No Greater Love

Alice was never an emotional person. The derogatory term “cold fish” would more appropriately describe her. She was rational, smart, discerning. In short, she thought with her head. Which, in her opinion, is entirely appropriate.

When she fell in love with Jonas, her head took a back seat. And there were many times she was amazed and perplexed at this completely different person, her, who becomes capable of empathy despite herself. Actually, she was only that person when he was around. Jonas had messed up her head, truth be told.

Erica Pabalinas's husband died in this far-off town south of Manila that Alice has never even heard of. Until now.

Erica Pabalinas’s husband died in this far-off town south of Manila that Alice has never even heard of. Until now.

She was now listening to this woman, Erica who, like Alice, lost her man. Erica’s voice would break in places, and pain was evident in every word she uttered.

She talked about duty and choices. Specifically, choosing one’s duty over one’s family. And she talked about loving a man who chose duty instead of her.

Alice wondered where Erica found the strength love such a man. Or maybe strength is not the quality required in this instance, but humility. It takes great humility to understand men like Jonas who would rather go off and lay their lives for their country instead of staying alive to be with the woman they have professed to love.

“Are you alright?”

Alice turned and considered the concerned face of her co-worker. Gary was a writer who can ask the most disconcerting questions.

“I am just … remembering.” She smiled weakly. She had never told him about Jonas. In fact, she had never told anyone in her work about him.

“I know one of them,” he said. “My father used to have operations that involve them.”

“Your father, wow.”

“Yeah, wow. You must understand that I hate the guy.” Alice nodded. Of course she did, Gary’s stories always involve how he ended up hating his father. “He was a good soldier, though.”

At that, they both fell silent. Both thinking of two different men who taught them, in their own way, two very different definitions of love.


Alice’s current reading lists:


From Alice’s FB page, from a certain Rosa Cordillera Castillo:

I am reposting here a comment I made to one journalist. The context might be slightly vague but I do hope that this somehow contributes to the prevailing discourse on the Mamasapano incident:

I can speak on this matter with a particular kind of knowledge. I lived in an MILF village and moved around in the Cotabato region for a year or so for my ethnographic fieldwork between 2012-2014. As I had stated in another post, my months of living with poor Muslim Maguindanaons who refer to themselves as mujahideens (they are not the stereotyped crazed Muslim terrorist that the US has successfully ingrained in many minds; jihad means different things among Moros one of which is struggle to improve oneself) gave me an understanding of the complexity of the conflict, its convoluted strands, the precarity of everyday life, the struggle to be a Muslim in the Philippines, and the difficulty of arriving at easy straightforward explanations for events. So many actors at play, so many interests at stake. Yet despite the decades long conflict, the MILF and the GRP had engaged in negotiations much more than they engaged in war. And I fervently hope that this last peace talks will truly end the protracted war. Alas, politicians, lay people, scholars, and yes many in the mass media, have been spewing rumors and inflammatory remarks that has put the peace talks in danger, and more importantly has put the south once again on the brink of war. I am in the process of writing a longer piece on the matter. But there are several points I want to highlight here regarding your (journalist’s) post:

1) The investigation is being conducted and before then, I would refrain from making concluding statements regarding the MILF or the BIFF coddling this or that terrorist, or whether it was an ambush, or an encounter. And no, it was not a massacre, as both of the groups were armed. The International Monitoring Team which often quickly steps in on such matters as well as the MILF’s own investigation team are investigating the matter. The IMT did it in the aftermath of the Al Barka clash in 2011 and it will do it again. In my many months of living in North Cotabato, I’ve seen the MILF Task Force Etihad step in to stop a clash, whether with the BIFF or even clan feuds, from escalating. The GRP-MILF joint committee on cessation of hostilities had also been instrumental in keeping the area relatively quiet and this has been a marked difference in the lives of many villages.

2) Eid Kabalu has a fraught history with the MILF leadership. His statement should be seen in this light.

3) The “camp” is not a camp in the stereotypical sense of the word. It’s a community. Camp Abubakar and Camp Darapanan are both thriving communities where people reside. Mamasapano is a big municipality and an MILF stronghold. That up to 100 MILF fighters eventually joined the encounter is not surprising. They live in the villages! Of course it is easy to get them to join the fight not like the Army who needs to access the area. And this certainly doesn’t mean the villagers were prepared for the arrival of the SAF. Oh, one last thing, the men had just finished their morning prayer when the SAF arrived. Thus many men were actually gathered in the various mosques in the municipality. Suddenly fully armed men whom they did not recognize arrived and the fighting ensued. Keep in mind that there are Muslim families in these areas whose lives were threatened by the presence of armed men. This event should be read within the long history of government forces wantonly entering Muslim villages, searching for men, harassing people, destroying property, and making arrests. Again, who fired first is subject to investigation. Before that, I would refrain from making judgements.

4) The BIFF and the MILF should never be conflated with each other as some reports are wont to do. Half a year ago, the BIFF pledged allegiance to ISIS. Soon after that the MILF denounced ISIS. BIFF and MILF had their own clashes as well. The MILF had tried its best to bring BIFF founder Kato back into the main guerilla forces without success. Rumors has it he passed away in 2012 from illness. Does this mean the MILF was not coddling Marwan? No. Again, I would wait for the investigation.

5) Now, it could very will be that some MILF members have been coddling Marwan without knowledge of the higher-ups. This is an issue that the MILF needs to organizationally address. And if the organization knows about it, then condemnation is in order. But right now, everything is speculatory, and in their speculativeness, are inflammatory and does not help the peace process at all.

6) One report described the encounter as “combined forces” of BIFF and the MILF as though there exists a formal tactical alliance where there is none. One thing that many commentators lose sight of or are unaware of is that these are areas where people belonging to various armed groups are living side by side as relatives. At the moment of firefight with the SAF, one’s kin relations rather than group affiliation might have been the defining factor.

7) The MILF itself had already issued a statement regarding the incident and expressed sympathy for those who perished on both sides. Yet national media only talks of the SAF as though Muslim lives do not matter.

Which brings me to my last point, the use of hashtag Filipino lives matter “others” many Moros rather than includes them. Many Moros for a very long time have seen their identity as oppositional to the Filipino majority, precisely because of the centuries of oppression, land grabbing, political-economic exclusion, and discrimination they’ve experienced from colonial powers and the Philippine state.


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