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MASSACRE OF THE INNOCENT ON VALENTINES DAY - Death and Terrorism in Manila and Southern Philippines

March 5, 2005

When will it ever end?

The pictures were heart-rending – a limp child, perhaps dying, or in the throes of death, feet dangling on the arms of a man carrying him to a police car; a woman, face bloody, left arm bloody and limp; a man facing the camera, blood streaming down his face.  Then scenes in the hospital: mothers, relatives beating their breasts and their foreheads, clinching their fists, moaning in extreme agony and disbelief at what has befallen their sons and beloved relatives. “Why, oh why, God, they had nothing to do with the killings in Sulu…We do not hate the Muslims, they are also human beings like us!”

These were the dramatic scenes in Manila, in Davao and in General Santos in Mindanao. Images of blood, death, agony, and disbelief. Images of despair and anger! Twelve innocent people dead – the boy-child in Davao, five in General Santos, and six in Makati; and 151 others wounded. The death toll is sure to rise.

Then comes the justification for the massacre by Mr. Abu Solaiman, the spokesman of the Abu Sayyaf, a bandit and kidnapping group based in Southern Philippines. As reported by BBC, the spokesman boasted:  “Our latest operations - planned and executed with precision by the gallant warriors of Islam - is our continuing response to the Philippine government's atrocities committed against Muslims everywhere." He warned:  “We will find more ways and means to inflict more harm to your people's lives and properties, and we will not stop unless we get justice for the countless Muslims lives and properties that you people have destroyed."

In some reports, Mr. Solaiman was quoted as saying that the massacre of the innocent was the Abu Sayyaf’s “Valentines Gift” to President Gloria Arroyo.

For some of us, we are painfully aware that the Muslims and the Christians in the Philippines have been at each others throats since the defeat of the Moors in Granada in the hands of the Roman Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella in January 1492.  Over the centuries, it has been a never-ending cycle of violence, death, and misery for both sides in the Philippines.

The tragedy in New York on September 11, 2001 and the participation of Al Qaeda and  Jemaah Islamiyah — a militant group based in Indonesia with the aim of organizing an Islamic country out of Indonesia, Malaysia, Borneo and parts of Southern Philippines — in the  conflict in Mindanao and Sulu has made the situation more deadly. Add to this the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) which was organized in the 1970’s when Ferdinand Marcos imposed a dictatorship in the Philippines, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which arose out of the discontentment at the leadership of MNLF leader, Nur Misuari, and the banditry and kidnapping perpetrated by the Abu Sayyaf, President Arroyo’s alliance with America in its obsession to obliterate the Muslims associated with Osama Bin Laden and other Islamic fundamentalist groups, the situation in the Philippines is not only deadly.  It is grim and there seems to be no end in sight.

But what triggered the massacre of the innocents on February 14, 2005 in Makati, Davao and General Santos?

Based on some reports and the information provided us by Aveen Acuņa-Gulo from Mindanao, it seems that Philippine government soldiers accompanied by two “integrees”, soldiers who used to be members of the MNLF, went to a house in Indanan, Sulu to investigate reports of gunrunning.  The family, composed of the husband, the wife and four children, surrendered.  But one integree went up the house.  When the father saw the integree coming up to his house, he fired.  Then the father was shot.  When the wife saw this, she went back to the house and fired at the soldiers. In the exchange of fire, she died, reportedly shot several times by the soldiers even if they knew she was already dead.  One son was injured, and two kids escaped.

Then more soldiers and more Muslim fighters came to the rescue of their embattled comrades.  Many died, mostly from the Philippine government side.

Only the simple-minded and the uncaring Filipinos in California and America and outside of the Philippines can disclaim any interest in the continued killings in the Philippines, such as the massacre of the innocents on Valentines Day.  If the reports are true that Jemaah Islamiyah, which is allied with Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda, masterminded the almost simultaneous bombing in Makati, Davao, and General Santos, the future is indeed very grim.

