PEACE PROBE by Gene Stoltzfus


Philippines: Team Host Assassinated by peaceprobe
May 7, 2007, 10:22 am
Filed under: Philippines

Usman Ali was one of several people who hosted our recentChristian Peacemaker Teams trip to the Philippines. In the last two years he had been appointed to work with a reconstituted elementary school where operations had previously been suspended due to armed conflict in the surrounding villages. The villages had been attacked by reported government supported groups. Many villagers were forced to flee the most recent event in a long simmering dispute reaching back to the dawn of the American occupation of the Philippines that began in 1898. The dispute which has frequently led to outright war over the last century, is a struggle over fundamental issues of Islamic autonomy and social vision. The conflict in Mindanao is one of the many world wide tentacles where real and imagined terrorists are identified to the post 9/11 world war on terror. For the past two years because of the hard work of local leaders including Usman Ali, a relative calm has prevailed in the villages where Usman served.

Usman Ali was shot by an unidentified assailant. The Philippines is under siege now by extrajudicial killings often carried out by armed masked men riding motorcycles. Legislative elections scheduled for later this month and election violence as a fact of democratic life in the Philippines is used by officials to explain many of these killings. However this thread of abuse has been building for well over a year. Victims are largely rural leaders and organizers known to be critical of the government. The pattern of the killings has similarity from the northern reaches of the 7000 islands to the heart of Mindanao, the large island in the south where this killing occurred in the village of Pikit located some one hundred miles to the west of Mindanao’s largest city of Davao.

A Muslim, Usman was a leader in a community with an expanding body of educated people who operate confidently with non Muslim neighbors. Over snacks in the local elementary schools Usman and others warmly welcomed our group of three peacemakers and regional facilitators who accompanied us. He and his colleagues helped us understand the history and current problems of peace and war. There was an undertone during our visit that suggested to me a residue of deep anxiety that new violence was possible.

As I left from the late January visit to Pikit I felt stretched between joyful waves and smiles from the 20 adults and children who had gathered to welcome us from the surrounding villages and dark hunches that violence may return to this cluster of hamlets. My worries were confirmed last week when I received news of Usman’s death. Usman was a candidate for election from a Muslim – Christian list of candidates for the Philippines national legislature. Usman will never serve in the Philippine legislature but his memory can inspire us all to sharpen our eyes and ears to identify and condemn coordinated assassination strategies when they appear.

Assassination pogroms have been instruments in the hands of many governments and underground groups for generations. Philippine military culture has long enjoyed close ties with the United States government through military and intelligence organizations who refined the art of modern political assassination campaigns in Viet Nam where more than 40,000 persons were killed in the long forgotten Phoenix program. That program was carried out in the year leading up to the end of Viet Nam war which ended in defeat in 1975. Despite legislation prohibiting such behavior in the US and elsewhere arms length initiatives such as the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines persist in our modern cultures of national security. We can honor our deepest commitments to faith, hope and love by seizing the life and death of a single person like Usman Ali to recommit ourselves to ending assassination by using the free space that is available to us to demystify it and condemn it.

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