Manila (AsiaNews/CBCP) - Card Orlando B. Quevedo, archbishop of Cotabato, wants to know what happened in the recent "massacre" in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, southern Philippines, an area that comes under his episcopal jurisdiction.
For the prelate, the authorities have a duty to use all the means at their disposal to find out what led to the deaths of 44 members of the Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
For him, this is essential to reach a peaceful and lasting solution to the long conflict that has torn the island of Mindanao and pitted the central government in Manila against Muslim rebels.
In expressing his condolences "to families of the valiant PNP-SAF, fallen in battle for the cause of justice," Card Quevedo noted that "The circumstances and causes of this horrendous tragedy are still to be clearly unravelled". Justice, he stated, demands an impartial investigation into how a police operation could result into such an "unimaginable tragedy."
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines slammed the "act of violence against human life" that caused the deaths of 44 commandos at the hands of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
The violent incident took place last Sunday in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, southern Philippines.
In hot pursuit of two suspected Islamic extremists, Zulkifli bin Hir, better known as Marwan, from Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and Basit Usman, an explosives expert, SAF commandos entered a village under MILF control. However, the police had not liaised with the rebel group, as required by the peace agreement. Consequently, the Muslim rebel group responded with deadly force.
Yesterday, to mark the tragedy, the authorities held a national day of mourning. During the memorial service, the bodies of the slain SAF commandos were returned to their families. President Benigno Aquino led the ceremony honouring the victims.
The incident shows the importance as well as the fragility of the peace deal signed last March. In view of persisting tensions and repeated clashes, it could still be derailed.
As in the rest of the country, Masses were held in Eastern Visayas in memory of the slain commandos, many of whom hailed from the region.
Following last Sunday's tragedy, Fr Apolinario Abing, who holds the police rank of chief inspector, began celebrating a daily Mass for the victims, and this for two weeks.
In the Archdiocese of Palo, other priests, like Fr Isagani Petilos, also began celebrating memorial Masses and prayer services for the slain commandos.