With the corruption in the Philippine military, the incompetence of some of its leaders, the lack of cultural understanding that characterize all the combatants and their leaders in this “War of the Centuries”, the Philippines’ alliance with America against Islamic fundamentalist groups, and the general inability of the Philippine political and administrative system to address the urgent issues confronting Philippine society, such the continuing rebellion in Mindanao and Sulu,  there can be no safe place for Filipinos, especially in the population centers of Mindanao, the Visayas, and Luzon.


The Abu Sayyaf has admitted bombing an interisland ferry sailing from Manila to Bacolod in February 2004.  This resulted in the death of more than 100 passengers.  On December 30, 2000, Hambali of Jemaah Islamiyah admitted to the bombing of a Light Rail Transit car in Manila that killed 12 people and wounded 19 others. As related by Rohan Gunaratna, in his “Al Qaeda — Global Network of Terror”, Al Qaeda, in its Oplan Bojinka launched in 1994, tested its horrible plan to bomb Philippine Airlines and other planes flying across the Pacific Ocean. An Al Qaeda operative planted a bomb in a Philippine Airlines (PAL) plane. The bomb exploded, killing one Japanese national and injuring 11 other passengers.  The total destruction of the PAL plane was averted by the brilliant flying of the pilot who made an emergency landing in Okinawa.

Aside from the very real risk of injury or death, the consequences of the continued fighting in the Philippines is taxing the already fragile capability of the Philippine government to address other vital concerns affecting the totality of Philippine society.  For instance, it will impact the tourism industry.  The Valentines Day Massacre compelled the United States and the United Kingdom to caution their citizens from traveling to the Philippines. Other countries have followed suit.  Even Filipinos who might have been seriously planning to visit the Philippines in response to the enticements of the Department of Tourism would have second thoughts.

Investments in the Philippines will be affected. More and more Filipinos will be without gainful employment. They will be marching in the streets shaking their fists at President Arroyo and the leadership of the Philippines. For those who have relatives in San Francisco and California, they will be writing us more often pleading for help.

The Valentines Day Massacre resulted in downgrading the “sovereign credit rating” of the Philippines by the US-based Moody’s Investor Service. What does this mean? It means, according to the calculation of the resident economist of the Philippine Congress, Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, that the Philippines will pay $114 million additional interest payments per year to its creditors in America, Europe, and all over the world.  With an exchange rate of P55 per $1, the Philippines will have to pay an additional interest payment annually of P6.270 billion!  With this kind of money, how many hospitals can be constructed and funded?  How many books, school and laboratory equipment, chairs, blackboards, for the elementary and high school students can be purchased?  How many comfort rooms can be constructed? How many doctors and nurses can be hired?  How many teachers, agricultural and fishery technicians can be hired? How many tons of medicines can be purchased to cure the sick? How many kilometers of roads can be repaired, constructed, and maintained? How many denuded hills and mountains can be planted with trees?

Admittedly, the “War of the Centuries” in the Philippines has become an integral part of the struggle against the fanaticism of Islamic fundamentalists whose ultimate aim is to destroy Western civilization. The planners and leaders are not isolated in some jungles in Sulu or Lanao.  They could be in Bali, in Afghanistan, in the Middle East, in Washington, D.C., in London, in Europe, in Somalia, or even right in Metro Manila.

But despite the intricate interconnections of the Islamic militant groups to each other, the dream for peace, even for a brief period of time, is not beyond our grasp. It is not hopeless. The alternative is not a fight to the finish, a “Clash of Civilizations”, a Third and Final Crusade, an “Endless War”. For the more intelligent Filipinos, these possibilities are unthinkable.

