PEACETALK: I love this country

DAVAO CITY – (MindaNews/01 July) — Dear “I hate this country,”

I understand your feelings and frustrations, having lived in this place for nearly as long as you have been alive. When I came into the world on January 1, 1975, we were already in the middle of the martial law era, and the litany of frustrations you expressed were either developing or already rampaging.

After graduating from high school, I returned to the U.S. to go to college, work and earn a masters degree. Then somehow, in 2008, I returned to Mindanao with my wife and three kids. So why did I come back, and why do I stay?

Because I love this country.

I love how there are leaders like Jun Lataza the former mayor of Alamada, North Cotabato, who persisted and insisted on governance built on peace and reconciliation. I love the PNP chief who goes into Rido (clan feud) affected areas without his automatic rifle so he can be an agent of non-violence; and the former NPA fighter who now roams the mountains as a peacebuilder rather than a radical insurgent.

I love how people can are full of surprises, like that un-named businessman who sat down with 2 street kids and bought them breakfast at McDonalds – and joined them with his meal. I think of the Muslim judicial official who resists the late night visitors attempting to “influence” her decisions and the Muslim driver who returned the wallet that my dad accidentally left behind, with all the money still inside – disproving the anti-Muslim bias that infects many people.

And I love the energy and vive of metro-Manila – yeah it’s crowded – but that’s just Manila. I love the ingenuity of the public transportation system that can get you all the way to your most distant destination, especially the habal-habal and “sky-lab” drivers of Mindanao. I think they have topped the most sophisticated Honda engineers with wood and steel modifications to make motorcycles the work-horses of the rural poor. So I know we can just re-engineer our jeepneys to be more efficient and stop belching smoke.

I love how our international work force has brought the beauty and strength of our ancestors to the attention of the world – they are our best ambassadors and cultural troubadors. I love my friend Ton and his family who lived for years with an elderly, single American woman, and became her only family at her side when she passed away. I love how our OFW’s have enriched the communities where they stay, and brought Jollibee to LA. And I also love the Christian community health worker who solicited funds from her church to stay and work in one of the poorest Muslim communities in Mindanao rather than find a nursing job in Saudi.

I love all those school children who plant trees and those environmental defenders challenging destructive “development” models, risking life and limb to expose their corruptions and degradations. I love how the city of Bislig gives 20% of the entrance fees (20 times the minimum required by law) from its most lucrative tourist attraction to the Manobo tribe who live in the surroundings, recognizing their ownership and ongoing defense of the mountains that bring the water.

I love the local college NSTP coordinators who sent privileged kids to serve and learn from inmates in the local city jail, and the faithful outreach worker who will never abandon Jesus as long as he is incarcerated. I love the tribal student who at her own initiative and expense gathers in a local park with lumad scholars studying in the city (on their only day off) for mutual sharing, support and cultural affirmation.

I love the dancing, laughing and singing that infuse all organizational teambuilding activities in this country, and the writers and investigative reporters who keep the media honest. I love the history of resistance to oppression, Edsa 1, (thankful to those in unmarked graves), along with the named and un-named Baganis, Datus and Sultans who used creativity, alliances and trickery to thwart the schemes of the colonists.

Even while there are reasons to lose faith (and we do need to keep working on them), when I look around, I see untapped resources and deep reserves of relationality across these 7,000 islands. There are a lot more reasons to have hope, nearly 100,000,000, let’s just work together so we can help our mga kabayan see them as well. (Jeremy Simons is a peace worker living in Davao City and can be reached at He wrote this in response to an oped titled “I hate this country” posted in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on June 26.)