Part 1 of 3: Mamasapano, Maguindanao

In commemoration of the upcoming Philippine Solidarity Week, the BAYAN Peace Mission Northeast delegates have decided to collaborate and publish a 3-part photo blog reflecting on their recent exposure trip. Part 1 is in honor of the one anniversary of the botched “Operation Wolverine” in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

The following are reflections and photos taken by some of the BAYAN Peace Mission Northeast delegates. We invite you to join us at the Long Live International Solidarity: ILPS 5th International Assembly and the BAYAN USA Peace Mission Report Back on Tuesday, February 16th where we will discuss how to strengthen anti-imperialist alliances and solidarity between different struggles in the US and around the world.

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For 2 years in a row, BAYAN USA has sent a delegation to the Moro territories in Mindanao to learn more about and stand in solidarity with the Moro peoples. This past year, we were able to visit Mamasapano in Maguindanao, where a US-directed Philippine police operation led to over 60 deaths. We spoke with the widows of the freedom-fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) who were killed in the encounter, and they confirmed eyewitness accounts of US military personnel and drones on site when the fatal encounter took place.

What is most alarming is this all took place AFTER the MILF signed a peace accord with the BS Aquino government that stipulates a gradual ceasefire.  This points to insincerity on the US-Aquino regime’s part is in pursuing genuine peace in the Moro territories. Instead, the so-called peace process seeks to pacify a historic armed struggle for self-determination and liberation from national chauvinism against the Moro people by the US-backed Philippine government.

Bernadette Ellorin, Chairperson, BAYAN-USA

“My husband joined the armed struggle because it’s just what we do. If all the others are, you have to join them. You have to fight with your people,” a widowed woman of one of the fallen Moro freedom fighters told us

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When you read about the Mamasapano massacre in mainstream media, the “Fallen 44” or the 44 Special Action Force police commandos killed during the attack, is the number used to summarize the event and to highlight tragedy. Rarely do the deaths of the 18 MILF members, 4 BIFF members, and 7 Moro civilians receive the same commemorative recognition. The death of one U.S. soldier is also left out of the conversation of casualties, as the U.S. military continues to deny its involvement in the massacre. 

“There was one soldier there with blue eyes, like a cat’s, and a long nose. An American. We saw him fighting with the PNP,” a member of the community told us.

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President Aquino allowed the U.S. to conduct this “War on Terror” mission to achieve its own ends at the expense of the lives of dozens of Filipino citizens. The tragedy is that, once again, Filipinos were pitted against Filipinos in warfare, to serve U.S. imperial interests. Even though both the PNP officers and the Moros were pawns in the imperial game, only the lives of the PNP officers are revered and only their loved ones have received financial support from the government since the massacre.

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It has been a year since the massacre and yet the Mamasapano communities are still struggling to eat. The massacre not only took the lives of hardworking men who support their wives and children, but destroyed the farms, mosques, and homes of the people. In their grieving, they have had to also work to rebuild their communities. The collective trauma and grief was visceral upon our visit.

“We feel like we died,” one of the widows of a MILF member told us, in speaking for all of the community members.

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As individuals described to us their recounting of the day of the massacre, it was clear how terrifyingly shocking it was. It was clear that the Moros who engaged in combat with the policemen did so out of urgent self-defense. Too often are MILF and BIFF  confused for solely offensive forces and thus deemed “terrorist” organizations. What must be understood is that these individuals take up arms in DEFENSE of their ancestral lands,  people, dignity, human rights, self-determination, and cultures. They are defending themselves against imperial aggression which manifests itself in militarized and state violence. If such outrageous violence was not committed against their communities, they would have no reason to fight back. All they want is to live peacefully on their rightful land.

“I remember hearing a datu say that the Lumads think of the Moros as siblings of theirs. Because the struggle is the same,” a Moro youth sector organizer told me.

