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