January 25, 2015 was a dark day for the Philippine National Police (PNP) as it lost 44 members of its “Special Action Force” (SAF) in a covert police operation in the town of Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao, Philippines. The mission, codenamed Oplan Exodus, was initially intended to kill or capture terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan. The mission did not go as planned as forces became engaged in a firefight with rebel groups, leading to the “single deadliest raid in the history of SAF and the PNP.”
The incident sparked outrage, even for the international community. These men, after all, were not only men with a responsibility to our nation but also, a father, a brother, and a son. To risk your life for the sake of many is, for me, something very noble. We remember them—give them the honor and justice they deserve. Yet it is not just the dead who deserve recognition but also the living.
The incident also brings to light the status of peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). The almost two decades long attempt at peace in the province of Mindanao has been complicated. We may be angry at the rebels for killing our military and our policemen, for wreaking havoc. But are all evil? And are we, the “observers,” not at fault for anything? Ultimately, the question of peace is a question of identity. We cannot answer who the “Moros” are and what they stand for. But do we not all have a common humanity? We may not agree with their actions, but rebels are human beings too.
We cannot and should not judge the “right” of a person to die because all deserve to live. Rights must be granted on the basis of our dignity, our humanity, our common worth as human beings. We mourn for our fallen soldiers and police officers. But we also mourn for the other lives lost that day. We mourn for our society that is continued to be beset by violence.
But more than mourn, we also struggle. We take steps for a better future, to recognize dignity and to promote peace in the world.
Written by Zannelle Boling, intern, and Zarina San Jose, Director of Operations, at the WYA Asia Pacific office.