Tuesday, December 22, 2009


In the Christian tradition an angel announced the birth of Jesus Christ to shepherds at night in the pasture fields of Bethlehem. With the angel was a” multitude of the heavenly host” praising God: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Lk. 2:13-14).

Jesus fulfilled these words. The night before he died Jesus said to his Apostles: “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you” (Jn. 14:27). The Apostle Paul simply says of Christ Jesus: “He is our peace” (Eph. 2: 14).

Yet to this day we continue to live in the darkness of unpeace. The most inhuman of massacres has taken place in our region. Weapons of destruction proliferate. Armed kidnap groups prey on innocent people. Assassinations take place. We are no strangers to fear, tension, and insecurity. It took Martial Law and a State of Emergency to restore a semblance of security.

We ask: Why is this so? Because peace is both gift and task. Ultimately it is a gift of God. But it is also our task. It is our task to be peacemakers rather than to be destroyers of peace. That we do not have peace is due to us. We have not done our task.

Peace does not begin with guns. Peace begins in the heart, a heart of respect, kindness, of sharing and understanding, a heart of justice and truth, and as the basis of everything – a heart of charity.

Christmas and the New Year are signals from God to us to work towards that peace from God. We have to seize the opportunity. We begin with our hearts. That is my prayer.

A blessed Christmas and a Happy Year to one and all!

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Maguindanao: After Martial Law, State of Emergency

In an earlier blog I posed the question, “After Martial Law, What?” The Arroyo government answered yesterday, December 13—State of Emergency.

What do I think about this? First of all I do not know exactly what a”State of Emergency” really means. It does mean to me at least that the military will continue to hold sway over Maguindanao. Does it also still cover Sultan Kudarat? Having the good of the people in Maguindanao in mind, continued stay by the military would be good. I would also assume that people in Maguindanao and its adjacent provinces would be in favor of the government decision. They are, after all, familiar with the social, political, and cultural situation of Maguindanao.

Martial Law has accomplished several objectives—the most important being the arrest and detention of the principal suspects in the massacre. It also began the important process of searching for and confiscating weapons and defanging the armed power of one dominant clan. It restored a sense of security to ordinary people outside Shariff Aguak, accustomed to seeing a huge retinue of heavily armed escorts and bodyguards speeding through towns and villages to and from Cotabato City.

Assuming that the administration of justice regarding the massacre would now be in the hands of a fearless, independent and credible judicial group, I would like to see the State of Emergency continue the work that Martial Law began. This uncompleted relates fundamentally to the dysfunctions in Maguindanao. Among the agenda still to be done are: continuing military pursuit of suspected perpetrators of the massacre; completing the confiscation of weapons; dismantling all private armies in Maguindanao; establishing credible executive, judicial, legislative , and security systems, beholden to no one but only to the common good; establishing transparency and accountability in government; reforming the electoral process, including the establishment of credible and honest electoral bodies; ensuring that we would have new names and new faces in the next elections that sincerely have the good of he people in mind; protecting candidates, teachers and ballots. And in all these, the military must respect fundamental human rights.

Those are the objectives I believe the State of Emergency should strive to accomplish. I also believe that the Commission on Human Rights, rather than being adversarial, should play the role of a monitoring and evaluative body with legal teeth to bring cases of human rights violations to court. The vigilance of civil society and the moral guidance of religious leaders from all religious traditions are indispensable.

Between now and elections in ARMM and Maguindanao, the social and political groundwork should be laid down for a more free, a more participatory, honest peaceful, and credible elections that would attract candidates who are capable and may not necessarily carry a political name. There are many out there who would like to contribute towards the forming of a new Maguindanao but may be intimidated by the present post-Martial Law situation. It is my hope that the uncompleted agenda to establish the proper ambience for substantive change may be effectively addressed by a State of Emergency.

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato

December 13, 2009

Saturday, December 12, 2009

After Martial Law in Maguindanao, What?

