From Conversations for Peace to Action

By: Fr. Joel E. Tabora, S.J.
From: http://taborasj.wordpress.com/

For St. Ignatius, “conversations” were a good first step in discernment. From conversations arise great desires. From great desires come the discernment necessary to find God’s will. Nothing is more important nor more urgent than doing God’s will.

ADDU has hosted two major conversations recently. The first were the “Conversations on the Jesuit Mindanao Apostolate” last December 26-28. These were initiated by the Provincial Superior of the Jesuits of the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Antonio Moreno, to explore how the Jesuits might improve their apostolic service in Mindanao. It came in the context of the 200th anniversary of the Restoration of the Society of Jesus, when the first mission of the Jesuits returning to the Philippines was not Manila but Mindanao.

The second were “Conversations on Peacemaking in Mindanao” held in ADDU last April 9-10. These were initiated by Abp. Antonio Ledesma and Bishop Angelito Lampon of the Episcopal Commission on Interreligious Dialogue of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. It was conducted in partnership with the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines, educators, religious congregations, and various organization like the Silsillah, Catholic Relief Services, and the Assisi Foundation. Senior representatives of the Catholic Church iat the Conversations were Abp. Antonio Ledesma, of Cagayan de Oro, Abp. Fernando Capalla or the Bishops-Ulama Conference, Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao, Bishop Angelito Lampon of Jolo, Bishop Elenito Galido of Iligan, Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez of Marbel, and Bishop Romulo de la Cruz of Kidapawan, Archbishop-elect of Zamboanga.

In both of these sets of conversations, the virtual focus was on the Peace Process in Mindanao. Both were able to gather key spokespersons who articulated the concerns of various stakeholders in the Peace Process; the end statements of both of these conversations have been published elsewhere in this blog.[1]

Filipino Muslim groups convened by Datu Mussolini Lidasan of the ADDU Al Qalam were well represented in both conversations; they were able to express independent positions on “Bangsamoro.” For some, “Bangsamoro” bypasses the fact that there is no true national consciousness emergent from the 13 ethno-lingustic tribes that that practice Islam. For others, “moro” is a politically-laden, originally pejorative term, that imposes a political agenda on people that they do not embrace. But “Bangsamoro” today also has an evolving meaning that makes unification of diverse Filipino Muslim communities with non-Muslim aggrupations within a yet-to-be finally-defined Bangsamoro territory a work in progress. In fact, the immediate circumstance that motivated the Conversations on Peacemaking in Mindanao was the March 27 signing of the Comprehensive Agreement Bangsamoro between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Representing the OPAPP were Datu Antonio Kinoc, Atty. Haron Meling (MILF), and Miriam Coronel-Ferrer (GPH). The participants wished to understand how the Catholic Church and church-based institutions like schools, colleges, universities, NGOs and parishes, could optimize its support for peace.

The statements show the diversity of concerns, some immediately doable, others long-term desiderata. Both conversations insisted that dialogue not be confined to inter-religious and inter-cultural events, as important as these may be. It was acknowledged that Framework Agreement Bangsamoro (FAB) and then the Comprehensive Agreement Bangsamoro (CAB) represent much progress in inter-faith and intercultural dialogue. But the conversations revealed that while on the higher plane of technical negotiators, diplomats, lawyers, philosophers, theologians and “open” persons of faith agreements may have been achieved through difficult processes of dialogue and courageous give-and-take at the negotiation table, “on the ground” those agreements are not achieved. On the ground, deep prejudices of Muslim vs. Christian and especially of Christian vs. Muslims continue to exist. On the ground, many Muslims still regard Christians as landgrabbers, oppressors, imperialists, and demonic exponents of godless western values; on the ground, many Christians regard Muslims as thieves, terrorists, opportunists, and untrustworthy. Generations of hatred are sparked often by hurtful incidents of personal history that can’t be expunged from memory, e.g., the experience of having been pushed off land that had been in one’s family’s possession for generations through laws and policies one had no part in; the disregard for the community’s long established traditions and laws; the experience of having been lied to and swindled through slippery business transactions; betrayed agreements in political alliances which altered relationships of power; the ignominious killing of a member of a family which in honor compels clan revenge; the fear of the power of the other which justifies the unjustifiable assembly and use of effective private armies; the terror and fear for family that forces a father to place more trust in his gun and his relatives than in the hostile enforcers of public order; a justice system that does not deliver justice; wholesale massacres that inflicted deep wounds and continue in collective consciousness for justice, and so on and so forth. On the ground, there continues to exist driving poverty, ignorance, lack of development, subsisting indigenous structures of tribal governance, and, from the side of Filipino Muslims, the repeated experience that if they are not ignored and attended to in justice by the Philippine central government, they are instrumentalized, used, exploited and betrayed either for the interests of the Philippine “Christian” state or the private interest of scheming politicians. The series of started and failed peace talks culminating in today’s Comprehensive Agreement Bangsamoro was preceded by the ignominious Jabidah Massacre and the renunciation by President Marcos of the Sultan of Sulu’s rightful claim to Sabah in order to save his political skin. Déjà vu for the Muslims? Were not the sovereign and proud sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao earlier sold by Spain to the United States when they had never been conquered by Spain? And where was the concern of Filipinos for fellow Filipino Muslims when the Americans were massacring them in Bud Dajo and Bud Bagsak, Jolo? Where was the pride of “Filipinos” when Americans were calling Christian Filipinos docile to American rule “true Filipinos” while labelling the Moros fighting to defend their homelands and traditions “savages.”

