Tensions have been high all week because of bloody firefight in a town in Maguindanao province that involved police, members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
The fighting took the lives of 44 members of the elite police Special Action Force counter-terrorism unit, 17 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and at least seven civilians. That much is known.
It has also been established that the police were in the area to arrest two international terrorists.
Beyond that, separate investigation panels from the police and from the MILF have yet to file a final report on the Jan. 25 clash that has seemed to have eroded support and optimism for what was touted last year as a final peace agreement to end decades of conflict.
Already, words like total war are being bandied about online and on the air by both angry netizens and by politicians who just months ago pledged support for the peace process.
What is interesting to me though, as someone who works with words, is the revival of the word peacenik, a portmanteau of “peace” and “beatnik” from the 1960s. The word, originally used derogatorily to refer to those opposed to the US war in Vietnam, has been trotted out again and used against those opposed to more war in Mindanao.
Along with “bleeding heart”, peacenik seems particularly apt for the situation because, at least going by online comments and on TV soundbites, war seems the popular and patriotic answer to what some of us in Manila have started calling a massacre.
The MILF has countered that because they lost 17 of their own fighters, it was a fight and not a massacre. Why the fight happened despite there being a peace agreement and ongoing peace negotiations is beyond my expertise, which, I suppose, is really just thinking about words. (It is more of a hobby, really, and a way to make money)
Anyway, the use of peacenik, in this case, implies a certain lack of patriotism, a betrayal even of the 44 police officers who died bravely against an enemy who knew the terrain and who had them surrounded. Raising things like the peace process and pointing out that war will not solve anything has been taken to mean clearing the MILF and their former comrades now with the BIFF of any wrongdoing.
To be a peacenik, as was the case in the 1960s, is to be an enemy of the country (I initially thought peacenik had more to do with Bolshevik, which would have been a perfect starting point). Or, at the very least, a sympathizer of those who want to see the Republic fall.
This is certainly not the case. Someone has to be held accountable for what happened. The MILF, although it has been insisting that their fighters were acting in self-defense, has formed a panel to investigate, and has promised to cooperate with the government.
It is certainly possible that they will clear the commanders and fighters involved in the clash, but that has not happened yet. That has not stopped netizens from calling them all sorts of names and proclaiming that the muklo (a derogatory term that is, I suppose, the Filipino version of “gook”) cannot be trusted and should be wiped out.
Making the resurgence of peacenik even more apt is the alternative presented by some of our more macho politicians, few of whose kids have even spent a day in the Reserve Officers Training Corps: Sending the poorer sons of the poorer provinces hundreds of kilometers to fight in Mindanao — which, going by action films from the 1980s and 1990s is our own Vietnam — against other poor sons of poorer provinces in a war that will only really matter to the ones fighting it and to those running away from it.