Martial Law in Maguindanao will accomplish some objectives: the arrest, detention, and prosecution of clan members suspected of perpetrating the horrendous massacre in Ampatuan town last November 23, 2009; the definite inevitability of justice for the victims; the successful search and confiscation of many legal and illegal weapons from police, CVOs, and some soldiers under the control of powerful clan members; the disempowerment of local authority and power in various municipalities that are subservient to the ruling clan. People feel a greater sense of relief and freedom while traveling on the national highway between the two cities of Cotabato and Tacurong. Gone are the many armed escorts and bodyguards protecting officials and clan members against similarly armed enemies.

Deeply rooted in Maguindanao is a culture of dominant clan power. A false reading of the situation results in a truncated view of Maguindanao political history. This view sees the phenomenon as the product of one government period, the decade of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Arguably a greater share of the blame could be laid at the door of the present government. But the culture of dominant and changing local power has been with us in the once “empire province of Cotabato,” which included the present Maguindanao, since at least the 1950s. To my knowledge, no government from the 1950s to the present did anything serious to root this out. In the past 60 years, all governments and many politicians from all parties wanting to get votes have cultivated this culture and ignored the periodic violence that erupted. It was a case of mutual political exploitation and expediency. We ourselves, ordinary citizens, have kept quiet in the past 60 years and learned the art of accommodation.

But of course criticism of Martial Law in Maguindanao is really based on total distrust of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Survey after survey is paraded to say that this is the pulse of the people. The stand of small protesting “militant” groups is given disproportionate media exposure. Political oppositionists and personalities from “militant” organizations are interviewed again and again to give their expected negative views on actions of government. In a very real sense the extraordinary amount of media exposure that is given to the opposition in Manila provides a distorted view of the country as a whole.

But given all the above it is now clear that the peoples’ hopes and expectations in Central and Central Mindanao regarding Martial Law will not all be realized. Some of these are: the disbanding of all private armies in Maguindanao; the identification and arrest of members of kidnapping and drug syndicates; the restructuring of legislative, judicial, and executive units so as to be more democratic, independent, trustworthy and pro-common good; and the assurance that elections would be honest, clean, and peaceful.

What might be the reason for the failure to meet expectations? Martial Law by its nature as a last resort should be of short duration. But precisely because of its brevity, the following will result: one clan will be significantly disarmed; the balance of political and armed power will shift to other clans; private armies will remain though possibly less visible and probably more sophisticated in behavior; the deep trauma resulting from the massacre will persist; rido is not going to be stopped; the legislative, justice, and executive--and electoral--mechanisms will still be in the hands of those related to or have debts of gratitude to various families; and if a member of the rival clan will somehow gain the top post of the province, do we in Maguindanao really believe that the provincial capitol will remain in Shariff Aguak? Even the peace process will be affected by the loyalties of local rebel commanders to their own clans. Hence, the fundamental dysfunctions in Maguindanao will remain after Martial Law.

What do I see as a possible solution? Even now sentiments are strong in Central and southern Mindanao that elections for local offices in Maguindanao should be deferred. Or at least the term of Martial Law should be extended till after the elections. The fundamental suggestion is for us to move forward from partisan political criticism to collective constructive thinking and effective action on this central issue of Maguindanao dysfunction. I respectfully address this to all concerned, particularly the Senate, House of Representatives, the judicial branch and the Arroyo administration, as well as to all of us Maguindanawons.

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato
December 11, 2009

Monday, December 07, 2009


“Bishop, what is the Church’s position on Martial Law in Maguindanao?” Muslims and Christians have asked me this question. I have reflected on the question in the light of the situation in Maguindanao and of the social teachings of the Church. It is difficult to provide an indisputable answer. I can only provide some prudential pastoral guidelines for our faithful to consider.

The situation of injustice and unpeace in Maguindanao is very complex. One has to consider the incredible proliferation of firearms, legal and illegal, throughout the province—and these not only in the hands of so-called warlords, CVO’s and police. Liquidations by motorcycle-riding men, kidnapping by armed groups, despite deterrence provided by the army’s Operation Tugis, still occasionally take place. Rido between some MILF commanders and the Ampatuan clan has been going on since Datu Saudi Ampatuan, the young enlightened mayor of Datu Piang, was killed some years ago. This cycle of violence has affected the peace process in that area and its surrounding municipalities. Guns seem to be everywhere. The functioning of courts of justice and of election bodies have been highly suspect for a long time partly due to the political allegiances of court officers. Competence, transparency, and accountability in political governance in many places have to be significantly improved. In Maguindanao, family name and relationships is most important.

