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A Culture of Peace
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Mindanao Series
Part II

A Culture Of Peace For Mindanao

by Said Sadain, Jr.
November 1999

In the UNESCO initiative to collect and present letters to future generations, Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, wrote about the wars and violence around the world, specifically addressing the generation of the year 2050 on the need for a culture of peace: 

"The first and fundamental principle of such a culture must be tolerance. This means welcoming and celebrating the differences that make our planet such a varied and richly textured place. However, even as we cherish our diversity, we must recognize the common ground upon which we stand. A culture of peace must not displace other cultures. But it can express what all cultures hold in common…"

"Dialogue between traditions, characterized by mutual respect and openness, is essential to this process…Our shared understandings will form the sturdy framework for peaceful interaction in the future…. "

"…Peace means much more than the absence of war. Human security can no longer be understood in purely military terms. Rather, it must encompass economic development, social justice, environmental protection, democratization, disarmament, and respect for human rights and the rule of law. "

With so many conflicts, major and minor, going on around the globe at this very moment, Kofi Annan might as well be addressing his letter to the current generation.

Annan has laid down here several important principles which, if fully grasped, can lead to the resolutions of many conflicts. That of tolerance is obvious, a principle that must in fact be immediately applied if a conflict is to be restrained from lurching into bigger crises. Tolerance however is at best a palliative by itself, a paracetamol to bring down the high fever. It does not quite correct the injustices that spawned these conflicts or the pain and suffering that may have been inflicted.

The other principle of dialogue provides a means by which tolerance can be articulated and developed. With it comes deeper implications that such a dialogue can only be meaningful if done between two respecting parties, treating each other as equals and willing to correct the inequities so that justice and the rule of law may reign. 

And what are the inequities that need to be corrected? 

The Displacement of Culture

It is, as Annan points out, the displacement of cultures. Rectifying this is not just a social imperative. It too is very much a physical and scientific imperative. Any solution to a conflict will have to address this issue realistically if it ever hopes to be rational, honorable and successful. The law of displacement is that of the road, to be understood and observed by all, without which entities will keep on colliding into each other with disastrous consequences, without which a journey cannot be expected to successfully reach its destination.

Which brings me to the conflict that besets Mindanao, that piece of southern archipelago in an area better known as the Philippine Islands in South East Asia. Some people would call it a Muslim-Christian strife; some would arrogate to it the distinction of being a Moro problem (and by inference, a conflict solely of the making of Moros, Muslim natives of Mindanao); others would claim it is really a socio-economic struggle, even political, giving rise to the various activities of Moro liberation fronts and the communist insurgency. 

Whatever, it is nevertheless a conflict that is manifest enough to gain enlistment in most of the listings of world conflicts in the 20th century. A conflict that is no less in anguish and tragedy for the affected peoples, the living and the wasted, of Mindanao.

Mindanao today is a region of varied drifts and bents: peaceful people who laboriously and endearingly grow the earth; defiant fighters who cannot fit into the present laws of the land; nervous folks who suspiciously eye the horizon with misgivings; do-gooders who unwittingly smother the land with their blankety mush; naysayers who would rather torch and stoke the fire than cook a meal; carpetbaggers who know their way from north to south; headhunters who, devoid of their own heads, will not think twice to claim other heads; even blind people who would stuff their noses with musk and deny the stink from their lavatories.

The businessmen of Mindanao, especially those of the tourist industry, will warmly advertise, in colorful glossy brochures and swanky Web pages, that Mindanao is a business and tourist haven, pointing to its fertile land, white and pink beaches, rich seas, industrious people, temperate climate and other resources. They will smugly claim that the battles and bloodletting in Mindanao that is so much the staple of news dailies are in fact isolated and confined to a few wretched spots – forsaken in their tenacity and appetite for violence. They will even point out that Mindanao, which usually conjures up the image of a fierce Moro warrior, is in fact not Moro or Muslim for most of the part, Muslim Mindanao having been relegated to even more limited spaces and consigned to oblivion. And yet even as these contorted denials are being done, the brochures and the Web pages advertise the picturesque Moro vinta and Muslim lasses in their native costumes to show the face of a graceful Mindanao. 

There is nothing wrong in that. There is even nothing wrong when excitable persons and samaritans write - understandably with the great pride of gardeners seeing their flowers bud - about how Christianity is blossoming in many parts of Mindanao (and other far flung areas of Timor and Indonesia). There is, after all, nothing wrong in pointing out facts.

What is unsettling however are the half-truths that are masked behind these facts. Herein lies the gist of what people tend to dismiss as simply a Moro problem: the displacement that has been taking place through centuries and still continues to this day, physically, socially, economically, politically, spiritually; and the inadequacy of will and capacity among the peoples and their leadership to find that common ground to correct this displacement. 

