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Mamasapano and the Peace Process

Summary of a forum held by forumZFD, Kaya Natin! Movement, Al Qalam Institute (Ateneo
de Davao), and Sociology and Anthropology Department, Ateneo de Manila on February 27,
2015 at Club Filipino, Metro Manila.

The already difficult task of forging peace in Mindanao was further complicated by the
Mamasapano tragedy of January 25, 2015. Recent discussions sparked by the tragedy have
been colored by grief, anger, belligerence and war-mongering, thus creating a new set of
challenges for the ongoing peace process.
With this in mind, forumZFD, Ateneo de Manila University's Sociology & Anthropology
Department, Ateneo de Davao University's Al Qalam Institute, and the Kaya Natin! Movement
for Good Governance came together to hold an informal forum in Club Filipino on February
27, 2015. The forum aimed to tackle the Mamasapano tragedy within a frame of peacebuilding, and create a safe space for alternative discussions and perspectives that have been
drowned out by more hostile language.
The forum was also an attempt to comprehend and address the anger surrounding the
tragedy, by fostering discussions between a diverse array of panelists and participants, who
each brought their unique perspective to the table. Discussions occurred in an inclusive and
supportive space, and no perspectives or areas of expertise were privileged over others. This
overall tone extends from the organizers' aim of building a “support group” for those who
desire a more cogent and less politicized discourse on the current crisis, and its implications
for the peace process.
The Mamasapano tragedy created a very real and pressing need for a refreshed, widened,
and deepened framework of discussions around the peace process. It is this need that the
forum and its organizers sought to anticipate and address.
The forum proper was comprised of three panels led by various discussion leaders. Each
panel gave way to participatory conversations with the rest of the forum's guests.

The first panel was led by Marian Pastor Roces and Teng Mangansakan, who took on the
task of mapping Mamasapano, a Maguindanao municipality neighboring the Ligawasan
Marsh. The map they drew went beyond mere geography, but rather, it located the region
within its broader historical, social, cultural and political contexts.
Author and curator Marian Pastor Roces framed the controversy surrounding Mamasapano
as a fight over narratives. Mindanao's very history is one such contested narrative, a point she

Mamasapano. and fixated on group differences. he Independent filmmaker Teng Mangansakan shared some of the concerns over the ongoing and the Peace Process made by exploring some lesser-known events in the region's history.” Watch Marian Pastor Roces’ panel talk here: https://www. He then stressed the importance of understanding how the inhabitants of Mamasapano perceive reality. dangerous and deadly. and that agreeing on a “collective memory” is an important step towards peace. They observed that ongoing discussions. Pastor Roces warned that such discussions. could prove to be poisonous. These events include the voluntary donation of Moro-owned land to early settlers. and how they perceive this space to have been invaded. Mangansakan believes that much can be learned from understanding this space. According to her. by first understanding the space between their notions of the physical and the metaphysical. Pastor Roces reminded us that the shaping of these narratives is a contentious process. the mass resettlement of Christians into the region. As first steps towards acquiring this understanding. within the context of Filipino culture and kinship as a whole. in the mainstream media and within government. and the risk of “spontaneous combustion. Much of the discussions so far have been colored by unexamined anger. Watch Teng Mangansakan’s panel talk here: https://www. on social media. this exposes the peace process to opportunism. is part of the 280. political opportunism and prejudice. and the anti-Moro violence and terror sown by the Ilaga. for knowledge of the unknown and a deeper understanding of Bangsamoro and Mamasapano culture. appear to be colored by oversimplification. Many guests expressed their disappointment in the current state of these narratives in Manila. Pastor Roces also shared her dismay at the “thin discussions” that have emerged in the wake of the tragedy.000 2 .com/watch?v=EXbtMWvOnP8 Discussion among participants These panels gave way to a conversation with the forum's guests. Another contested narrative concerns the differing accounts between the parties involved in the Mamasapano tragedy. He expressed the need for these discussions to be part of a greater which have become the prevalent narrative. Mangansakan recommended a deeper look at the kinship that binds the residents of Mamasapano. A guest took on the task of mapping out the area for the rest of the forum. who echoed the panelists' calls for nuanced understandings and unified narratives. and an overall aversion to complexity and nuance. which he saw as rife with oversimplification. One gap in the prevalent narrative concerns Mamasapano itself. a reliance on oversimplification.

