THE VOICE: Why Peace Campaigns Didn’t Work

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/03 December) — The title of this piece is supposed to be “Why Peace Campaigns Didn’t Work; Why It Still Doesn’t and Never Will”.

I read with amusement an article about Sarah Geronimo being tapped by the Armed Forces as its   Ambassadress of Peace.  A wholesome image seems to be the first criteria.  It seems that getting ambassadors of something has become very mainstream, along with the causes they espouse.  Let’s see if the observation reflects reality.  For this 600-word article, let me just focus on showbiz personalities.  I’m not very good at answering questions from topics that are out of context.

Right after the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, OPAPP brought Epy Quizon, Ebe Dancel and Datu Khomeini to a conflict-affected area said to be on its way to development.  Of course who could forget KC Concepcion as National Ambassador Against Hunger earlier.  Shortly after UNWFP got her, ACT4PEACE followed with Robin Padilla, UNICEF with Bamboo (who else?).

Bear with me if I say that at one point I also thought the idea of getting an ambassador was a novel idea.  In the early 2000s when peace was the buzzword following the 1996 signing of the GRP-MNLF Peace Agreement, part of the Communication Plan was to tap a Peace Champion (it wasn’t called Ambassador/dress then).  The UN-Multi-Donor Program wanted a popular face to match the slogans.  Somehow it just did not materialize; Aga Muhlach was the last suggestion but he was already engaged by Jollibee.  Culture of Peace was just freshly hammered onto the 3Ms (military-Moro front-media) many felt it was contradictory to the tenets of peacebuilding to commercialize a worthy cause.  The UNMDP morphed into A4P to adapt to the changing context.

Pacquiao’s name was floated in 2007 for WFP – but some say he, of rags-to-riches boxing fame, didn’t have the “kagat” (x-factor) for something fit for royalty.  The rest is history.

What did we gain from celebrities mouthing worthy causes and showing their well-scrubbed faces in a wailing crowd of fans?  After the shrieking and the autographs and the photo ops and Facebook postings, what?  All this time that they were around did it really make a dent on the peace?  If it did not work then, will it work now?  If it did, how?

If the strategy did work, maybe it was on something else but definitely not peace.  Picking up from this cue, there was no more need for politicians to hire celebrities to mouth their causes.  They did not have to shell out any amount from their pork barrel for talent fees to the celebrities, transporting them in fancy cars, billeting them in plush hotels and dealing with their managers with their individual quirks.  All they did was just show their own faces and tried to look worthy enough!

At one point the perpetuation of the practice was reinforced with a foreign-funded campaign for handwashing.  Note though that with the late SecJess Robredo’s move for good governance, the handwashing campaign removed the faces of the governors from their soap and toothpaste.  But damage was already done – the practice remained even without foreign funding, and went beyond soap and toothpaste to tarpaulins and product endorsements.  Talk about effectivity, the practice of self-worship now even has a name: EPAL.

I’d like to define EPALism as “a state of mind where you believe that your face is loved by everyone except others.”  With all those faces screaming for attention in a sea of eyesores, little does the owner know that most of the time, nobody actually ever remembers him/her afterward and for what reason.  Don’t they get it?  Right.  It’s a state of mind.  Sarah and the rest need not worry.

Unless that face is removed from the message, campaigns for peace and all other issues that go with it – hunger, poverty, landgrabbing, logging, right to self-determination, corruption, mining, GMOs, human rights, respect for nature, name it – will never work.  (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Aveen Acuña-Gulo wrote an editorial column “The Voice” for the Mindanao Cross from 1991-2006. She likes to challenge stereotypes.  “Don’t worry about my opinions,” she says.  “It won’t make a dent to the conventional.” )