On the SAF 44, and worse Massacres in Mindanao

The blood spilled by the 44 SAF officers in Mamasapano. Maguindanao earlier this year will not be in familiar company. Mindanao has seen massacres over the past centuries, but most of that blood is Muslim and lumad civilian blood.

Let me get this clear: their deaths were tragic (no death per se is happy), but the SAF 44 were uniformed men on covert duty. Their fall should have been viewed as the glorious fulfillment of their duty, instead they are being portrayed as victims. If I were a uniformed man I wouldn’t consider being portrayed as a victim too flattering. The grief of the officers’ families are justified (if not exactly foresighted – duh, they’re uniformed men), but our nation’s collective grief is rather rich, and our public anger at the Moro camp of the (otherwise successful) conflict is downright ridiculous.

If there are any victims in the centuries of unrest in my home island, they are the innocent, mostly defenseless locals caught up in conflicts they had no part in.

Many of the 58 people killed during the Maguindanao Massacre in 2009 were from Mindanao, and almost all of them were unarmed civilians. You can say it was Mindanawons killing one another, but that horrific crime could only have happened in the feudal padrino system of governance that was imposed on Mindanao and which is centered in Manila (if Ampatuan is indeed the mastermind behind it, remember that he was Gloria’s creature).

But at least the Maguindanao Massacre is still remembered, for the most horrible massacres in the history of Mindanao are sadly not even widely remembered in Mindanao.

The 1974 massacre in the remote baranggay of Manili, Carmen, North Cotabato (barely an hour away from my hometown of Kidapawan) saw 79 civilians, mostly the elderly, women, and children, slaughtered en masse. According to this compelling interview with a survivor by writer Rogelio Braga, Forces of the Philippine Constabulary, cooperating with the (allegedly cannibalistic) paramilitary group Ilaga, gathered the muslim community in the local masjid and demanded that they  surrender a local insurgent, as well as allegedly hidden firearms. The people tried to reason that they had neither, but the armed men open fired. When the people tried to hide inside the masjid, the men shelled the trapped civilians with grenades – almost none of the bodies were intact. The armed men have had to build a concrete block around the floors to keep the ankle-deep blood from flowing away. To this day nobody has been prosecuted for the crime, and no case is pending.

Then there was the Bud Dajo Massacre in the Bud Dajo crater in Sulu in 1906. American soldiers then quelling the remaining resistance against American conquest in Mindanao slaughtered over 600 Tausugs, who were cornered down the crater, from a height. Most of the victims were civilians, including women holding their babies. Mark Twain wrote a provocatively ironic reaction on the ‘act of valour.’

The worst figure I found online so far has been 1,776: the Tacbil Mosque Massacre in Malisbong, Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat in 1974. Again, by the Philippine armed forces. Again, civilians, including women and children. Again, you probably haven’t heard of it.

(One can argue that the casualties in the Siege of Manila during the Second World War is the highest figure in Philippine history, with 100,000 estimated civilian casualties. But that’s war, deaths during war, while no less atrocious, are expected. Deaths in peacetime kill more than lives).

Perhaps the highest figure though might be the total death count in the Massacre of Davao in 1906 (by far the worst year in Philippine history). After the local tribal chieftain Mangulayon assassinated the newly installed military governor of Davao, Lt Edward Bolton, the American forces engaged in a manhunt for the escaped assassin. By ‘manhunt,’ I mean an indiscriminate killing of all moving life in sight until Mangulayon was found – a Huwes de Kutsilyo. Davao historian Macario Tiu researched extensively on the event and wrote a detailed account of his work. To quote a native elder he interviewed:

‘In the mountains of Santa Maria (Davao Occidental), they (the Americans) killed all the natives. They spared no one, whether it was a Tagacaolo, a Blaan, a Manobo, a cat, or a dog. If they see you, they kill you, all to avenge Bolton.’

The killing spree lasted for three months, stretching according to some accounts from Digos to Malita (that’s almost half the western Davao gulf). The exact number of deaths? No figure could ever be ascertained, records on the massacre are almost nonexistent. And not even in Davao is this killing spree known.

“We shall never forget you SAF 44”? Ha, we’ll see.

But all of this has nothing to do with the Mamasapano incident you say! What I’m saying, you stupid Manilenyo, is that we here in Mindanao are sick to death (literally) of bloodshed. When we say give peace a chance that’s not a request, that’s a goddamn plea. You’re calling for the possibility of killing even more innocent lives just because Noli de Castro is teary eyed on TV Patrol. If you want to wage a war against the MILF, please wage it in the streets Manila.

It might even help you fix your MRT problems (by decreasing the commuters that is).


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