He discussed the need to be conscious of these narratives. and spoke of the complex “social ecosystem” of the area's real residents.. by citing flaws in the current system of on-ground communications and coordination between government and MILF forces.J. and transcend their embedded notions of Filipino and nationalist superiority. its role in creating these narratives. individuals and groups to simply “listen to each other. dubbed the “children of the marsh”. as a result of their deaths.” and hear the stories that might not be articulated in mainstream discussions. but it also looked to the past. The panel discussed justice in the context of the tragedy. would be a grave injustice to 3 . A lawyer in the audience expanded on this. Tabora criticized those that faulted negotiators for continuing dialogue with armed Moro groups. Ruben Carranza. One injustice she finds deeply troubling is how the ongoing peace talks. Tabora spoke of the narratives that Manila. Joel Tabora. She believes that the disintegration of this nation. Joel Tabora’s contribution here: https://www. AND THE FUTURE The second panel was led by Congresswoman Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman and Atty. which she has observed firsthand at congressional deliberations. towards transitional justice and reconciliation. with a population of about 20. S. the government and the church have imposed upon Moros throughout history. and ways to work with them. For the congresswoman. The discussions ended with a word from Fr. THE PAST. She spoke of injustice in the forms of discrimination and ignorance. A college freshman. whose injustice are we speaking of? She spoke at length on the many lesser-known injustices and massacres experienced by the Moro people throughout history. The conversation also tackled the importance of reconciling these conflicting and problematic narratives. Attention was also focused on the mainstream media. and to the future. have been “held hostage” by the Mamasapano tragedy.php?v=817091991700750 DISCUSSION TWO: MAMASAPANO AND NOTIONS OF JUSTICE. Turabin-Hataman then turned her attention to the SAF casualties of the Mamasapano tragedy. who attempted to disentangle complex and at times conflicting notions of justice. president of the Ateneo de Davao University. Congw. and stressed the need for our legislators to “become statesmen. without truly understanding Moro culture.Mamasapano and the Peace Process hectares complex ecosystem of Ligawasan Marsh. Congresswoman Turabin-Hataman began by posing a question: when we speak of injustice. the greatest injustice lies in how some legislators make decisions with sweeping implications for the Moro people. along with the well-being of the Moro He dispelled prevalent notions of Mamasapano being primarily an MILF camp.000.” Listen to Fr. colonial powers and iterations of the Philippine government. at the hands of various groups.facebook. towards victims of armed struggles and displacement in Mindanao. Some guests emphasized the need for narrative-shapers. possibly the forum's youngest attendee. expressed the youth's need for better information and wider participation.

and spoke of the need for legislators to be more knowledgeable when handling the issue.” involving the acknowledgment of injustice and steps towards reparations. Turabin-Hataman. formal and informal dimensions. The fourth point concerns reform at the institutional The fifth and final point concerns access to justice and rights. I know what injustice Atty. on important areas and notions of justice. Ruben Carranza approached the Mamasapano tragedy from a perspective informed by experience in peace-building and transitional justice. Listen to Ruben Carranza’s panel talk here: https://www. and shared first-hand observations from his tenure as assistant secretary of national defense during the Estrada administration's “all-out war. which has a proven potential for achieving peace and unity. which values justice even for those one does not agree with.Mamasapano and the Peace Process the SAF 44. She concluded that “at this point in time. The 4 .” War is one way of ending a A university president observed that popular calls for justice have had an undertone of revenge. as a first step towards understanding and achieving justice. The first point concerns justice through the actual peace process. He explained that true justice is a complex matter. Carranza ended his discussion by reiterating the importance of acknowledgment. The guest also expressed dismay at past approaches to the conflict. One guest empathized with Congw. He proposed an alternative. The second point concerns the importance of a “settled narrative. and its need to go beyond just criminal justice and persecution. Carranza added to this. Congw. Turabin-Hataman also shared insights on Islamic justice. But after mentioning the different massacres in Mindanao prior to the Mamasapano tragedy. but Carranza warned of its violence. Turabin-Hataman noted the tragedy's proximity to the next national election. on-ground realities of war. and one that is not always easy to define or understand. Turabin-Hataman's experiences of discrimination in Congress. and its legal. beyond just access to courts and the legal system. Carranza shared five points. such as in key areas of government. by explaining the importance of disentangling the actual truth from mere forensic truth. by commenting on the harsh. and how it is likely being used by some to elevate themselves and bring others down. Congw.” Watch Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman’s panel talk here: https://www. in the form of transitional justice. which reduced the problem to a military issue with military solutions. while calls for “true justice” have been lacking in resonance. The third point concerns accountability. it’s hard for me to define justice. He expanded upon the injustices of war raised by Discussion among participants The conversation that followed saw both guests and panelists expand on previouslydiscussed notions of justice and injustice. The conversation also tackled matters of legislation. Congw. destruction and costs. politics and armed conflict. Turabin-Hataman added to this discussion on armed conflict.

