Equally Guilty

Posted on May 15, 2008

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[This blog has a new domain: http://philippineaffairs.com/]

War is organized chaos. It is ironic that laws are applied (or at least invoked) even during times of wars. However, not a single international treaty can shield the fragile body of the innocents against bullets and shrapnel. The Geneva Conventions cannot save a person standing before a shallow pit from being shot on the head. Not a single provision in the International Declaration of Human Rights can ease the suffering of a prisoner being tortured because of different political beliefs. Only the moral conscience of a soldier or a rebel can make the difference.

In the Philippines, we are in a state of protracted civil war. The communist rebellion in the countryside and the Muslim separatist struggle in Mindanao have become part of our daily existence as a nation. However, the three-decade insurgency has not produced any long-lasting positive change in society. It only caused the sufferings and deaths of thousands. It only bred vengeance. Battles are sometimes fought not anymore because of ideology or sense of duty but because of anger. Battles are sometimes fought not in the name of the flag but in the name of slain comrades. It is not surprising why atrocities are committed by both sides — the rebels and the government forces share the sin of human rights abuse.

My father was once a marine platoon leader. His group was once assigned in a clearing-up and retrieval operation somewhere in Mindanao. He related to me how he was appalled by the scene of decapitated bodies of soldiers lying on the forest ground. Some of the bodies that still had the heads intact were mutilated and the eyes gouged-out. In retaliation, my father’s commanding officer ordered them to burn the nearby village, which was suspected of cuddling the rebels. Many families were forcefully evicted from their homes.

Sometimes we think that human rights abuses are only committed by government forces. However, the reality of the situation is that the rebels are also equally guilty. The Philippine communist movement, for instance, once had their own internal purging. Many among their ranks were summarily executed by their own comrades for flimsy reasons and only because of mere suspicions.

The respect for human rights all boils down to the respect for the sanctity of life and dignity of a person. Warring parties should never lose sight of the fact that their enemies are also their fellow human beings. Beyond ideologies, duties, and vengeance is the desire for justice. Respect begets respect. Compassion begets compassion. Even in times of wars, non-combatants and captives should be humanely treated even if they have different political beliefs.

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