ON SATURDAY morning, Oct. 30, Shirlyn Macasarte joined a community of Muslims in a kanduli, a feast, in Sitio Boundary, Barangay Salama in Banisilan, a town in North Cotabato province that sits next to the town of Wao in Lanao del Sur.
The member of the provincial board of North Cotabato was the VIP that day.
It was in December 28, 2008 when Macasarte was in the village. But unlike that Saturday, where the mood was festive and everyone was happy, seven years ago was different.
“That day changed my life, tremendously,” said Macasarte in an interview.
That was the time when she was ambushed by around 50 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). It was a case of mistaken identity.
It left her 29 wounds and a damaged spine that rendered her paralyzed for almost 6 months.
“That day, I nearly gave up. But giving up was not an option. I had to fight for my life because of my children,” said the mother of 3.
And while Macasarte has long been healed, the only reminder of that tragic day is her limp. She could only walk if aided by a cane.
On Saturday, with Anak Mindanao Partylist Rep. Sitti Djalia Tubarin Hataman, Macasarte made up her mind – to bury the hatchet and let go.
“Today, I will claim my freedom and forget that tragic part of my life,” she said.
Macasarte was welcomed by the same people who ambushed her.
They prepared a kanduli of reconciliation for her. The women cooked traditional Maguindanao dishes and served them in sparkling gold and silver-plated plates.
“This is a feast full of ‘laughtears’,” she later said.
That day, as she offered them forgiveness, she also withdrew the case she filed against the suspects headed by Usop Gani Kalim, Bla Kamsa, Bong Butig and many others.
“Seems forgiveness is not full while cases are haunting us,” she said. “Today, I will let go and let God.”
Tubarin-Hataman said Macasarte’s story “proves God’s mercy beyond measure.”
“I was blessed to witness the miracle of forgiveness,” she said. “Her story is one powerful proof of God’s mercy — from the healing of her body to the healing of her heart and soul. She and her family and community are living testaments of humility, forgiveness, and faith.”
The suspects once again asked for forgiveness.
“We are personally asking for forgiveness,” said Kamsa. “It was because of our mistake that you suffered. Your life was put on the line because of what we did. We know how difficult it is for you to move around, but look at you – you are here with us, offering us peace.”
Macasarte said she has already long forgiven them.
In 2011, Macasarte went to the provincial jail of North Cotabato to face Kamsa, immediately after he was arrested.
In her journal, she recalled the meeting.
“Minutes after, the two arrived (Kamsa and another suspect). Both were in yellow shirts, the ones worn by detainees. I extended my hand to them. I asked them how they were,” she said. “I could hardly hear their voices. I could, however, sense that something was bothering them inside. I told them I was there so we could talk, to tell them I wasn’t angry — that I was there to forgive them.”
During the meeting, she said she knew that “God has allowed me to feel the words that were not coming out from their mouths– I heard the deafening screams of their souls.”
As a show of goodwill, she even assisted the suspects’ families in the posting of bail for their temporary freedom.
After they were released, they went to see her in her house and they prayed together.
Before meeting the suspects, on her way to the jail, she recalled the lush green and the gentle rain.
“Peace, I felt peace,” she said. Jefry M. Tupas