The aftermath of November 23, 2009, that day of infamy, shows how slow government reaction can be, given all the above circumstances. Media and politicians from far away Manila do not seem to be familiar with these social, political, and cultural situation in Maguindanao. They seem to think that the police and the military can easily go into an area and just arrest the suspected culprits. Even a “state of emergency” did not seem adequate to cope with the situation.

Thus, a declaration of martial law. What do I think about it? Having reflected on the social, political, and cultural situation I have described above in the light of the social teachings of the Church I offer the following prudential guidelines for our faithful in the Archdiocese of Cotabato:

1. Martial Law is a last resort. I am not a lawyer and a constitutionalist. I shall leave the legal and constitutional debate to them. I do not know if all other recourse to resolve the above situation, particularly the appalling and most dreadful crime of November 23 that cries out to heaven, would be adequate. The complexity and the abnormality of the situation and the need for swift justice for 57 brutally massacred innocent civilians would dictate an extraordinary measure. Since Martial Law has been declared. Let it be. I let the lawyers debate it. I pray that Martial Law resolve the abnormal situation and deal swift justice for the victims.

2. Martial Law is double edged. Military rule is out of the ordinary. The use of weapons to impose that rule is very risky for human rights. We know that even the suspects in the massacre have human rights. Therefore, even as justice for the victims is to be pursued, it should not be by doing injustice to the accused. A wrong cannot be made right by another wrong. Justice is to be pursued in a just way.

3. Martial Law, as a last resort, may be necessary only for the decisive resolution of the problems in Maguindanao I have described. Once it is no longer necessary, it must immediately cease. The shorter the time, the better. This is because of the double-edge nature of Martial Law. The longer it is exercised, the more likely it would be for human rights to be violated and for weapons to be used for evil.

We continue to pray for the victims and their families, some of whom are our own friends. We pray for the quick apprehension and fair trial of all suspects. We pray for the disbanding of all armed groups, the confiscation of all illegal arms, the reform and restructuring of electoral, peace and security agencies. We pray for the arrest and prosecution of kidnapping and liquidating bandits groups. We pray for the return of functioning governing municipal and regional agencies not beholden to any political name. We pray for all the people of Maguindanao, Christian, Muslims, Lumads, Buddhists, Confucianists, etc. that all may live in peace together as brothers and sisters, with leaders that are, in a very true sense, public servants.

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato
December 6, 2009

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Crime that Cries out to Heaven

To all People of Good Will:

Last Monday, 23 November 2009, the shocking news of a horrifying massacre began circulating through radio, text messages, and word of mouth. Twenty four hours later, there were still no complete and accurate reports on what really happened along the highway between Shariff Aguak and Kauran, Ampatuan, Maguindanao. The number of people massacred continues to rise even now, family-members, friends, legal advocates, journalists, and civilians who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

From the beginning there was no doubt that we were hearing or reading of a tragedy unprecedented in the history of the once empire province of Cotabato, unprecedented in its ferocity, brutality and brazenness.

People cry out to God and to one another, “How could this thing happen?” And as more and more bodies were unearthed from that now infamous “killing field,” the wailing and grieving of hundreds of families related to the victims as brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, cousins, nephews and nieces, in laws or friends are turning into righteous rage and the natural desire for vendetta. For the sake of humanity we must not give in to this desire to seek vengeance that can so easily spiral into a cycle of violence.

From the depths of my soul as a religious leader, I condemn in the strongest possible way this barbaric act of massacre as a conscience-less crime that cries out to heaven.

As a citizen I demand that the government, without fear or favor, use all its powers and decisively act to identify and arrest the perpetrators and apply the full force of the law on them.