The Filipino’s Forgetfulness

When the Spanish invaders forcibly introduced Christianity to Mindanao in the 16th century, it was into an established system of Muslim sultanates that had been dealing, diplomatically and economically, with world powers in China and Arabia. If the ensuing Moro-Spanish wars were fought today, they would most probably merit threats of sanction from the United Nations, and maybe even the targeting by Tomahawk missiles of those garrisons and fleets which mercilessly tried to subjugate a territory simply because there was a king somewhere in his throne to offer the sacrificial pyre to, and there were spices and other riches to be taken. That Christianity was introduced by the sword was in fact a conscious effort at dislocating a culture. Precisely the stuff that would haunt and pain Kofi Annan and most of the thinking world in the late 20th century. 

If the Indios of the northern Philippine Islands can swallow this displacement and be thankful for it, that is a choice probably arising from a perception and an acceptance that what they had in the past can be dumped in favor of something more desirable. Or a forgetfulness that they are not averse to wear as plumed hats on their heads. That now - after having turned away from what was then a budding Islamism - is the Indio’s choice, the Filipino’s forgetfulness. 

In the meantime, Muslim Mindanao was ravaged through the centuries such that by the 1980s, it has been reduced, in the legal eyes of the Philippine courts and constitution, to only the four areas of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-tawi. And even within these meager territorial concessions, the Moros are grudgingly kept in a depression that could only breed desperation and the expected violence. 

Muslim Mindanao cannot do any better, nor offer any better to the rest of Mindanao, so some people claim. What do you expect?

The Moros of Mindanao have been brutalized over centuries of wars and, even today with all the trimmings of so-called agreements and governance, are being continually pushed to a situation where no amount of law and order will convince them that they should not convulse out of their current displacement. Without the necessary accommodation and cooperation of elements, contraptions and forces that could relieve the pressure, this convulsion can only be violent.

Who is to blame for this violence? 

Is this indeed an ingrained culture that the Moros, remnants of the valiant sultans and datus of antiquities, can be solely faulted with? Is it right to accuse the Moros of the worship of the gun? Is the gun culture like the bush and trees that burgeon wildly to make a forest and become the forest? Is it the slaughterhouse harvest of an animal farm? 

Do the hands that hold the gun have a better instrument to hold? Do the eyes that mark the target have a better goal to aim at? Do the feet that stalk the road have a better road to tread?

The Christian North will condescendingly argue that Muslim Mindanao must be taught the culture of peace that Christians supposedly so loftily hold precious. The Vatican and the cardinals and nuns and priests persist on a belief that they can relieve the suffering of these people, in this world and in the hereafter, by putting up missions and churches in their midst. There are even Web pages on the Internet beseeching the Lord with incantations and chants to embrace the wretched people of Mindanao and make them all pining Christians for their own salvation. 

Endowed with so much wealth and clout, getting their way past and around a government that almost always thinks the same way, these institutions are indeed doing all these with impunity, never stopping to think whether they are actually contributing to the solution of the conflict or adding to the aggravation. Herein works, in its most undermining way, the entrapment of displacement about which Kofi Annan cautions us about.

When the whole of Mindanao - sultanates, Islam and all - in the early 1900s was annexed to the Philippine North under a Manila-based central government, without any regard to the wishes of its inhabitants, it was assumed that the people of Mindanao as well as those of Visayas and Luzon, would be given their fair share of development for a brighter future. It was not meant that Muslim Mindanao should have to shed its identity, be culturally integrated and become more like Northern Philippines for it to deserve equal treatment. And yet, insensitive to the sensibilities of the Moros, that was exactly how the Manila government called the shots and played the cards, insisting on the same constitutions, norms and values to apply to both the northern Indios and the southern Moros as if the hurt, the injustices and all the history have not been there, thus condoning a process of Christianization and re-population of a resentful Mindanao.

The Roads of Mindanao

And while Muslim Mindanao, under the onslaught of both government neglect and government settlement programs, has been methodically effaced, governance yielded very limited roads of opportunities and development for the Moros of Mindanao. Even then, these roads and highways have been spiked with laws and guidelines that are alien to their own values, religion and culture. 

How then can the recalcitrant Moros appreciate such tokens? 

Unlike the Indio, the Moro’s long memory and his strong attachment to his faith makes him an unwilling motorist or pedestrian on these streets. And yet, these are the same roadways and alleyways that the Moros are made to take in getting from here to somewhere. Is it any wonder then that road-kill is rampant along these paths?

Would then building more roads, creating more spaces, help? How many more roads? How large more of a space? Would allowing the Moros to formulate and enforce their own laws and guidelines on these roads help? How many more laws? How much more enforcement? 

If the Vatican were to build roads, literally, for Muslim Mindanao rather than its churches, would this help too? 

These will certainly address and alleviate the issue of displacement to some extent, but then after all is said and done, would such solutions be enough?

This is where we go back to Annan’s principles of tolerance and dialogue. 

If these principles are to be applied and are to yield meaningful and lasting results, tolerance and dialogue must be practiced between parties who are both confident and strong, not between the weak and the strong, and most certainly not among nervous peoples. 

There is no denying that Mindanao, today and tomorrow, in whatever form of governance, will continue to be populated by people with varied cultures, religions and leanings. Misgivings and suspicions will continue to trace their way back, directly or indirectly, to the clashes of culture.

