Beyond “The 44”

“If only we make reforms in the education system for children in the young age to achieve a better understanding for the biases and differences and practices of all groups, ethnic or local, religious and political, we may have a better future.”

HOW MUCH does peace cost? Does it require the displacement of more than a million families or the deaths of thousands and the revision of a Constitution even before you and I probably were born?

I am always curious as to how beautiful Philippines is. More than its scintillating and 7 Wonders of the World caliber spots, the smiles of its people, Muslim or Christian, I wanted to discover its cultures no matter how diverse. I wanted to know their stories. However, the line that divides its people became more evident now more than ever. The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), or what others call it, “the sole key for peace in Mindanao”, is still in the air but nobody seems to have the will to have a grip of its wings, for now.

Six years ago, 58 trembling souls had departed, one by one allegedly because of those who are seeking political immortality in Maguindanao. And just over a month ago, still in Maguindanao, on January 25, 2015, Clash of Mamasapano happened. At the height of passing and pushing of BBL a tragedy surfaced. There was a news-break “44 elite Philippine National Police – Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) combatants were killed. The best of the best were massacred”. The day the news broke, the country was saddened. There were angry, dismayed, and emotional senators, congressmen and government officials on TV giving interviews. A proposition of “all-out-war” against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway group of the MILF, has been the subject of discourse. Professors of universities and the intellectuals of the different sectors of societies were debating whether BBL is the real answer for peace in Mindanao or not. And there were “instant experts” in the peace process as well in social media.

But the truth is, according to Rappler, “…the number of fatalities in the day-long clash to at least 68. The incident also claimed the lives of at least 7 civilians, including a 5-year old girl.” There were Muslims or Moros and civilians who were killed, but the “44 PNP-SAF” combatants were those highlighted because they are from the government. They are regarded as “heroes” and the other victims of the clash as shadows and smokes and dusts of the “misencounter” (a new term used to describe what happened; it is not found in Merriam-Webster dictionary).  It is not that I do not feel the sentiment of the families of the PNP-SAF commandos; it’s just that equality is nowhere to be found by observing and listening to every word that comes out of the mouth of non-Muslim government officials.

As a country with the majority of its people calling themselves Christians, we know a little about those we call our “brothers” (a description we remember during Ramadan). Here are the limited facts that I know about Muslim or Islam or Moro.

“Moro” is a political or cultural term that refers to a society of people or an individual which are mosly living in Mindanao. “Muslim” on the other hand is a “faith-based” term that refers to a society of people or an individual who believes in Allah (their God) and has “Islam” as his or her religion. We usually see them selling DVDs, cellular phones, and other gadgets in malls. “Bumili ka sa Muslim” is a generic phrase being used by those living in the metropolitan areas whenever they have to transact to “Muslim” people in the market for cheap goods. We enclosed them in a box of identity just like this. These people are usually wearing long, white clothes. Some have their faces covered. They are unusual for first timers and for those who are used to seeing women wearing short “shorts” and fitted shirts and pants for men. There are communities of Muslim people in Taguig City and at the southern part of Visayas and most are living in Mindanao. They have structurally elegant Mosques where they practice their Islam beliefs. In elementary, we tackled Islam as one of the religions in the country and that there are different identities of Muslim in the Philippines, politically. Tausug people are the more famous. They live near the seas and known as “the people of the current.”

At the dark side, they are referred to as “terrorists” by some governments which in my opinion is improper and unethical for there are billions of Muslims all over the world and attaching the term to these people or even to make it sound synonymous for those who listen is injustice, unjustifiable and racist. Their argument is that most of the terrorists in the world are Muslims.

If only we make reforms in the education system for children in the young age to achieve a better understanding for the biases and differences and practices of all groups, ethnic or local, religious and political, we may have a better future. Once we understood and built respect on one another, bullying in the grade school level related to differences in religion will just be part of history. Not only that, we can have leaders who are sensitive enough, objective, and who will not let events aggravate their emotions and destroy the very mantle of the long history for peace process and goodwill in that part of this nation.

I hope that positive change happens sooner to save another family from being displaced in their homeland, or for a child to continue to have the education and learning environment and basic rights he or she deserves under the Constitution and for Christians and Muslims to finally meet half way and make an understanding that is more important than any resources this world has to offer.

In an interview by Boy Abunda (in his show The Bottomline) with a representative from Mindanao, he asked, “What it’s like to be in that place (in Mindanao)?” Then she answered, “It’s such a nice place”. Being the second largest island of the Philippines, Mindanao has resources that we should have been utilizing for the growth of the country. Malacanan boasts an average of 7% economic growth. But the reality is, this growth is only felt by those in classes A, B, and C. – the rich and middle class. How about the masses, those in classes D and E? We are an archipelago and we need every help we can get to alleviate the sufferings of the greater number of people from inside.

The Nobel Peace Prize is still in the horizon for the president, if indeed he is running after it as a seal to his legacy. And yes, it is not commensurate to the gravity of loss of lives we have witnessed in the past decades because of this conflict. I hope that that glorious day would come that Christians and Muslims go hand in hand in fighting the more aggressive demons of humanity like poverty, corruption and the inability to weigh things that are of greater value for the afterlife. After all, we all want peace and everyone loses in wars. Our eyes may not see it but at least, our children will. We have to give them a blood-cleansed land where they can go visit the provinces in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao without any troubles in mind that one of their own can change it in a blink of an eye. We can weep. We can blame everybody. But looking at the bigger picture of things, there is no better alternative.

There are different paths for peace. The only question is what path to choose and if we will take the first step to attain it today and beyond.