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PEACETALK: Titayan: Transitions toward unexplored possibilities for inclusive governance in the Bangsamoro

(Remarks at the end of the three-day “Titayan: Bridging for Peace” delivered on April 23, 2016 at the Ateneo de Davao University. Titayan in Maguindanao means bridge). 

Assalamu alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuhu!

I accepted this task of giving the “last few words” with trepidation, since being dubbed as a purported “rockstar” brings with it calibrated expectations of outdoing my previous performance (!!!!)

Before I start, I had been instructed by our Most Eminent convener, His Excellency Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, OMI to extend a message of deep appreciation to the entire management of Ateneo de Davao University, through its President, Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ, for having consented to be the host of this important gathering, thru the efforts of the whole staff of Al Qalam Institute, the secretariat for making our lives easier in managing this whole activity; to all who have come from far and wide – your participation has been valuable and deeply appreciated. To all our friends for the Titayan inclusive political transitions in the Bangsamoro, we cannot thank you enough for your cooperation and willingness to be open to our methodology and processes that make this workshop a class of its own. There are many other individuals who remain unnamed here, but through their collective incremental efforts have made this project achieve its desired objectives. Maraming salamat po.

I would like to start with an Anecdote associated with a former ARMM governor Zac Candao:

Manila socialite: Is it true governor that the Muslims in Mindanao live on tops of trees?
Candao: Yes, they do. But they go up and down the trees in elevators.

Such stories reflect the past negative attitudes toward the Muslims as among the dregs of the earth – backward, uneducated, uncivilized like our primate cousins who are arboreal and more comfortable brachiating from tree to tree instead of walking using the law of two feet or being bipedal. (I think the one who invented Open Space believes in the theory of human evolution, in the phenomenon of bipedalism as the key evolutionary behavior that caused massive changes in the physiology and musculature of modern human beings to become who we are now – thinking, speaking, articulating, homo sapiens …)

This is the past as symbolized by one end of the titayan that we want to overcome –we want to cross the bridge and bring positive and hopeful changes into all our lives in the future.

But what does the future in the Bangsamoro and of the country hold?

Before I even attempt to hazard a rather uneducated guess to answer my own question, I’d like to start talking about the bridge as a huge metaphor in our lives as we stand to witness the pleasant dawn of a new day (we wish) or the fog and dark shadows of a possible political maelstrom (God forbid).

In many cultures around the world, the bridge is considered a “cultural barrier” and a useful metaphor for community members’ rites of passage. Folktales and rituals describe the motif of the bridge as a dangerous passageway similar to the fears associated with the rites of passage. But such a death is meant to be a destruction of the previous, less enlightened self.

To cross the bridge, the one initiated into certain rites of passage must break with the past in order to move on to the next stage of his or her journey. Once that initiate is on the other side of the bridge, he or she is “born again.” It is in this sense that the bridge represents a transition to a new life, toward more positive or hopeful changes into one’s life.

The new life may be filled with huge and almost insurmountable challenges of unexplored possibilities – but such is the future: no one is truly able to say what it holds for all of us. And no one said dealing with the future is going to be a joy ride. Dealing with the past can be a pain, but dealing with the future can also be threatening…

However, as we have seen in the last two days of our gathering here, we can say that all of us are right in being here, in dreaming together for a brighter and more peaceful future together. And all of us see the connection of what we are doing now toward the possibility of crossing over to the other side of the titayan in the future with the hope of a new beginning.

A bridge is also a place for connecting people (no, Nokia is not doing it at all) from all walks of life. It can be a safe space or a sacred one that can nurture new beginnings of interactive dialogue among a wide diversity of identities and cultures. This workshop has also showed to us that despite our differences of opinion, of our respective values on many issues of life, we are one in the search for a common ground for meaningful conversations toward transformative change among us. In many ways, all of us are bridges of each other’s dignity and humanity.

The future is indeed threatening, that even the sagest of all sages may not be able to predict what it holds for all of us, our children and even those who are yet to be born.

But if we make sure that we are prepared to “build back better” a bridge for our processes of inclusive political transitions, including the construction of more equal relations among peoples, among genders, and among ages and other “variables”, and markers, then we can go to uncharted territories where angels fear to tread with high levels of confidence that we are able to deal with such uncertainties responsibly and with high levels of accountability.

You are not perfect, as I am not; but it is in our lack of perfection that we see immense possibilities for endless dialogue, for unlimited interactions in the safe space of a titayan. Only in this sense are we better prepared for a future where each identity, each type of humanity, (as it were), can shine in its own uniqueness and glory.

Go and trek the bridge toward peaceful and inclusive transitions in your respective communities and find that space to prevent wars that can destroy the bridge that we have started to fortify here.

Wassalam. God bless all of us. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Prof. Rufa Guiam is Director of the Institute for Peace and Development in Mindanao at the Mindanao State University in General Santos City).



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