“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