235 - september 2000

“We have a dream…”

Philippine Oblates reflecton the present and dream of the future

Editor’s Foreword

In late August Muslimliberation forces in JoloPhilippines released more hostages after aransom of 1 million dollars per person was paid. There are still 24 otherschildren or spouses of those already releasedwho wait anxiously fortheir fate to be decided. We can seriously wonder if this new money willnot be used to buy arms to continue the struggle. Ronald ZamoraExecutiveSecretary to Philippines’ President Estradacommented to the InternationalHerald Tribune (Aug. 312000)“Maybe paying ransom was nota good idea. We may be setting ourselves up for more trouble in the future.”

The guerrilla battlefor autonomy in the Southern Philippines has been going on for years.The recent military action by the Government forces against the MILF (MoroIslamic Liberation Front) seems to have worsened the situation and alsocreated a serious refugee problem. In early April the Oblate PhilippineProvince held a Special Gathering to reflect on Christian-Muslim relationsand the current situation. The first paper in this number of OMI Documentationpresents a report on this meeting published in the Province newsletter.

The second paper in thisnumber is an article submitted by Fr. Eliseo Mercado in which he triesto identify the five most urgent issues confronting Mindanao. This paperwas delivered at two Forums in Manila: The Philippine InternationalForum sponsored by expatriates in the Philippines and the Forumon Mindanao sponsored by the Peace and Justice Commission of the Associationof Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines. The same paper was givenduring the first week of August in San FranciscoCA at the U.S. basedMindanao Crisis Coalition.

TADABBAR: Openingour MindsUnlocking our Hearts
A Synthesisof the Oblate Discussion on Christian-Muslim Relations
Oblate Spiritual CenterTamontaka --- April 3-52000
Fr. Federico LabaglayO.M.I.
Taken from the OMI Philippines NewsletterVol. X No. 6March - April 2000

The title is Arabic for theattitude of openness in mind and heartan essential dispositionin understanding and living through the relations between Christians andMuslims.It is in such a spirit that we58 Oblates of thePhilippine Provincehave gathered to share experiences and insights towardsfinding our way through the current situation in MindanaoSulu &TawiTawimarked as it is by present difficulties and fearful scenarios.We are especially grateful toour elder Oblatesto whose inspirationand initiative we attribute this Special Gathering.

Perhaps coincidentally butalso in good timingthe Oblate General Council in February 2000 invitedthe entire Congregation to join in “a special time forreflection and renewal.” This was in response to the mandateof the 1998 General Chapter to “evaluate and discern as to whetherour evangelization is in step with the reality of today’sworld and with God’s specific call to us through our charism... toreview all of our missionary commitments in the light of our charism.”Our Special Gathering thenwhile perhaps long overdueis still inkeeping with the call of the times.

The Process

In our Special Gatheringwe journeyed through three moments which we called The ExperienceThe Trendsand The Calls & Challenges.These momentsevoked from us our personal stories of relating to Muslims and indigenouspeoplesour feelings and the feelings of our people in the midst of theperceived worsening situationour interpretations of and insights intoprevailing eventsthe emerging calls and challenges tousas Oblate missionaries.

This over-all process servedtobe a moment of purification for many of usgiven our exasperationand helplessness at having dealt or failed to deal with this situationfor many years now. Likewisethe process has allowed us time toexchangeideas freelywhich will contribute toand lead tomoreconcrete collaborative actionor even just tosustain present“best practices” in this area of ministry. The bottom lineit seemsis that the process has revealed to us sparks of hope whichwill carry us forward in this increasingly difficult and complex areaof our life and mission. Hopefullytoothose among whom we liveand work will pick up these sparks of hope.

The Experience:Expressingour feelings

The present state of Muslim-Christian relationsand of conditions prevailing in such communitiesparticularly in troubledareas of Mindanaoevokes in us and in our people feelings of helplessnesshopelessnessanxietyfearconfusionangersadnesspassivityindifferencedistrustfrustrationinsecurityand prejudiceamong others. Suchfeelings could lead to any number of possible reactionsbut we feltamid them alla strong feeling of hopemanifested in our comingtogether to share our experiencesfeelingsand insights. Such hope isalso emboldened by the courageousthough sometimes unnoticedwitnessof individualscouplesfamilies and groups who put a face todialogueof life with people of different faiths and tribes.