But first, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, will have to take stock of her situation.  Even if the Catholic Church supported her against a poor high school dropout, she should stop day-dreaming that she is the Joan of Arc of the Philippines.  She is President and we believe in her.  She is intellectually much better than the blood-thirsty Filipino generals and weapons suppliers who are probably in cahoots with the corrupt Carlos Garcia and his ilk. She is much better than the naīve Evangelicals in America who are praying for “Endtimes”, the end of the world and the return of Jesus Christ.  It matters not if mankind is wiped out of the face of the earth in a nuclear holocaust.

But first, let there be a cease-fire.  Let there be peace. Let her assume a moral stance that can be defended when Philippine history is going to be written.  Listen to the pleas of the ordinary Filipinos — Muslims, Christians, Lumads, Atheists, Anito-worshippers.  Heed the call of the Sultan of Sulu, Sultan Esmail Kiram, for a ceasefire. Listen to Bishop Orlando Quevedo, Amina Rasul and the groups they represent, and Senator Aquilino Pimentel who represents Mindanao and Sulu in the first place.  Then let us evaluate our position with respect to this “War of the Centuries” in the Philippines.  Is it indeed the “Clash of Civilizations” as propounded by Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington?

But if there is hope for the future, let it begin soon.

And perhaps, we Filipinos in America, can link our arms with those helping to drain the swamp that breeds poverty, ignorance, and fanaticism in Mindanao and Sulu, a vow that President George Bush of the most powerful and the richest country in the history of mankind and British Prime Minister Tony Blair made just after witnessing innocent human beings jumping from the 110nth floor of the Twin Towers in New York to escape death by being burned to cinders so that they could embrace death in another form – by being smashed to bits and pieces on the concrete streets below. Perhaps, some of them were Filipinos.

We Filipinos in Northern California can then pool our resources, show our kindness and our Christianity – instead of frittering them in inane parties and gatherings by swing dancing our cholesterol away during fiestas – as fervently hoped by the Consulate in San Francisco so that we can help our people back home, back in Mindanao and Sulu.

Perhaps, for the more concerned Christians, we can try to answer an unsettling question: “Why are Christians becoming Muslims, such as the confessed bomber in Makati, Angelo Trinidad who became Abu Khalil?”

We have to reach out to each other, not with weapons that will “shock and awe”, but with sincerity, candor, and compassion.  In this way, we hope to stop the lamentations of mothers and children in our land which has been going on for generations.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Starting March 2005, this writer will be a regular columnist for The Filipino Insider, a monthly magazine supplement in San Francisco Chronicle.  This article is his first for said magazine. The author was a faculty member of the Department of Political Science in the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman before coming to America in 1985. In the Philippines, he was among others, involved in the planning of the establishment of the UP in Southern Philippines, a study of the sprawling Mindanao State University System (MSU) when he was with the Philippine Center for Advanced Studies as head of the secretariat of a multi-agency group, a consultant of the Foreign Service Institute and the Development Academy of the Philippines. A research assistant of a doctoral fellow who studied the Philippine Claim to Sabah, and a student of eminent UP political theorist, Dr. Cesar Adib Majul, his involvement with MSU gave him the chance to broaden his familiarity with Philippine society and culture especially in Southern Philippines.  He works for the State of California which gave him an award for “Sustained Superior Performance in 1997”, the only Filipino honored with that award that year.  His community involvements include being Acting Chair of the Pamana ng Lahing Pilipino Foundation-United Way of San Francisco.  He is a lifetime member of the Pi Gamma Mu International Social Science Honor Society.  He has written numerous articles and other researches.  His latest work is “Paalaala: In Remembrance”, a collection of articles and a photo essay of issues confronting the Filipinos all over the world which was published in 2002 in San Francisco by Pamana-United Way to commemorate their sponsorship of the UP Staff Chorale Society’s “Songs of Love and Healing” concert tour of the US and Canada in 2001 after the tragedy of September 11, 2001.  In July 2000, it was through his and Pamana’s initiative that the Mindanao Symposium, the first forum outside of the Philippines on the issue of Mindanao and Sulu, was held in San Francisco. He can be reached at [email protected].]

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