“We have debating clubs but no dialogue clubs”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/30 August) –  “How can we promote dialogue and cultural cohesion if in schools we churn out graduates every year who are not used to dialogue?”  Jesuit priest Albert Alejo asked the Philippine Economic Society’s “Regional Conference on the Development Agenda for Mindanao Under P-Noy” at the Ateneo de Davao University last Saturday.

Alejo said schools produce graduates “who are not used to dialogue, who can only think of his own dialogue, my argument or his argument.”

“But society does not comprise only two sides,” he said, adding, “a coin has two sides but society is consensus-building, is listening to marginal voices.”

“We have debating clubs but no dialogue clubs,” he lamented.

He also noted that there have been so many dialogues “between the dialogue Christians and the dialogue Muslims but no dialogue between dialogue Christians and prejudiced Christians.”

Alejo, a social anthropologist who is presently Research Fellow of the Ateneo Research Center, Ateneo de Zamboanga  was tasked to tackle the session on Cultural Diversity.

He described Mindanao as a “garden, not a plantation.”

“We are not a monocrop,” he said, adding Mindanao’s diversity “can enrich our collective struggle to be human.”

But “we need to learn how to live in harmony in the midst of difference,” he said, adding, “a sensitive task is how to make sure that cultural difference does not degenerate into structural discrimination, how to prevent cultural diversity from being translated into economic and political inequality.”

He cited the recent Kadayawan Festival supposedly in honor of the Lumads. “Kumita ang mga hotel at restaurant, maliban sa Lumad. Sa totoo lang,” (Hotels and restaurants earned except the Lumads. It’s true), he said, adding. “This is economics. Culture-based economics.”

He spoke about national symbols. “Who determines the national symbols? Taga Manila?” (Manila people?)

He said there is a poster sold in a popular bookstore that says our national food is “lechon (roasted pig).”

Lechon is taboo for Muslims.

He spoke about how practices such as rido (vendetta killings) could go on and on but he named the late mayor of Datu Paglas, Maguindanao – Datu Ibrahim “Toto” Paglas –  as having exercised the “economics of forgiveness.”

He said Paglas could have chosen to do as was expected of him – take a life for a life in a rido with another family – but he chose to forgive instead.

Alejo also urged an “activated, energized imagination of Mindanao.”

“Mindanao has been imagined as the dark side always, as food basket, as raw material supplier, as dark jungle, etc.. Itigil na natin ang (Let us stop) imagination of Mindanao as the dark side, as  source of raw materials for toothpicks, etc,” Alejo said.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)