FIELDS OF HOPE: Building Bridges of Peace with our Peace Officers. Roberto C. Layson, OMI/MindaNews

My work in Dialogue, however, has led me to military camps and rebel territories.  I soon found out that no one has the monopoly of goodness in this world.  Not even the church can claim monopoly of it.  

When I talked to soldiers and rebels, I discovered that they are just like any other human beings.  They have their own fears as well as hopes and aspirations for their families and the larger community. Besides,  they also possess the basic human goodness in their hearts,  contrary to the perception of some. 

I remember when we first went to the MILF camp in Rajahmuda in 2000 to negotiate for the creation of the Nalapaan Space for Peace.  At that time, there was still an all-out war and an all-out jihad. The MILF kumanders were hesitant in the beginning to give their support because they perceived the creation of these peace zones as counter-revolutionary.  But we personally made an appeal on behalf of the evacuees who were then languishing in various evacuation centers in Pikit. 

A week later, the MILF Central Committee sent an emissary telling us to proceed with our plan for the sake of the people of Barangay Nalapaan in Pikit.  Since then, the Space for Peace in Pikit has expanded into seven barangays, collectively being referred to as GINAPALAD TAKA Space for Peace. 

I also remember during the siege of Buliok complex in 2003. I was standing by at a military detachment in Barangay Bulod in the interior of the Liguasan marsh. We were then accompanying the civilians getting out of their village with their farm animals and personal belongings.  They were mostly women, children and the aged. Their faces bore anxiety and fear. At the same time tanks and soldiers were all over the place and were prepared to assault MILF positions.   

Standing beside me was a soldier in full gear.  As we were watching the civilians passing by, I noticed the soldier shaking his head.  “Last year, Father, we were also here and these are the same people who evacuated,” he told me with grief in his face.    

I believe there’s a lot of goodness in every one of us.  Goodness is not a monopoly of one organization or group of persons.  It is planted in our hearts by God the moment we were born into this world.  The challenge for us is how to believe that it is real not only in us but in others as well and how to harness it for the good of humanity.

("Fields of Hope" is Fr. Roberto C. Layson's column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Father Layson is the parish priest of Pikit, North Cotabato and coordinator of the Oblates of Mary Immaculates' Inter-Religious Dialogue. He is the 2004 Ninoy Aquino Fellow for public service.)