As a believer in the God of all, I pray for the souls of the victims and ask the Lord to console, comfort, and give strength to their families. I grieve with them and express my deepest sympathies.

Many politicians and non-politicians have quickly blamed others for this shocking tragedy. This is only partly right and conveniently absolves us from any culpability. My sense of history leads me to believe that somehow we all share the blame to a certain extent. A culture of impunity has, indeed, grown through the years. Political administrations and officials from all parties from the 1960s to the present have cultivated and exploited to their own advantage a social structure of traditional leadership that was meant to be for the good of the people. This was so with powerful political families in other parts of the country. We have not tried to change this culture of political convenience and thus allowed a culture of impunity to endure through successive administrations. Elections have not and will not change this situation. We simply get more of the same.

We need to change from the bottom-up, from individuals to families, from families to communities. We need to change our values that tolerate evil or choose the lesser evil. We need to learn new values that will transform our cultures from within. For Muslims the Koran, faithfully and correctly followed, will be a guide. For Christians, the Holy Bible, also faithfully and correctly interpreted, will provide direction for value transformation.

Beloved People of Good Will, yes, indeed, we must condemn. We must demand decisive action for justice. We must pray. But we also must begin to change. With the grace of God, we can.

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.

Archbishop of Cotabato

November 26, 2009

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

For Cory Aquino: Christmas Reflection, 1989

(This was written after one of the several failed coups that tried to President Aquino. I gave it to Cory Aquino to share with her my own concern for peace after three years of fledgling fragile democracy).

Peace is wisp of wind in the noonday heat
Stirring the regal pines on distant hills
Sweeping down the fields of golden rice
Cooling feverish cheeks.
Peace can fade away, quickly, evanescent.

Peace is a young chirping bird
Sallying forth from its mother’s nest
Flapping its wings testing the breeze
Exploring the sky and the earth.
Blithely. Briefly.
Peace can be shot down, cruelly, fragile.

Peace is a throbbing healing “yes”
To the wailing of children for food
The outstretched hands of the poor for justice
The hunger of a nation for integrity
The blessed outrage over blood-spewing guns.
A drive. Spirit-force.
Peace is a flame in the heart searing, perduring.

Peace is frail infant on a manger
Who shall announce: To you
On whom my Father’s favour rests
I give my peace
A peace the world cannot give.
Follow me.

How, Lord, shall we follow?
To drink of your peace?
To end our wars and divisions?
Our mad scrambling for power?
How, Lord, shall we become
Sisters and brothers once more?

Pease is a passion to share, to serve
A compassion for the world’s crippled and maimed
An embrace, a crucifixion, yet freedom to be,
A love without retention limits.
Measureless breadth and depth.
Follow me, come!

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Nueva Segovia, December 8, 1989

Cory—My Personal Symbol of Inang Bayan

MILLIONS of Filipinos shouted the battle cry, “Cory! Cory! Cory!,” throughout the campaign period for the Snap Elections of 1986. Finally Filipinos had real hope in ousting President Ferdinand Marcos from an office he had held since 1964.

More than an icon of democracy Cory was and is to me my personal symbol of Inang Bayan, our beloved Motherland.

I first met President Cory Aquino during her campaign sortie to Kidapawan. While many of her fellow campaigners delighted the huge crowd in the town plaza, she came for a quiet visit to the Bishop’s Residence.

She wore her signature yellow dress. Obviously she was the darling of our lay staff and she had picture taking with them. After exchanging pleasantries I asked her to go with me and visit the grave of Fr. Tullio Favali, P.I.M.E., The brutal murder of this gentle Italian missionary priest in 1985 by paramilitary forces had demonstrated for me the darkest side of the Marcos regime. We walked the few meters from the Bishop’s residence to the grave and we prayed for Fr. Tullio.

Her brief visit and presence was a lifting of the spirit for a Church that had known so much suffering from human rights abuses from 1980 to 1985.

From that time on Cory was for me the woman who best symbolized motherland, Inang Bayan. And her gracious, gentle, laid back and kind manner just reinforced that first intuition. From afar I followed her progress during the campaign and prayed for her to win.

