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PEACETALK: We want to come out of the darkness .. toward a brilliant and peaceful future

(Inspirational/Support message to the Bangsamoro CSO Leaders’ Peace Summit, Mindanao State University,18 February 2018)

 Assalamu alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuhu!

My greetings of solidarity and empathy with all the people of this beautiful and historic city of Marawi, especially those who have suffered immensely after the worst nightmare they ever experienced in their lives.

I am humbled that I am able to come here as one who is part of the larger public of Filipinos who stood by as your city was “carpet bombed” on a daily basis for five months.  Let it be known that I am one of those who felt that our hands were tied, in a manner of speaking, that we were immobilized in our respective homes.  We were only able to commiserate in defiant silence, hoping that our fervent and frenzied prayers to high heavens would put a stop to the maddening violence taking place in our midst, in our living rooms on a day-to-day basis.  But during those days, it seemed it was interminable.  And it also challenged our faith a bit, in seeing that nothing moved our state military agents and their protagonists, to put a stop to all the mayhem in your city.

This war, and all the wars that mark the identities of the different ethno-linguistic groups of Bangsamoro throughout their highly charted history have been the main push for all our efforts to carve a better future for all of us:  a future where inclusion and respect for diversity is an underlying operational principle; a future that allows all individuals to shine in their own uniqueness and talents, and for all to work together to design this inclusive future – for the next generations to come.  We want to come out of the darkness, so to speak, toward a brilliant and peaceful future.

It seems difficult to be inspired with the bleak scenario or scenarios that we are being confronted in our beleaguered homeland.  As each day unfolds, we hear one bad news after another, just like what has been disclosed by our chairperson early today (about what is happening in Sulu these days).  But we need to rise from the ashes, so to speak, like the proverbial phoenix that chose to be alive in the midst of chaos and death.  And we – all of us as CBCS members, as leaders of different networks of organizations working to build a better future – choose to do so.

And so we use our tragic experiences as a wellspring from where to draw strength to continue our seemingly endless peace advocacy work, despite of, and in spite of everything that tends to discourage us along this journey.

Perhaps as a way to challenge us to think of ways to move forward, I can share with you my own reflections on my more than five decades doing this kind of work, starting from the time that a small group of us just thought we were just small voices in the wilderness then.  We have seen that these small voices have reverberated to what it is now, with many new, young, eager, and not so young recruits in undertaking this not so comfortable path towards the peace that has eluded us for so long.

Your presence here today, and in the previous stages of the consultation that led to this historic gathering, is already a source of inspiration – not only for me, but I think for all of us.  We are still here, after all these years, despite our being “chronologically gifted”, complete with the downsides of this gift:  noisy and creaky joints, impaired hearing and vision, “dying” hair and receding hairlines, and for some, complete “deforestation” of their “natural” hairy resources…yes, we are already physically challenged, BUT WE ARE STILL HERE, physically, emotionally, with all our hearts and minds, we are still working incessantly for peace to finally reign in our homeland, even if it will happen only after our own life spans.

So I am offering here an acronym based on the initials of our organization, CBCS.  I hope this will become some kind of an individual and collective roadmap for all of us who believe that together we can create the groundswell to change the world, at least, the Bangsamoro part of this world.  For starters, these are some of the things we need to do or to have to push for what we want to happen in the next few months, to push for a CAB-compliant BBL (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro-compliant Bangsamoro Basic Law).

C – Courage.  I think this is the hallmark of the Bangsamoro, at least for those who have struggled, in the past and in the present, and perhaps in the near future, to attain the basic right that we have been deprived of as a people of distinct identity – the right to self-determination.  But lately we have been saddened by news of some among us who have chosen to thwart this trait in favor of more “pragmatic” reasons and vested interests.  And we have seen this as Marawi was razed to the ground, as we could not hear a united howl of protest from our political leaders.  All we know is that there are faint cries here and there, but mostly from many of us in civil society.  The real voices from the ground are also muted, largely from a systematic and insidious state strategy to downgrade alternative narratives about the truth in this war.  Indeed, truth is the first casualty in any war.  I have learned this as a practicing journalist in my past life, as editor in chief of The Mindanao Cross.  I think the challenge for all of us is to stand our ground in courage, no matter what happens, however this affects our sense of pragmatism or the need to survive or promote our selfish political interests.

Courage is manifested in many ways; not the least of which is the consistent stand to assert our basic human right of being accorded the right to self-determination.  It is not, as popularly perceived, the usual acts of bravado, to show the might of firearms or whatever deadly weapon there is.

It is also shown in the way Bangsamoro advocates like all of us continue to push for lasting peace in our communities, through peaceful, legal and ethical means.  Most of all, it is the courage not to be swayed by alternative truths in favor of more “pragmatic” means.

B – balanced.  The life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Unto Him) represents a way of life that all Muslims should emulate; a life that is balanced in all aspects of life, considering that we have both bodies and souls to be truly human.  Islam as we all know, is a religion of peace.  Peace requires of us to practice a healthy balance of all the things we do as individual human beings to help carve a more inclusive world for all of us.  I think we can learn from the poem, “Desiderata” that all of us are welcome in this world, you and I are children of this universe, and all of us have the right to be here.

What this means is for all of us to learn to have a balance, or as the scientists among us know, to have “homeostasis” in our lives – to ensure that we don’t encroach on the rights of others, and for others to respect our rights in a mutual relationship toward social harmony.  We need to learn the values of prudence and temperance in all our interrelationships – in our families, our clans, our communities, our larger society to have a balanced life.  

C – collaboration, cooperation toward conflict transformation and social cohesion in the Bangsamoro.

In the work toward lasting peace, it is imperative to work together.  No one group has the monopoly of initiatives and strategies – there is no such thing as an oversupply of peace initiatives.  However, we need to put our efforts in a synchronized and harmonized process.  We cannot be operating as lone wolves carving our own niche in attaining the peace that has eluded us for a long time.  The operative words are collaboration and cooperation toward social cohesion, marked by respect and trust of each other’s capacities and capabilities and celebrating these instead of putting each other down.  Competition is good but in the work for peace, it becomes a source of enmity and distrust.

S – Substantive and sustained initiatives toward synergistic strategies for durable peace and resilient communities in the Bangsamoro and beyond.  As I said earlier, we have endured long years of working toward a goal that has seemingly eluded us for a long time.  But we carry on with this journey, no matter how arduous and tedious it has become, and especially with our advancing age, we are doubly challenged to continue on.  But we believe that peace cannot be achieved overnight and that it cannot be sustained only after the signing of agreements and the passage of basic laws.  No law implements by itself, and so we still need to work harder than ever before to sustain the gains that we will achieve.  This is the kind of work that knows no terminal phase, as peace needs to be nurtured incessantly in order to make our communities resilient to any challenge, especially the challenge of extremist violence, whether it comes from non-state groups or from state military agents themselves.

Thank you and Godspeed to all of us in our ways forward to have lasting peace in our midst.

Wassalam alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuhu.

(Prof. Rufa Cagoco-Guiam made history in the early 1990s as the first  — and thus far, only — Moro woman editor in chief of the country’s longest running Catholic newspaper, The Mindanao Cross, in Cotabato City. An expert in gender and development in armed conflict contexts and in peace studies and other social development-related issues, Guiam, who retired in December 2016 as Professor III at the Mindanao State University in General Santos City where she also headed its Institute of Peace and Development in Mindanao, has published numerous articles and chapters in books on the impact of conflicts on Mindanao’s diverse populations, including a benchmark study on Child Soldiers in Central and Western Mindanao)

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