Describing the Situation

Violence bestdescribes the circumstances of our communities. It takes many forms: lawlessnessand criminalityincreasing cases of hostilities between government andarmed groupsdisplacement of communitiesreligious intoleranceamongothers.

As we search for some possiblesources of this situation of violencewe find the following: abject poverty;the rise of fanatical and extremist groups as well as criminal syndicates;dispossession of indigenous peoples’ lands and other unresolved issuesof land ownership revolving around questions of historical and legal right;the evolution of leadership with arguable motives; the arming of politicalgroups; the worldwide resurgence of Islam and the possible instigationby unidentified “third parties” among many others.

Similarlythe situationhas been aggravated by opportunities lost not only tograft andcorruption by our local and national leadersbut also by theirineptitude and utter lack of credibility and leadership.Effective governanceparticularly in Muslim areasis sorely lacking.Basic pillars of society are practically non-existentas for examplethe absence of a judicial system in Sulu. We have seentoothe dangerposed by inflaming religious passions by portraying the conflictas one born basically of religion.

The various concerned partiesand sectors have not been wanting in coming up with approaches to solvethis issue. Verballyat leastour national leadership has spoken ofan “all-out war” approachin seeming disregard for thefailure of previous purely military campaigns. This approach comes alongwith an ongoing peace processcurrently between government andleaders of the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front)whose hard-line positionof secessionself-determinationand concept of territorial boundarieswe must yet find a way to fully comprehend. Even thenwe question thesincerity and credibility of those involved in the talksfor the violencehas not abated.

Both government and non-governmentalinstitutions continue to take risks in these areasbuilding the capabilitiesof local government officialsundertaking peace-building initiativesand uplifting socio-economic conditions through impact and self-sustainingprojects. Yettheir efforts seem tobe outweighed and even attimes negated by the violence in its different forms.

In all of thesethosewho suffer most are the ordinary folksthe MuslimsIndigenous Peoplesand Christians whose voice and aspirations may have been lost inthe rhetoric of their leaders. They continue to be victimized and unwittinglyused for other people’s interests. But has any “power”ever really asked them: What do theyreally desire? What is their standon such issues as secessionautonomyIslamic Stateancestral domain?

Catching the Trends:Responding as Human Beingsas Christiansand as Oblates
  • What is the basic Christian stance towardspeople of other faiths?
  • What is the place of an admission ofour own faults and failuresof forgivenessand of reconciliation inour web of relations with people of other faiths?
  • How can we get to understand Muslim perceptionsof their relations with people of other faiths?
  • How should we respondas Oblatestothis general issue and to specific instances of violence involving especiallypeople we knowpeople we work with in our areas of ministry?
  • How can we stand up and speak out whenwe need toin order to counter a “culture” of silence inthe face of threats?
  • When we ourselves are threatened withharmhow do we strike a balance between prudencecarelessnessandtrust in God and people? Who shall speak in our behalfwithout stiflingthe honest opinions and initiatives of individual Oblates?
  • What mechanisms need to be set-up inorder to put intoaction our beautiful words and to be reasonablyprepared for any eventualities?
  • How can we engage in continuing conversationand interaction to level off even among ourselves on issues that remaincontentious and unresolved?

We raise these questionstoday and mandate our Oblate leadership to lead the way in searching foranswers.

Our missionary commitmentsbring us to live and work in communities with ChristiansMuslims andIndigenous Peoples. We will not abandon them especially when worse comesto worst. We cannot but establish personal positive relations withthem all. We will need to truly immerse ourselves into the lives ofall our peopleand especiallyas Oblate missionariesamong Muslimsand Indigenous Peoples. We need to study their religiontheir culturetheir language and their worldviewthe better to understand them andlive and work with them. We must listen to them and their representativesto know their mind about the issues that plague us bothand then possiblydialogue or share with them. But we must respond to this commitment consciousand secure in our own Christian faith and Oblate charism.

This is our opportunitynow to re-think and re-shape our missionary strategies with regard toministry with and among Muslims and Indigenous Peoples.

Concrete Initiatives

Discouraged by the ineptnessand unconcern of some leadersand inspired by the witness of ordinaryMuslimsChristians and Indigenous People living together in harmony anddialoguewe want to adopt a strategy of peace building “frombelow.