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Both the Bangsa Moro and the Lumad are indigenous peoples of Mindanao fighting for self-determination and protection of ancestral domains. Their lands are extremely rich in minerals and natural gases, which is the primary reason they are under attack by the US-Aquino regime. Throughout the Peace Mission, I learned about the insidious strategies of U.S. interference in the Bangsa Moro struggle for liberation. Having then integrated with Lumads, with whom I am still living, I have learned much about U.S. involvement in the counter-insurgency program of the AFP “Oplan Bayanihan” which essentially aims to displace and disempower Lumad communities through military force so that mining companies can steal the land and its rich resources. The “War on Terror” of the U.S. government functions in the same way in Moro regions that “Oplan Bayanihan” does in Lumad regions. Both of these counter-insurgency missions instigate civil war, accuse the communities of “terrorism,” convince the public of this terrorism, kill the strongest leaders, and eventually, displace the peoples and allow mining companies to encroach.

Teresita Endosa, Anakbayan New York and Kinding Sindaw

The air in Mindanao was warm and always buzzing.  We sat, all piled tight in the van, passing checkpoint after checkpoint as we headed to meet with the widows of Mamasapano.

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When we arrived, the community had been waiting for us for some time, and was already gathered to watch the movie.  They asked us, why were we here? Just to give money?  What are we actually going to do for them?  How do they know we actually care?

We shared that in each of our homes – New Jersey, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles – we protested their husbands’ murders, and we were here to continue that work.  To demand justice and be in solidarity with them.

So the widows shared with us their stories, their final moments with their husbands. Hearing the approaching gunfire, coming closer and closer.  Their husbands having no choice but to fight.  The violence that comes to the Moro people, military attacks on communities that have already evacuated their original homes, already barely surviving, now losing their husbands, the breadwinners of the family.

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Talking with the widows was one of the more difficult parts of the Peace Mission for me.  It sat heavy in my gut for days.  It reminded me that although we work on this as a campaign, we must remember to honor them also as lived experiences. Now we have the task of carrying them with us wherever we go, of exposing these violent attacks on the indigenous Moro and Lumad communities in Mindanao, of exposing the massive human rights violations and militarization occurring in Mindanao right now — all so foreign corporations can plunder the land. #USoutofAsiaPacific #JunkVFA #JunkEDCA

Katrina Cortes, Anakbayan New York

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The location of the Mamasapano encounter was beautiful–verdant greenery everywhere, crops and trees surrounding the river which flowed under the bridge where the incident happened.

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For a people to be so impoverished on land that was so naturally rich is criminal, I thought to myself as I walked along the river. The Moro people are not terrorists, but they are a terrorized people. Terrorized by years of landlessness, lack of livelihood, and all-out war under the reign of a fascist and reactionary government that only serves the interests of foreign imperialist powers.

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Meeting the Mamasapano widows was heartbreaking and surreal. The scene of our sharing was joyful on the surface, with children in colorful hijab running about everywhere as the peace mission delegates sat with the widows and local organizers outside.

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Upon sitting down with the widows, we learned that they received no governmental aid  after the Mamasapano encounter whereas the widows of the Special Armed Forces did. The stories of the Bangsamoro widows weren’t uplifted in the same way by mainstream media even though the deaths of their husbands spelled an even deeper plunge into poverty for them and their children. This poverty was the root cause of why their husbands were Moro freedom fighters in the first place. 

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One widow was a “Balik Islam,” or convert to Islam, and had no family in Mindanao aside from her deceased husband. She cried as she told us that her children survived on rice water and food donated by her neighbors. I asked the older widow beside her why her husband joined the armed struggle. With calm and steady eyes beneath her blue hijab, she told me, “My husband wanted peace for his people and freedom for his country.” I’ll never forget her.

To stand with the Bangsamoro and the Mamasapano widows is to stand for liberation and justice.

Nina Mariella Macapinlac, Anakbayan New Jersey

All photos taken by participants of the BAYAN Peace Mission unless otherwise stated. Please do not use without permission. Please direct any questions to anakbayannj@gmail.com.

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