However.Mamasapano and the Peace Process discussion was rounded out by a participant warning of the fleeting nature of superficial justice. and likened his fast-tracked process to a bullet train. Prof. S. shared his thoughts on the ongoing peace talks. which requires specific infrastructures.” 5 . mechanisms and protocols. He emphasized the need for the second track to “exact accountability” on the first track.. Above all. and the second being public acceptance and support. DISCUSSION THREE: THE LANGUAGE OF A CONTINUING PEACE PROCESS The third and final panel.” Coronel-Ferrer instead advocated a search for spaces of agreement and shared truths. he stressed the importance of adding to the public's understanding of the peace process. Benedicto Bacani. shared truths and reconciliation. She then turned her attention to the “language of hate. Watch Miriam Coronel Ferrer’s panel talk here: https://www. He noted President Aquino's willingness to achieve peace in Mindanao. and their use of terms such as “spoilers” or “enemies of peace. led by Prof. such as “friends and enemies. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer. of law and governance. he also noted that the train runs on old rails.J. she emphasized the importance of compassion and compassionate language. and Fr.” She noted how this language has colored everyday discussions on the tragedy. She recommended that even peace advocates be more mindful of hate language. as opposed to serving as its mere extension. Benedicto Bacani. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer.” which she described as the antithesis of the language of peace. and how easily it can give way to further injustice. chair of the government peace panel. The discussion touched on the many forms language can take in the peace process: the languages of peace and hate. and harnessing their “informed and principled acceptance. Atty. with the first being the formal negotiations. executive director of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance. In light of this. in the form of existing legal and political frameworks in need of reform. and Coronel-Ferrer credited the MILF for being proactive in adopting this language. This language of hate is a form of unproductive typecasting that reduces complex issues to oversimplified binaries. She then discussed the complexity of the ongoing peace began by emphasizing the importance of alternative spaces for discussion. as prerequisites to compassionate justice. as well as coordination on different levels. tackled the language of the peace process in the wake of the Mamasapano tragedy. He described the peace process as one that occurs on two such tracks. and their capacity to foster alternative discourses on matters of peace and the Mamasapano tragedy. Albert Atty. and of communication and compassion. but warned that the language exists on both sides. These elements comprise the language of the peace process.

