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