For many non-Filipino Muslims, the Filipino Muslim world, its history of triumphs and defeats, achievements and travails are cultural eons away; the worlds of Washington, Paris, Rome, and even of Tokyo, Djakarta, and Singapore are emotionally closer to most Filipinos than the rich cultures of Marawi, Iligan, Cotabato, Sulu and Jolo. Meanwhile, in a discussion I joined in Marawi recently it was told me that in Manila when an employer learns the applicant is a Muslim, the job is no longer available; when a property owner learns that the prospective tenant is a Muslim the apartment is no longer available. No one should be shocked therefore that even under the CAB for many, many Muslims on the ground, “independence” is still a word which kindles fires in Filipino hearts. As it did in the heart of Andres Bonifacio.

If peace is to be lasting in Mindanao it must be achieved not only in crucial negotiated agreements and in a just Bangasamoro Basic Law. It must also be achieved in the hearts and minds of Muslim and non-Muslims on the ground. This certainly involves Christians living in non-Muslim areas. Intrafaith dialogue would entail conversations not just among those who are already open to the other, but especially those who are closed and locked in prejudice, ignorance, or a painful history of festering wounds that have never been allowed to heal. The very recent Zamboanga standoff is such a festering wound.

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Last week, I travelled overland through Lanao, Cotabato, and Maguindanao. On this trip, I was fortunate to meet with Chancellor Sukarno Tanggol of the Mindanao State University–Iligan Institute of Technology, President Macapado Muslim of Mindanao State University-Marawi, Dr. Ombra Imam, President of the National Bangsamoro Educational Association, H.E. Orlando Cardinal Quevedo of Cotabato, and in Camp Darapanan, MILF Chair Murad Ebrahim. I was able to give each copies of the recent two-volume compilation by ADDU and Mindanews: Bangsamoro: Documents and Materials and of Dr. Heidi Gloria’s History from Below: A View from the Philippine South. With each, there was opportunity for warm dialogue and exchange.

I found encouraging support for two ideas which I now intend to pursue: first, sports for peace; and second, a CEAP-based volunteer program to teach in madaris. For now, very briefly:

Sports for Peace. Both Chancellor Tanggol and President Muslim warmed to the idea of using athletics for peace. After all, the Olympics were originally games for peace. Games between Mindanao-based universities for peace can be organized. These can be played in different campuses, but also in different communities and omahs. Athletes, I am certain, can play leading roles in waging peace “on the ground” around basketball and volleyball courts. I am hoping that that MSU-Marawi, MSU-IIT and the Ateneos in Davao, Cagayan de Oro and Zamboanga can play active and leading roles here. I will be asking our sports coordinator, Noli

CEAP-NABEi Volunteer Program. Second, while the private madrassah (pl. madaris) is a religious institution that produces religious leaders. Some 1,100 madaris are now organized under the National Association of Bangsamoro Education, Inc. (NABEi).  At its launching, MILF Chair Murad Ebrahim said that the first Jihad of armed struggle is now over; the more difficult Jihad is education.  A good number of the madaris are contributing to Filipino Muslim education by teaching non-Islamic courses like English, Pilipino, mathematics and science. These are supported by the Department of Education, even as DepED Sec. Armin Luistro is keen about expanding the DepEd collaboration with the madaris.  There is however a lack of qualified teachers to teach these crucial basic education subjects. In this context, I would like to propose a CEAP-NABEi Volunteer Program – patterned somewhat like the Jesuit Volunteer Program – through which college graduates from CEAP schools would live in Muslim communities for one to two years to learn of Muslim culture, cultivate personal friendships, and teach in selected madaris through the NABEi. I propose that CEAP co-sponsor this program with the NABEi, but I am also hoping that the Ateneos can play a leading role here.

The Statement of the Conversations for Peacemaking in Mindanao ends with the words, “Let us move from diversity to reconciliation, from ignorance to insight, from conflict to peace!” Time also in discernment to move from words to action.

[1] Please find these statements in the following sites: http://taborasj.wordpress.com/2014/04/20/working-towards-a-reconciled-diversity  and http://taborasj.wordpress.com/2014/01/03/mindanao-conversations

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