We organized NAMFREL in Kidapawan. Thank God, most of our Clergy, Religious, and Lay Leaders were willing. A handful did not think that the elections would help and opted with the Left for boycott.

Cory campaigned with a simple down to earth, womanly and motherly style of talking, like telling a story, devoid of the oratorical and sometimes pompous style of many campaigners. Her enthusiastic reception by millions of people made it increasingly clear that change was imminent, in the air. The agents of change would be the enthusiastic millions, young and old, who listened to her and shouted “Cory! Cory! Cory!”

The Snap Elections were held on February 7, 1986. On February 13-14, 1986, the Bishops gathered in plenary assembly as they had previously agreed, should any emergency take place. This was emergency. The government press was saying that Marcos had already won the elections.

Cardinal Ricardo Vidal, the President of the Bishops’ Conference, called for each Bishop to share the experience of NAMFREL in his diocese regarding the honesty and integrity of the elections.

He asked me to moderate the session, summarize and synthesize the results. Each of the Bishops spoke. There was no doubt – the elections were filled with fraud, fraud that literally changed the results.

We then went to reflect on this situation and pray before the Blessed Sacrament. The Bishops came together again and worked on a statement which they approved by consensus. This was the dramatic post-election statement. The Bishops declared: “According to moral principles, a government that assumes or retains power through fraudulent means has no moral basis.”
Until today I deeply regret that I had no direct hand in drafting the final statement. Cardinal Vidal had asked me to help write the draft. But I had to go to the hospital. I gave Cardinal Vidal my three essential points for a draft: (a) that the elections were substantially fraudulent; (b) that Present Marcos had no moral basis to retain power; (c) that this immoral situation had somehow to be corrected. I gave all my notes to Cardinal Vidal.

Cory called for strikes and boycotts. Then Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and General Fidel Ramos broke away from the Marcos government. With that came the call of Cardinal Jaime Sin for people to go to EDSA and protect the small breakaway band of soldiers.

For me the call to EDSA was genuinely a call to protect Cory, my personal symbol of Inang Bayan.

Archbishop of Cotabato

Thursday, July 23, 2009


To all Warring Parties:

As a Religious leader I respect your causes, although I may not agree with your methods.

But precisely because I am a Religious leader I strongly condemn every violent act perpetrated that has no concern for the innocent.

I condemn in the strongest terms as serious moral evil such crimes as terrorist bombings that by their very nature target the innocent, punitive raids on villages, bombardments that fall on civilian populations, landmines that can kill any passerby. For me “collateral damage” simply means murder and deliberate unjustifiable destruction of property.

War inflicts more destruction on civilians than on combatants. For every combatant killed, scores of civilians suffer or die. In the past twelve months I have seen thousands of civilians languishing in evacuation camps, first in the Pikit and PALMA areas and now in Datu Piang and various other places of Maguindanao. They give birth to babies under dismal conditions, they beg for food and water, they struggle for life in the most miserable situation. They die as statistics. Such human tragedy, it is said, has spawned brutal retaliatory terrorism elsewhere in our region.

From the depths of my soul I can only cry out to all warring parties, “Enough is enough!” End your so called search and punish operations. End your terrorist bombings. End your bombardments, end your raids, all you warring parties! Enough is enough!

Due punishment for raids has long been meted out in an attrition of casualties and damaged properties. And now what most sadly remains is the senseless logic of war, of action and reaction. And the suffering of thousands of civilian evacuees. Enough is enough!

For the sake of our evacuees and in the name of our one God of Peace, end your war! Go back to the negotiating table. Let the thousands of evacuees return safely to their home. Collaborate with one another towards this objective. Together, rehabilitate their destroyed properties. Give them another chance for a truly human life.

With the grace of the Most Merciful, Most Beneficent, Most Compassionate God, the one unique God we all believe in, there is no human conflict that cannot be solved through a genuine honest dialogue of the heart.

May the One Almighty Loving God of all have compassion on us.

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato
July 23, 2009