he reminded us that there are still no clear answers or solutions to this issue. just points for reflection for moving forward.” “publics. to avoid their own use of oversimplification and binaries. personalities and tactics necessary towards the successful “promotion” of peace. In light of this. He 6 . leading him to wonder whether this could reopen the wounds of past division. and in the president's role as its primary driver. and matters of language. peoples and “publics” implicated in the issue.and culture-specific communication strategies.” This would then be marketed to the diverse range of groups. Violence can be a form of communication. Alejo believes that peace communication can only be effective if it moves beyond existing efforts. Alejo emphasized the need for sensitivity in communication. it had a direct connection to the SAF 44 through notions of Filipino nationalism. Bacani sees opportunities in the Mamasapano tragedy. To this end. knowledge and understanding. and a more critical search for sees potential in peace communication. and observed parallels between current and pre-1987 discourses on peace in Mindanao.” Alejo suggested that peace could be packaged in a key message or narrative. in the form of hateful language. Father Albert Alejo. as it can be inextricable from conflict. While Bacani did make recommendations. Similar to “ and into more reflective and inclusive dialogue. concerning “product. just as communication can be a form of violence. as a possible bridge between formal negotiations and public acceptance.” the nation's many regions. for soul-searching. Listen to Benny Bacani’s panel talk here: https://www. Alejo believes that communication is a necessary component of peace. One guest commented on the emotional response to the Mamasapano tragedy. Discussion among participants The floor was turned over to guests.” and then marketed as a “product. Alejo rounded out the “four P's” by outlining the broad range of mediums. citing how miscommunication can often lead to further conflict.Mamasapano and the Peace Process Bacani worries that the Mamasapano tragedy may have affected the public's trust in the peace process. provinces and “places” would require context. he called for all involved groups to take responsibility for their faults in the tragedy. who shared their own insights and perspectives on the issue. Finally. Bacani observed how the Mamasapano tragedy disturbed the very foundation of the peace process. and observed that while Manila had no real connection to the Moro The final panelist. as an expression of pain. However. Alejo shares lessons from the “four P's” of marketing. He revisited the language of hate.” “places” and “promotion. Listen to Fr. with a tailored communication strategy for each. In spite of all this. He then added to earlier recommendations for peace advocates. such as “all-out peace. reflection. Alejo’s panel talk here: https://www.

the peace process. shallowness and overall oversimplification that have taken over the prevalent discourse. A Sangguniang Kabataan alum weighed in on the issue. and asked the forum about the youth's role in the peace process. as opposed to monolithic or centralized. which serve as a guideline for this summary’s overview of emerging themes from the forum. noting the part that government spokespersons played in this process. the Mamasapano tragedy. Complexity “It's complicated. and were aggravated by. This had been observed in the media's handling of the issue. Coronel-Ferrer responded by suggesting the formation of a party list. she added. Part of this strategy should include discourse “with and within” Bangsamoro. The issue. or even hostile language. as a potential avenue towards expanded youth participation. Coronel-Ferrer observed how prevalent narratives of the Mamasapano tragedy have disadvantaged the other side of the story.Mamasapano and the Peace Process echoed Fr. Prof. knowledge and understanding. and the tragedy. Bangsamoro. She then expanded on the topic of communication. within government and the legislative branch. She commended the forum's willingness to tackle this complexity. both symbolic and technical. noting the difficulty of promoting the Bangsamoro Basic Law. she warned that it must be participative. to a majoritarian society. Alejo's calls for better communication. development. speaking of the many nuances of the issues discussed. To this end. EMERGING THEMES The conversation then gave way to closing remarks from Marian Pastor Roces. but to this end. the media and the mainstream educational system as important areas of attention. She agreed with the need for a communication strategy. and in other settings and institutions. which is in line with a guest's earlier suggestion of tapping tribal and religious leaders as key spokespersons.” Pastor Roces remarked. Prof. Both guests and panelists expressed disappointment in the trend towards oversimplifying the issue. She then contrasted this with the relative ease of promoting notions of peace. which she sees as a solution to the fundamentalism. as well as notions of Moro and Bangsamoro. and reducing it to “black and white” binaries. The search for deeper truth. 7 . as issues that existed prior to. which has limited the framing and understanding of the Moro people. she called for more responsibility and accountability in the first track of the peace process. Prof. This trend towards oversimplification has been identified as an extension of ignorance. a general mistrust for Moros and the MILF. and a culture of entitlement. citing the Manila public. by examining the state of public trust in the peace process prior to the Mamasapano tragedy. one of the forum's more popular calls. in everyday discussions. shared some of his experiences with Moro youth leaders. She cited disagreements over the BBL. was raised as a solution to these issues. Coronel-Ferrer rounded out the conversation. is rife with nuances that need to be elaborated through language.

