December 4, 2023
It was the Sunday of the Mindanao Week of Peace.
And for the entire Catholic Church, it was the First Sunday of Advent. The first of four Sundays where we light candles as a symbol of hope and signal our preparedness to welcome the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. However, this should’ve-been joyous occasion for the faithful quickly became a day of sorrow.
Magsisimba lang sana, Mr. President. Ngunit, ang naging kinahinatnan ay isang karahasang napakahirap tanggapin. Yesterday morning, at around 7:30 AM during the celebration of the mass at the Dimaporo gymnasium of the Mindanao State University, there was an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion, killing four (4) people, injuring forty-five (45) others. Please allow me to show you the barbaric act they committed inside my alma mater, the Mindanao State University. [Play video and show picture]
The people who attended mass went to witness the lighting of a candle for Christmas. They did not expect that they would be lighting candles for the victims of this tragic event instead.
I am sure that this august Chamber is one with me in expressing our heartfelt condolences to the families left behind, as well as our condemnation for this meaningless, barbaric, and cruel act.
If the word ‘unsuspecting’ were ever to have an image equivalent, yesterday’s incident would have captured it. 21-year old Chris Jurado recalls: “It was really sudden and everyone ran. When I looked behind me, people were lying on the floor. We didn’t know what happened because everything happened so fast.” Rowena Mae Fernandez, 19 years old, said she did not understand what happened, either, and then she saw others running, which made her run, too. We cannot even begin to imagine the shock and the trauma that our students and teachers are now going through.
Unsuspecting – the students and teachers who gathered at the MSU gym to attend mass. Unsuspecting – their respective bereaved loved ones and families, who knew only that they were on their way to mass. Unsuspecting – the rest of the region, who, just hours before, was jolted by a series of strong earthquakes associated with the Philippine Trench.
Kung sa bisaya pa, Mr. President, kinsa gud intawon ang magdahom? Who would expect and prepare for the worst, when all one intends to do is to take part in worship? No one, absolutely no one.
But as I reflect on this heartbreaking attack, I realize: this is exactly the way of terrorism. To catch us off-guard, attack us when we least expect it. It is a betrayal of the most fundamental kind. It is an unforgivable act of violence, taking innocent lives without remorse, and in the insidious guise of a noble cause.
Mr. President, it was also on this Senate floor when I recounted my experience when I was still the City Director of Davao City Police, wherein we had already caught two terrorists, but we had to let them go because under the law, time was not on our side. Only to discover that one of them, a Filipino, who joined the ISIS, had gone on to behead German nationals in Syria.
We have come so far since then, Mr. President. Especially with the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. Kahit pa may ilang sumubok para mapawalang bisa ang batas na ito, nagpapasalamat tayo sa naging desisyon ng Korte Suprema kung saan binigyan nila ng importansya ang pagkakaroon natin ng bagong batas para pigilan at sugpuin ang terorismo. Pahintulutan ninyo ako na basahin ang ilang bahagi ng kanilang desisyon:
“Terrorism is no ordinary crime. As emphasized, terrorism is not confined to a particular space and time, and is often shrouded by uncertainty and invisibility. Unlike a typical war where armed hostilities are clearly apparent, most terrorist activities, including training, financing, and other forms of preparation, involve months or even years of clandestine planning.”
“Terrorists have significantly improved their capabilities over time and expanded their vast resources which include, inter alia, sophisticated training and the addition of weapons of mass destruction in their arsenal. The pervasive problem of terrorism requires interventions that not only punishes an act when it is done but also anticipates risks to disrupt and pre-empt a terrorist act before irreversible harm is done, without sacrificing and undermining fundamental freedoms recognized in the Bill of Rights…”
“Bearing in mind the immense responsibility of the government to protect its people and defend the State, the Court cannot simply disregard the realities on the ground and the complex problem of terrorism not only in the Philippines but also across the globe.”