The Christians cannot plan or even wish to banish over 5 million Muslims from Mindanao, as if these are just temporary swarms of flies that pester the kitchen, without creating a greater conflict than there is now. Likewise, hoping that in due time this mass of humanity (yes, humans) will grow lesser and become more dissipated and weaker will only prolong the agony for everybody, and deprive more generations of the peace and progress that they all deserve, now and yesterday. 

Moros, on the other hand, cannot demand to turn back time and history, and restore Mindanao, by threats of war, to a mainly Muslim hegemony.

Such posturing by either party can only debilitate and jeopardize everyone’s hopes for a brighter future. Recent events in Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor and Chechnya, are all too vivid and horrifying reminders of the evils of disquieted ethnic intolerance.

To move away from such blight, and move away with some degree of permanence, there can thus only be tolerance and dialogue and a conscious effort to mitigate, correct and avoid problems of dislocation, physically or otherwise. To a great extent, the Moros themselves, in spite of their meager resources, hold the key to the success of such a formula.

The Steady and Healing Path

Tolerance should not be difficult to understand and practice, especially by Muslims, since this is actually one of Islam’s well-known teachings, expressed by the Qur’an so precisely as to associate the absence of coercion with that of the Right Path:

"There is no compulsion in religion. Verily, the Right Path has become distinct from the wrong path. Whoever disbelieves in false deities and believes in God, then he has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that will never break. And God is All-Hearer, All-Knower."

Qur’an 2:256

In another verse, the Qur’an states:

"O mankind! We created you from a single soul, male and female, and made you into peoples and tribes, so that you may come to know one another. Truly, the most honored of you in God's sight is the greatest of you in piety. God is All-Knowing, All-Aware."

Qur'an 49:13

If the Moros of Mindanao are up to the challenge, they should take heed of these verses with all seriousness, not only because of the tolerance and dialogue that the Qur’an preaches, but more so because of its exhortation to a right path and to being honored in God’s sight with a show of great piety. 

If there is one certain force that can move Muslim Mindanao out of its morass, it is the force of a truly understood and practiced Islam, a religion that will remain to be an advocate of peace, among other things, notwithstanding the reviling and the protestations of its detractors. 

Some Filipino Christians who, at best, prefer to be indifferent or, at worst, tend to scorn most things Muslim, must realize that if they are to contribute to the solution of the Mindanao conflict, they should be willing to help Moros become better Muslims rather than expect the Moros to become more Christian like them, especially so if they claim to be leaders among their own communities. And especially so if their communities are in direct contact with the Muslim communities. It is best for everybody to realize that Islam is not a pagan culture which will disappear in due time. Muslims all over the world regard it as an evolution of God’s teachings from that of Adam through Abraham, Moses, Jesus and finally to Muhammad, may peace and blessings of God be upon them all, and will not submit for any wrong or right reasons, by any wrong or right ways, that they should backtrack down the evolution ladder. That Islam should be practiced by the Moros of Mindanao, who are perceived as backwards and uncouth in their ways, does not lessen the prominence of Islam in its ongoing impact to peoples’ lives near and far from its accredited origin in the Middle East.

Islam, more than the roads that governance can build, is the steadier and healing path by which the Moros should live by, not so much to counter what they perceive as the encroachment of western corruption into their religion, but more importantly, to dispel their own nervousness about being corrupted at all. The Moros may even find out that, notwithstanding the influences of a permissive westernized society, their very native culture and traditions harbor distortions to the Islam that the Qur’an announces, necessitating for them internal changes to return to the basic understanding of Islam. 

If the Moros know any better, they should realize that their imams and ulamas, their leaders, elders and intellectuals, must do a better job at embracing, strengthening and preaching the religion for what it truly is. They must also do a better job at unifying their ranks, managing their systems and utilizing their resources, rather than indulging themselves in misplaced prides, self-serving politics and arrogant bickering, luxuries that they can ill afford in view of their limited structures and means.

Moros should not deceive themselves into thinking that they can resist the winds of change, simply because this is demanded of them by a pervasive non-Islamic system, and hope to go back to the ways of the old when the land was pure and isolated. 

Rather, they should take lessons from the experiences of thriving and peaceful Muslim communities in places like Britain, Canada or the USA and find out how Islam is coping up constructively with a fast-modernizing world and understand why Islam is now the fastest growing religion in those areas. 

Only when Islam is seen and treated as a religion and conduct of life meant for all places and for all times, and not as something akin to a pagan culture that disappears with the territory or is remembered only on glossy pages of coffeebooks, can Moros start to deal with the rest of Philippine society meaningfully, and only then as well can the rest of Philippine society be able to respond appropriately. 

When such realization is translated, by all parties to the conflict, into a determination and constancy to strengthen their confidence and abilities to deal with the issues at hand, only then will Muslim Mindanao be able to contribute to the overall progress and stability of a truly unified country, and be able to proudly proclaim that yes, beyond tolerance, beyond dialogues, beyond the pains and sins of displacements, the culture of peace flourishes too in Mindanao.
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