Before I took the flight to Mindanao, friends and family advised me to be careful. A lot of people think Mindanao is a very dangerous place. The death of 67 in Mamasapano, the killing of 52 in the Ampatuan Massacre in Maguindanao, the Zamboanga Siege, the Abu Sayyaf, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, countless killings and bombings, all these give us a scary picture of Mindanao. Thus, when we think of the Moro People, we think they are all terrorists. And when politicians talk about an “all-out war” in Mindanao, people who describe themselves as “peace-loving” agree, as if it were the only solution.
Yes, Mindanao can be dangerous. Especially to those who are Moro, Indigenous Peoples, human rights advocates, tribal leaders who take the side of their own people and resist developments which destroy the earth and their communities. Those who intentionally seek to protect the land and the people are terrorized. And we have the gall to declare that they are terrorists!
A few days ago, I heard some of the most committed people speak about their desire to have peace in Mindanao. The strong presence of the military, developments such as open pit mining and dams, and even the Bangsamoro Basic Law will not create Peace. I am reminded of one of IBON Foundation’s videos where they define what will create peace – Jobs create peace. Education creates peace. Land for farmers creates peace. Healthcare creates peace. Decent shelters create peace. And so on and so forth. Peace is about common good. Peace can only be made possible when all people experience life with dignity. Poverty, injustice, corruption, militarization and inequality are violence perpetrated by a government upon its own people it pledged to serve.
When I went to Mindanao, people told me to be careful. I have become friends with some of the most soft-spoken, kind and compassionate people there. And, yes, they are Muslim and Lumad. With them, I am careful because I want to show them my utmost respect and solidarity.
But I think those who do not know them must be more careful. Our Islamophobia or fear of Moro People does not only hurt them. It hurts us. There is no future for our country unless we demand those in government to stop war and militarization and seek genuine peace. There is no future for our children and our children’s children with a government that serve capitalists and imperialists, which systematically abuse laborers to maximize profit, plunder our natural resources until what used to be paradise become wastelands, and who diminish and sacrifice the culture and identity of ethnic minority groups through displacement and land grabbing.
We must be careful. We think we are safe when we are silent in the oppression of our sisters and brothers in Mindanao? Our silence protects the status quo. It is a carelessness that has a high cost. It is only in raising our voices together that we can know peace. Peace will not come to those who wait for it. Peace must be pursued for it to become a reality.
Photo taken by the labyrinth of the Southern Philippines Methodist Colleges, with peace advocates.