Our network of schoolsmass media and humanitarian institutionsparticularly those that caterto communities of MuslimsIndigenous Peoplesand Christiansoffer powerfuland influential venues for peace education and advocacy. So too do thebasic ecclesial communitiesbasic human communities and other institutionswhich can explore the “Peace Zone” concept. We want to promotea peace process at the grassroots levelwhere differences and conflictsare more effectively settledand where people’s true aspirationsare genuinely gauged.

There are other alreadysuccessful initiatives and activities in other places which we can alwaystry replicating in our own areas. We must not stop trying or probing freshand creative schemesall the more when the traditional approaches havebeen found short in the face of new situations. Our FounderSt. Eugenede Mazenodonce said that“Charity includes everything; andin case of fresh needsit invents new meansif necessary.” Suchnewendeavors also become more effective when jointly done withwell-meaning individuals and groupsfrom all the stakeholders inthisissue.

Hearing the Calls and Challenges:Top Priorities

At the third stage of ourjourney during the Special Gatheringwe highlighted some of the callsand challenges coming from the present Mindanao situation. The foremostcall heard by us is the promotion and strengthening of a culture of peaceand active non-violence in our areas of ministry through basic ecclesialcommunities and basic human communitiesour network of schoolsmassmediaPeace Centersand Peace Zonesand other similar institutionsand venues.

The second call or challengeis to strengthen inter-religious dialogue of life at the grassrootslevel by positive personal contact with the masses of Muslims andIndigenous People and their leaders as welland by learning their culturetheir religiontheir language and their struggle.

The third priority callis tobuild consensus among us Oblates with regard to the issues ourpeople and we are facing. This we can do by examining our own lifestylecredibilityand attitudescontinuing the leveling-off on such issuescreating mechanisms through which we can make our positions known aftercareful study and research into the intricacies of the situation we faceand putting up structures which will enable us to respond reasonably topresent happenings and future eventualities.

Other Calls

Aside from these prioritieswe call on our leadership and ourselves as wellto work for good andresponsible government; for genuine development to alleviate poverty;to speak out against graft and corruption; to educate our people towardselecting credible and responsible leaders; to elucidate a real Christianreligious response through prayerfastingand real concern for neighbor;and to address prevailing anxietiesfears and confusions.

Affirming Basic Principles

At the close of this SpecialGatheringwe want to affirm these basic principles in our ministry amongChristiansMuslimsand Indigenous Peoples:

We believe that peace isthe concern of alland must then be the effort of all.

We believe in the possibilityof living with people of different faiths and tribes in a spirit of mutualrespecttrustand understanding.

We believe in the rightof all peopleregardless of religion or tribeto their most basic humanfreedomsand call on all individuals and sectors to respect and ensurethat these freedoms are honored.

We believe in the principleof active non-violencehencein the peaceful resolution of every conflict.

We believe that genuinehuman development builds the conditions for peace and harmonyespeciallyin communities that have long been deprived of even the most basic ofhuman needs.

Conclusion

Martin Luther King’s“I Have A Dream” is a fitting conclusion to our SpecialGathering. It is an invitation to hopeagain much like the callof the Oblate General Council 2000 — “bringing to life animmense hope.” Our hope at this juncture of our life and ministrymay not be that immensebut we want to believe that even a small seedof hope can grow into a tree of peace. We call on all people of goodwillto pray and act with us in bringing to life this shared hope.

Ihavea dream
that one day
Every valley shall be exalted
Every hill and mountain made low
Rough places made plain
The crooked places made straight
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed
And all flesh shall see it together
This is our hope.
With this faith
We will be able to hew out
Of the mountain of despair
A stone of hope.
With this faith
We will be able to transform
The jangling discords of our nation
into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
With this faith
We will be able to work together
To pray together
To struggle together
To go to jail together
Knowing that we will be free one day.

FiveUrgent Issues Confronting Mindanao

by Fr. Eliseo MercadoJr.OMI

PresidentNotre DameUniversity --- CotabatoPhilippines

The first issue is the issue of theDisplaced.

There are differing statisticalfigures on the exact number of the displaced. The NGOs put the figureat about 600000 while the Government puts it at about 350000. If thelatter figure is takenit is really a disaster and if the former is trueit is then a catastrophe. The displaced are not simply statistical numbersor COLLATERAL DAMAGE in the on-going war in Mindanao. They have humanfacesnamesand families and before the present Mindanao Warthey toohad their own homes and lands to till.

