The ever fragile way to peace
“PEACE is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the result of violent repression. Peace is the generous contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty” — Archbishop Oscar Romero
IF peace in the Philippines were a man, he must be deeply wounded. The peace talks between government and communist peace panels are suspended, a fact that is accompanied by sporadic attacks by the communist armed wing, the NPA; there is a grumbling non-violence among the officially recognized armed Muslim rebel groups (the MILF and MNLF) that could erupt if circumstances provoke them; there is an ongoing war in Marawi, Mindanao perpetrated by an ISIS-inspired but unholy union of terror groups Maute and Abu Sayyaff and their foreign cohorts. Add to that the still-existing spate of extrajudicial killings connected to the anti-drug war, albeit shelved for the moment in some obscure corner of the public’s attention.
No ordinary mortal can remain unmoved or unaffected by the specter before us. Even the chief executive of the country had to take a break from the scourge of non-peace among us. After all, questions on his health notwithstanding, he, like you and me, is also flesh and blood; he is just as susceptible to weariness and/or illness. To an inquiring mind simple transparent and honest answers to such questions are enough, but when it gets vague generalities that seem to dissemble, no one can expect disquiet to go away. Why? Because generalities tend to create rather than dispel doubt.
It is so unfortunate and unhappy that peace could be held hostage for such a long time in these our sun-blessed islands. Archbishop Romero’s insight into peace could bring us some light. Is not what ails us partly the fact that we officially relegate peace to a few people when peace actually needs the “contribution of all” to the ” good of all”? This truth is dramatized, for instance, by surveying how the communist peace panel composed of mostly people in their senior years have tried to extend olive branches to their government counterpart while their younger red-blooded armed groups have continued their forays into police, military or civilian targets. Isn’t the disconnect too glaring?
Perhaps we need to re-discover the art of building bridges between our diverse peoples and groups. Pope Francis, in fact, once made a telling remark when confronting the issue of a possible wall between Mexico and America, that a “Christian builds bridges, not walls.”
Nor is peace the task of the president and his aides by their lonesome. For one, the chief executive is easily provoked to outbursts that may go from the verbal to the military kind. Declaring Martial Law in Mindanao does seem a case in point. For him peace is essentially the death or capture of enemies, be it of state or otherwise. The problem is that this approach only addresses one aspect of the problem of non-peace, that of violent rebellion. It does not touch on poverty, social injustice, the onset of terror ideologies and the age-old cultivation of violence and hostage-taking-for-ransom culture in the deep south.
A ray of hope is, however, becoming clearer. It come from the ever deepening friendship and solidarity between Christian (especially Catholic) and Muslim religious leaders as well as ordinary believers on both sides. The tragic war in Marawi has partly given glimpses of this reality.
There is also the desire for and the fact of mutual help and mutual service among Filipinos of different religions, cultures or even ideologies. This may not be true, especially in a massive scale, among all groups in contention. But, no doubt, it exists and is as real as the Maute phenomenon. Otherwise how could anyone, for instance, explain the sacrifice made by Muslim police officers in not deserting a group of Christians whom they hid from certain death by execution, courtesy of the Maute groups prowling Marawi, Mindanao streets? They did so without much fanfare but with so much risk to their own lives. It may sound odd but it is certainly of a piece with him “who died for us while we were yet sinners” (Rom 8:5).
The Scriptures constantly remind us that God is the “God of peace” (Rom 15:33; 2 Cor 13:11; Heb 13:20). Our Muslim brethren’s hello is a “greeting of peace” (‘assalamalaikom’). Jesus Christ whom Christians follow as Master and Savior is “the Prince of Peace” and the “Lord of Peace” (Is 9:6; 2 Thess 3:16). Only those who do not take their faith seriously do not stand on the side of peace, pray and work for it. Where Muslims and Christians commonly oppose the ways of hatred and violence and choose instead to help, serve and care for one another, respecting one another’s faith and culture, peace is given a boost. While there may be no peace yet in Marawi, in Mindanao or the country, they certainly have sown its seeds.
And we need to ask: Do these seeds not deserve to be nurtured so as to grow into full-blown plants?