Turabin-Hataman's brief exploration of Islamic notions of justice. in order to differentiate themselves and define their identities. precisely because its coordinates are always changing. Even justice is tied to symbols. which has been made more complex by the Mamasapano tragedy. An inextricable symbolic element of Bangsamoro culture. institutions. and the complex relationship between the formal and public tracks. Carranza. in their discussions of the peace process. Other guests described the Bangsamoro narrative as one that has been marginalized by the narrative of Filipino nationalism. they need to be recognized as a necessary dimension of the process. Coronel-Ferrer. congress and the media. above all else. Othering For Pastor Roces. and a prerequisite towards its understanding. She pointed to language as the road towards “the mystery of truth. Language and Narratives Pastor Roces reminded us that we are in the middle of “contests for stories” and that the words we choose carry both healthy and unhealthy potential. Congw. which other guests and panelists have articulated in their own shared observations. They spoke of its necessary technical. as illustrated by Congw. is spirituality. warned against the conflation of true justice with mere criminal justice or revenge. Complexity marks practically every area of the peace process and the Mamasapano tragedy.Mamasapano and the Peace Process Process The effort towards peace in Mindanao is. should not stand in opposition to the peace process's more technical aspects. 8 . in his discussion on the process of justice. and the conflation of truth with forensic truth. political and legal dimensions. Symbols. Teng Mangsanakan pointed to the space between the physical and metaphysical as an excellent starting point towards understanding Mamasapano and its people. such as collective memories and histories of pain. such as that of narratives and language. a process. Rather. She observed a troubling historical trend towards “othering” Muslims. and moving parts of the ongoing negotiations. “othering” is the “elephant in the room. Atty. This “othering” extends to other spheres as well.” She warned against the tendencies of some to “other” people. A number of guests and panelists were troubled by the extent of discrimination and ignorance in key peace structures. Bacani and Prof. also discussed the many mechanisms.” as truth is co-constructed by those involved in an issue. Turabin-Hataman discussed the process of congressional deliberations. Symbols Symbols are important components of the peace process. such as the government. Pastor Roces described it as a “moving target” that is difficult to address. Atty.

and the very arena in which it plays out. in order to bring that discourse to Manila. ignorance and unexamined anger that have colored past discussions. Lastly. in order to carry the message of peace to diverse groups and settings. One of the most important steps moving forward is the creation of a more inclusive and participatory discourse. Mangansakan planned on setting one of his films in Mamasapano. as an extension of ignorance and “othering. in order to eventually reconcile them.” as one example of the unhealthy potential of language. as crucial first steps in the path towards justice. and oppose the oversimplification. as other vehicles for the Bangsamoro narrative. Alternative. which the forum identified as an area in need for shared truths. despite their importance towards deeper understandings of the region and its people. and these include: more refined communication strategies. and how it can support the peace process. Prior to the tragedy. Fr. The forum recognized the power of language. The public plays a key role in the peace process. an examination of language. the forum drew attention to accountability and acknowledgment. in order to foster alternative and inclusive discussions. and peace. Another step towards this discourse is the creation of safe spaces and support groups. Some concrete steps were raised during the forum. Guests from the worlds of art. The potential of language can be realized through a variety of mediums. and efforts must be taken to bring them deeper into the fold. The narratives of the Bangsamoro. Moving Forward In Atty. and its capacity to both facilitate and undermine the peace process. and entering dialogue with the media. While it complicated the task of peacebuilding. It can also foster the search for deeper knowledge. She contrasted this with the languages of peace and compassion. the forum was able to identify key areas and strategies for moving forward. Prof. such as theater and animation. and the importance of working towards shared narratives and truths. are two narratives that received particular attention during the forum. Alejo. the use of alternative mediums. creativity and culture spoke of the use of other mediums. reconciliation. on one hand. also saw value in the use of multiple mediums. Bacani's words. truth and understanding. with an emphasis on public participation and acceptance. participatory discourse can foster a willingness to tackle complexity. which illustrate the positive potential of language. the Mamasapano tragedy has disrupted the landscape of the peace process. 9 . Guests and panelists shared their knowledge on events that have been relegated to the margins of history. which are crucial towards reconciling conflicts between narratives. Many panelists and guests expressed the need to understand how these narratives interact with one another. and of Filipino nationalism and “Filipinoness. Couched within these conflicting narratives are the conflicting histories of Mindanao. in his proposed peace communication strategy. Coronel-Ferrer brought up the language of hate.” on the other.Mamasapano and the Peace Process This harkens back to discussions on the different narratives implicated in peace and the Mamasapano tragedy. broader youth participation.