The issue of the displacedis now the biggest challenge to all people of GOODWILL during this JUBILEEYEAR. One of the CALLS is “return to the land.” Thiscan be our dream and focus of reconstruction…. Return to their lands/villagesrebuild their homes and pick up the pieces of their livelihood. GIVEPEACE a SPACE!

The second issue is the PEACE PROCESSinSouthern Philippines.

It is very tragic to speakof the peace process in the midst of an all-out war policy adopted bythe Government beginning April 28th2000 and the all-out JIHAD responseof the MILF after the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) takeover ofCamp Abubakar in the second week of July. What was then a government strategyof “degrading the MILF capability” through a limited militaryoption has turned into a nightmare. The GRP’s (Government of theRepublic of the Philippines) all-out offensive against the MILF has causedunparalleled major displacementgreater polarization of the Mindanaosociety along confessional lineseconomic disaster and almost total erosionof people’s faith in the Peace Process. The trust and confidencebuilt through the years are gone!

Both sides have now setconditions for the resumption of the Formal Peace Talks. The Government’sthree conditions: a) drop the secessionist goalb) drop all terroristactsand c) drop your gunhave been the major stumbling blocks in thepeace process since the conditions appear to be terms of surrender forthe MILF. On the other handthe MILFafter its leadership has been includedin the PNP’s (Philippine National Police) order of battle coupledby arrest warrantsis NOW insisting on holding the talks OUTSIDEthe Philippines.

Moreoverthe MILF has NOWrejected the so-called “political package” that the GRP hasoffered the MILF. The proposed Interim Agreement has reached an impassesince the GRP and the MILF differ on the understanding of negotiationand talks. The Government insists that the MILF AGREE to AUTONOMYas the political solution to the Bangsamoro problem. On the other handthe MILF AGREE to DISCUSS AUTONOMY as a political solution to theBangsamoro problem.

I personally believe thatthe MILF is open to Autonomy if the right PEACE FORMULA is found. Themere fact that the MILF has entered into a Peace Process is an indicatorof flexibility. But the Government has to come out with a creative andinnovative political package that can serve as a PEACE FORMULA. What theMILF desires is to live and chart their destiny according to their setof beliefs. Religious Freedom is a Constitutional guarantee that is evenprior to political and civil rights.

The MILF slogan “SeparateIndependent Islamic State” is an articulation of ideal. Themere fact that this is NOT included among the talking points showstheir belief that this is NOT attainable and feasible within the givenparameters of the present realities. There is recognition that NO governmentwill concede dismemberment of its territorial integrity and/or diminutionof its Sovereignty. What is being looked at by the Peace Panels is a formulawhereby the ideals and the “given” are reconcilable either througha grant and/or recognition of autonomy in local affairs both in governanceand administration of justice that includesamong other thingspertinentprovisions of the Shari’a.

The latest obstacles tothe PEACE PROCESS are the Warrants of Arrest and the nine (9) millionbounty that the GRP has put on the heads of the MILF leaders: Five millionfor MILF Chair Salamat Hashimthree million for Vice Chair for MilitaryAffairs Kagui Murad and one million for MILF SpokespersonEid Kabalu.This latest GRP move has triggered the MILF’s indefinite suspensionof the Peace Talks between the GRP and the MILF.

The third crucial issue is Developmentand Empowerment.

The war in Mindanao hasexacerbated the gross reality of underdevelopment and povertyespeciallyafter the massive destruction and almost economic paralysis beginningApril 28th2000. Even before the GRP’s take over of Camp Abubakaras-Siddique in the first week of Julya Recovery and Rehabilitation Planfor Central Mindanao was designed and approved by the President. “TheNational Disaster Coordinating Council shall orchestrate and superviseat the national level the implementation of the plan that will be madeoperational by the Office of Civil Defense.” Presidential ExecutiveSecretary Ronald Zamora issued the Memorandum to all Government Agenciesconcerned on June 222000.

Then on July 5ththe Presidentissued Executive Order 261 constituting the Mindanao Coordinating Councilor the MCC. The said body is tasked to orchestrate and facilitate therehabilitation of Mindanaospecifically in the areas affected by thewar.

