainment of social justice so that our Muslim brothers and sisters may fully share in the resources of the country and in the strides it makes towards prosperity.
The MILF must surrender the culprits: those who cut down the SAF 44 in the prime of their youth and must not interfere with their prosecution and their trial. The video clip that went viral showing the merciless execution of SAF men who were wounded and helpless cannot and must not be shrugged off.

The CBCP stands with the widows and orphans of the fallen to demand Justice and the indictment of the culpable. It must also explain satisfactorily why international terrorists were within the territory supposedly occupied by them.

Finally, the arms and ammunition captured from the SAF and from other lawful agents of the Republic of the Philippines must be returned. Justice and peace demand restitution of what one has wrongfully taken.

Solidarity in Prayer

The CBCP remains one with the grieving families of our fallen SAF men, as well as with the families of all who lost loved ones in this armed encounter. Whether Christian or Muslim, we believe in a God who does not allow those who remain faithful to him to be lost. We turn now in this moment of grief to the One Father of us all for consolation, strength and hope.

Appeal for True Patriotism

This is not the time for political opportunism. This is not the time for adventurism or grandstanding.

While resolute action is necessary on the part of all, precipitous action and recourse to extra-constitutional measures will only visit more harm and misery on our people.

The CBCP cannot lend its support to any movement that may bring greater suffering for our people. We would do well to join in the debate spiritedly, to be zealous in ferreting out the facts and to be unyielding in demanding accountability. But it is also our moral duty to be law-abiding citizens, animated at all times by the Gospel that insists that we love even those who we may find difficult to love!

No Peace Without Humility

The Kingdom of God is as much a gift as it is a project, for while only God can make his kingdom come among us, he calls us all not only to preach it but, by our deeds, to make its presence tangible and real for the world. Peace is the mark of this kingdom, and so it is that for a Christian there is no other way but to work for peace. But time and again we have been taught that clever calculation, crafty speech and pompously worded documents never bring lasting peace. It is when we humble ourselves and pray, and allow the Spirit to lead us that shall find that path of peace.

The CBCP therefore invokes God’s Spirit even as it pledges that bishops individually and collectively will make themselves and their resources available for the demands of arriving at a lasting solution to the problem of turning swords into ploughshares.

From the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Intramuros, Manila, February 16, 2015.

+ SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan
President, CBCP

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