A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: A time of war, a time of peace

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 25 Sept) — Early morning of Friday, September 23, 2016 I went to Mass and was pleasantly surprised to hear the words of the First Reading read by the lector from Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8.  These were the words I heard:  “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”

The words were so appropriate owing to some events that took place during the week. In the midst of “wars” that have raged across the country (drug war), in Mindanao (the AFP-Abu Sayaff encounters) and in Davao City (the bombing) in the month of September – which is also the month to commemorate the unlamented martial rule of the late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos –  the cry for peace has been reverberating.

First event was the meeting of the Bishop-Ulama Conference (BUC) at Mergrande, Davao City.  I would have wanted to attend this gathering to have a update on what are the latest concerns of the BUC – since it seemed to have become inactive during the Pinoy administration – but I had a previous engagement.  But from someone who was there, I was told that only three Mindanawon bishops – Archbishop Fernando Capalla, Archbishop Antonio Ledesma and Bishop Emmanuel Cabajar – were able to join the gathering. There were the usual Muslim ulamas, again mainly the Maranaws and a few other interested persons.  Ex-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was expected to attend and there was talk that President Rody Duterte was going to deliver a keynote speech. The former made it only for a breakfast date and the latter did not appear in the forum although Malacaňang had earlier assured the group that he would come.

Second meeting was the Mindanao-wide Interreligious Dialogue Solidarity Conference sponsored by the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) with the theme – “A Common Word Among us in Mindanao: Love of God, Love of Neighbor, Love of Earth.” Close to a hundred people from various parts of Western and Central Mindanao – including peace advocates, civil society leaders, academicians, churchpeople and a few millennials both Muslim and Christian – came to this meeting which was held at the Mandaya Royal Hotel on 21-22 September, 2016. This conference consisted of talks on the theme (resource persons included Fr. Larry Sabud SM, Dr. Hamid Aminoddin Barra, Ustadz Muhammad Ambod,  Bro. Karl Gaspar, Mr. Guiamel Alim, Fr. Bert Layson OMI, Archishop Fernando Capalla and Bishop Angelito Lampon OMI),  group discussions involving various interest areas, e.g. IRD (inter-religious dialogue) for millennials, Transitional Justice and IRD, education processes in IRD, and the like.  While there were “old” faces in the crowd – that is, peace advocates who have been active in IRD for almost four decades now, there were also new faces, a sign that the movement continues to draw more advocates.

The talks and discussions covered various issues impacting on the inter-religious dialogue movement in Mindanao including the global ramifications of the rise of militant Islam and the ISIS, the movement among Muslims throughout the world for the peace alternative, the lessons learned through the peace negotiations in the past regimes, the current  State initiative to pursue peace in the post-Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) era, the status of IRD in Mindanao and the difficulties it is still facing and what can be done to pursue both inter-faith and intra-faith religious dialogue.

It has been a rocky road since the beginning of the attempts of the State of the Republic of the Philippines to negotiate peace with Moro rebels since the Moro National Liberation Front during the Marcos dictatorship to the recent Aquino administration that tried to push for the passage of the BBL in Congress.  In between these two administrations, other Presidents from Fidel Ramos through Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo tried their best to deal with the long-festering Moro rebellion in Mindanao involving first the MNLF and then later the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, to no avail.  While the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao was set up in 1990, this inadequate response to the “historical injustices against the Moro people” (the words of President Rody R. Duterte) proved precarious.  When peace negotiations collapsed, all-out wars were declared by the State against the Moro rebels resulting in more deaths and thousands of civilians evacuating their abode for safer grounds.

President Duterte’s campaign promise was that once ensconced in power he will make sure that peace negotiations will resume and finally succeed to end this rebellion so that, finally, peace will then reign in Mindanao. Even before he was formally inaugurated, he appointed Secretary Jesus Dureza to head the peace panel and a few meetings had taken place to pursue peace with the MILF. There are ticklish issues that need to be dealt with. For there is the question as to how the proposal for a federalist State would impact the negotiations. Another contentious issue is: if the BBL is still part of the roadmap, what objectionable provisions that violate the Constitution could be deleted and agreed on by both parties? As to how Congress will proceed with a revised BBL remains a question. Most important is how the local Mindanawon citizenry’s hearts and minds – especially the descendants of migrant settlers who harbor deep prejudices against the Moro people – could be convinced of the need to recognize the Moro people’s struggle for self-determination.

Which is why at the IRD Conference, the participants once more pledged to reach out to the citizenry to expand the mass base of those who are willing to support such peace initiatives through peacebuilding and inter-religious dialogue activities.

However, on the part of the State there needs to be an urgent need for it to deal with its own contradiction. In the words of the historian, Dr. Vincent Rafael – the noted author of ADMU publications such as Contracting Colonialism and Motherless Tongues – at a public forum held the University of the Philippines – Mindanao on 19 September 2016, it is counter-productive for the State to work for peace but at the same time, wage war that already took the lives of more than 3,000 Filipinos, mostly belonging to poor families.

Instead of the Ecclesiastes’ “ time for war and a time for peace” what we have now is a TIME for both peace and war. One prays that at a not-so-distant future, we Mindanawons will be blessed with peace at all fronts so that in our land, we will enjoy a time “to plant rather than uproot, to heal and not to kill, to build rather than tear down, to dance rather than mourn, and to love rather than hate.” [Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is Academic Dean of the Redemptorists’ St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. He is author of several books and writes two columns for  MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw)]