This was followed by theissuance on July 17th of Executive Order No. 267 constituting the PresidentialExecutive Task Force for Relief and Rehabilitation of Central Mindanao.

What is interesting is thefact that these three super-bodieswhose task is to orchestratesuperviseand implement the reliefrehabilitation and re-construction of Mindanao— specifically the areas affected by the war — have practicallythe same roles and functions. People wonder whether these bodies representthe well-known “turfing” struggle in the corridors of power.

But the tragedy in all thisdevelopmentrehabilitationre-construction and relief hullabaloo isthe fact that these super-bodies were all concocted in the national CapitalRegion without any benefit of consultation or real participation ofthe stakeholders the Mindanawansin general and the people in theaffected areasin particular. Any development planespecially rehabilitationneeds to empower the people who are the real principals and stakeholdersin this venture.

In the same way that therecan be no “ENFORCED PEACE” there is no such animal as“ENFORCED DEVELOPMENT.” The tragedy is further compoundedby the PROLIFERATION of so many “bodies” floating and hangingaroundi.e.MEDCOPARECORDCSPDAARMMand SPCPD. What one needsis a real guide in the midst of floating development bodies in order NOTto be lost. This is a classic example of a government going berserk afterdestroying the place. NO VISIONNO FOCUSNO COHERENCE AND TOO MANY COOKS.

The fourth issue is Governance andAccountability.

Both national and localgovernance is the issue in the present tragedy in Mindanao. Good governancewith vision and accountability is as elusive as Peace and Developmentin Mindanao. The local government unitsparticularly in Central and SouthernMindanao and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao are actual “vassals”of the Lord that resides somewhere along the Pasig River. The releasesof funds for projects and the “unaccountable” Internal RevenueAllotments are tied up to “captive” electoral votes during elections.Performances in Public Service and Accountability to the constituentsare issues foreign to uniquely patron-client relations between Malacanang(President’s residence in Manila) and the Local Government Units.

Very often the lack of performanceor dismal failure in governance is attributed to a lack of capacity inthe local government units. The solutions often offered are seminars andseries of training-workshops on “capacity building”. Yetthereal problem in governance isperhapsnot capacity but structure orsystem of governance that is NOT attuned and responsive to the CULTUREand praxis of both the governors and the governed. The behavior of thegovernors and the governed fit the strongly “semi-feudal” and“semi-colonial” relations as typified in the existing Patron-Clientstructure. Such governance has distinct indicators that are not measuredby actual performance on the ground and accountability to the people.

When people demand “autonomy”or any type of “self-determination”they point not only tothe issue of empowering them to decide and determine on local affairsbut also to the issue of putting an END to what is commonly labeled as“Imperial Manila”which means precisely the Patron-ClientRelations.

The fifth issue is the urgent needfor Dialogue and a Culture of Peace.

Mindanao has always beenknown as the cultural melting pot. Mindanao is “blessed” byvery varied cultural communities popularly known as the LUMADS that continueto inhabit the uplands. Added to the Lumads are the thirteen ethno-linguistic“groups” also known as the Bangsamoro that through the centurieshas continued its struggle to live according to a particular set of beliefs.Then from the beginning of the second decade of the last centurydifferentChristian tribes and groups from Luzon and the Visayas have settled inMindanao and in time they have come to be the majority population in almostall provinces and cities except the Provinces of BasilanLanao del SurMaguindanaoSulu and Tawi Tawi and the Cities of Marawi and Cotabato.

The diversities of culturesreligious beliefs and peoples demand a constant “schooling”for CULTURAL AND RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE for all. The War in Mindanaoand the continuing cultural and religious stereotypes and biasesmorethan everpoint to the urgent need of people being schooled to the Paradigmof Dialogue and Tolerance. The bigotry and biases continue to fuel thehostility and animosity specifically between Muslims and Christians. Therise of vigilantism and of a militia mind set under the guise of CAFGUespecially among rural folksis tied up to a type of religious fanaticismthat is also anti-Muslim. [Editor’s note: CAFGUare Government Paramilitary Units known as “Citizens Armed ForcesGeographical Units.”]

In a pluralistic Mindanaoours is NOT the path of WAR but the path of Dialogue and the consciousand concerted efforts of all to engender a CULTURE of PEACE.


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