The Supreme Court is correct, terrorism is a complex problem shrouded with uncertainty and invisibility.
As terrorists try to strike fear [into] our hearts, they also attempt to threaten to destroy all that we have worked hard for.
And when I say everything we have worked hard for, I do not just mean the passage of the Anti-Terror Law. I also mean the longstanding peace shared by both Muslims and Christians at MSU, Mr. President. This peace, this harmony, is what prevails on and off campus. Ako ang makakapag patunay, Mr. President, dahil ako mismo ay nakapag-aral doon sa MSU. I am a living, breathing witness: regardless of your religion, peace and love constitute the rule, rather than the exception, for all at MSU.
This is how and why I am so certain that this is a terrorist attack. It is not rooted in any authentic acceptance of God and holiness. There can be no possible euphemism for it; it is an act of evil, plain and simple.
The students and teachers of MSU consider the university as their second home. They consider this as their safe place for learning, shaping their dreams, and establishing lasting relationships. Sa pagsabog ng bomba sa gitna ng kanilang gymnasium, kung saan idinaraos ang kanilang mga masasayang school activities, nawala ang kanilang sense of security sa kanilang pangalawang tahanan.
Ngayon, bunsod ng trauma at pag-aalala sanhi ng terrorist act na kanilang naranasan, nagsimula na pong lisanin ng mga estudyante ng MSU ang kanilang pinakamamahal na pamantasan na kumupkop sa kanila at naging bahagi ng kanilang pang-araw-araw na buhay.
In the face of evil, then, we cannot be found idle, doing nothing. In the aftermath of the bombing incident, the divine call for our collective solidarity and unwavering resilience resound even louder.
I urge the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to keep doing what they do best – protect our people. I implore you to ensure, as much as you can, that such acts of terror will be stopped. If your preliminary investigations are correct and this is indeed a retaliation to the work that you have been doing, particularly against the Dawlah Islamiyah-Maute Group, I understand that you may be afraid of what else may happen. Nevertheless, may our love for our country always be greater than our fear.
I urge our Local Government Units to keep an extra watchful eye on your jurisdictions and on your constituents. You are the partners of our military and law enforcement personnel. Huwag po tayong panghinaan ng loob. Let us stay vigilant for the sake of our people.
I urge the nation: pray, do not lose faith. Alam niyo po, Ginoong Pangulo, ang nasabing pagsabog ay nangyari pagkatapos ng Kyrie (kee-ree-yeh). For those of us who are unfamiliar with it, this is the part that comes before the First Reading, the part where the Congregation asks God for His pardon and mercy. Nakahingi muna sila ng kapatawaran, Mr. President. And this is the part of the story that sends chills down my spine – while the victims were killed in an unforgivable act of terrorism, and despite the seeming darkness of the situation, the light of forgiveness and mercy is still ever present. I am not one to preach, but I would like to believe that this, in itself, was a miracle, from which we can still draw hope to go on.
Kung kaya, sa ating lahat, tayo’y patuloy pa rin na magtiwala at manalig. Terrorists succeed only if we allow ourselves to be paralyzed by the terror they sow. It is our togetherness and unity in this time of sorrow that will send a clear message to the perpetrators: they have failed – we are not afraid.
Let us not allow terror to reign. Let us look, instead, to the way of peace, the same peace that the students, teachers, and administrators of the Mindanao State University (MSU), as well as the entire Mindanao, have nurtured over the years. And in doing so, may we always let this peace prevail.
Candles bring light in the dark. It symbolizes hope that something better awaits every one of us. We will not forget the true meaning and purpose of lighting the candle wreath. It is the birth of Jesus, a sign of God’s love and commitment to mankind.
As we light candles for the souls of the victims of this horrific incident, let them be symbols of our solidarity; let them be symbols of our commitment to the victims and their family that the government will shed light on the cause of this unfortunate tragedy and hold accountable those who perpetrated this terroristic act.
Daghang salamat, Mr. President.