In that solemn atmosphere I recalled the many victims of the conflict, the MNLF members in the area of Zamboanga del Norte who I helped as a negotiator for almost two years, spending time in the forest with the rebels and meeting generals in SouthCom to finalize the negotiation. This was for me a mission of peace, and indeed, in spite of the many difficulties and threats, we where able to help in the peace process.
During the ceremony in Malacanang I felt happy and hopeful to witness the peace agreement, a new hope for the country. Silsilah has been in the front line of many peace efforts on the national level since the EDSA revolution in 1986 and this makes us sensitive to any possibility for peace. Unfortunately, after ten years, I do not see so much progress and I reflect why.
For sure the international situation has to be considered as an important factor. The great hope to build the dialogue of civilization envisioned by the United Nations and UNESCO collapsed after the September 11 tragedy and we feel that there is an invisible wall in the world that divides countries. We probably can say that today there is a clash of civilization. It becomes more dangerous because some sectors of power use religions to apply the old theory of “divide and conquer.”
Focusing on the Mindanao situation, I feel that many factors have contributed to delay the peace process. Governments, from Marcos up to the present, and in different degrees, have played politics that raised suspicion in the other side and vice versa. In a word, it seems that one side doesn’t trust the other. On the other hand the common people suffer and are tired of promises. Funds and projects have been directed especially to conflict areas but some of these areas are still in very unstable situations. It is difficult to see development proportionate to the funds given to different leaders, or to government- and non-government organizations.
More recently the attention to the issues of ancestral domain and the right of the Lumads has been a positive step. But going into the practical aspects of implementing the agreement, the issues still remain very complicated up to now. The same thing can be said for other issues, like the form of government that will be put in place . The Autonomous Government in Mindanao started with a wrong approach and became more complicated because of irresponsibility of the leaders and the government in the stage of implementation.
In this complicated situation, one positive aspect is the ongoing efforts of many groups and institutions who work for peace. Unfortunately all the different peace efforts are not properly coordinated and not all groups are committed with the proper spirit and motivation. We in Silsilah have developed and shared during these years our concept of peace that starts from a spiritual understanding of dialogue on a personal level and which leads to social transformation as a path to peace.
In the beginning, people and groups didn’t give the proper attention to us because what Silsilah promotes is not the primary interest. Some say what we need is peace and development, there is no need for the spiritual aspect . But we insisted, saying that our primary thrust is dialogue, understood not as a strategy to win, but as a spirituality to deepen according to our own religion.
This effort is better known as the promotion of the Culture of Dialogue , Path to Peace. Many now have started to understand that, maybe, this is the right approach to build sustainable peace and development. Reflecting thus, and to continue to pursue building peace in Mindanao, we invite Muslims to reflect on this verse from the Qur’an:
And do thou be patient
For thy patience is but
From God; nor grieve over them:
And distress not thyself
Because of their plots.
For God is with those
Who restrain themselves,
And those who do good.
Surah XVI, 127-128
and rediscover the importance of the “Jihad of patience.”
Similarly we ask Christians to prayerfully look into the message of this verse from the Bible:
Jesus says: “The Lord our God is the only Lord. You must love the Lord your God with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second most important commandment is this: you must love your fellow man as yourself. There is no other commandment more important then these two.”
( Mark 12, 29-31)
and allow it to lead them to identify with the “struggle of love and reconciliation.”
My hope and prayer in this tenth anniversary of the peace process is that together we work for a win-win solution, using history not to divide us more, but reading history with the eyes of those who understand the mistakes of the past in the context of the new situation, finding new solutions together for a sustainable and future peace. (Fr. Sebastiano D’Ambra, PIME is president of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement based in Zamboanga City)