I am Mindanawon. My late father was born in Capiz but grow up in Iloilo City. My late mother was born in Pangasinan but grew up in Manila. Just before the Second World War erupted, my migrant parents met each other in Davao City. By the end of that war, they had already two children. In 1947, I became their third child. After I was born, my parents decided to move to Digos. My parents built a house near the river. Digos was then a small town. Its population was what we now call tri-people. The majority of the residents were Bisaya – settlers from Cebu, Bohol and Leyte. There were a few Batangueno and Chinese families who had business establishments. In our neighborhood lived a few Sama Muslim families who had left Jolo to settle down here. On Sundays, the Bagobos from the village of Kapatagan came down to the poblacion to sell baskets and fruits.
Today, we refer to Bisayan settlers, Moro and lumad who live in Mindanao as Mindanawon. Recalling my youth, I could claim that I was very privileged to have lived in a place where the various cultural and religious traditions peacefully co-existed with each other. The Digos of my childhood was a place to cherish. Everyone knew each other. Everyone could have a good night’s rest. We could go swim in the river everyday. The Aplaya beach was not too far away. There were acacia trees at the very center of the poblacion. The tartanillas brought us to places outside of the town center. There were regular free movies at the school ground. The sugat preceding the dawn Mass on Easter Sunday took our breaths away as angels dropped from a wooden structure as tall as the church belfry. There was peace throughout my childhood in Digos. I never heard about fights between the Sama and the Bagobo, between the lumad and the settlers, between the Muslims and the Christians. My mother told us not to look down on the Bagobo and to be friendly with our Moro neighbors. It was therefore natural that I had Moro playmates in my youth. Early in my life, I just assumed that there were cultural differences among peoples, but that there was need to respect each other. However, it was not as if we were totally clueless regarding the tri-people interactions in other parts of Mindanao. Occasionally we did hear about violent eruptions and armed skirmishes out there in Cotabato or Lanao. There were occasions I would overhear my father’s conversation with his friends when they talked about pangayaw (armed Lumad uprisings) or the Moro juramentado. At some instances, my mother whispered her concern to my father about our safety when news came that trouble was getting nearer.
I was to realize later on that my childhood was not typical for a Mindanawon. This realization came with the opportunities to travel around Mindanao. After doing a post-graduate course in Sociology and Economics, I took jobs that brought me around southern Philippines. I traveled extensively both as Regional Manager of the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) and as Executive Secretary of the Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference Secretariat (MSPCS).
These were during some of the most difficult years of contemporary Mindanawon history, from 1974 to l983. The problems, however, had arisen earlier owing to the conflicts that erupted in the late l960s which were further worsened by the militarization during the Marcos dictatorship. I was in Jolo and Dimataling, Zamboanga del Sur after these places were burned. I encountered hundreds of those at the evacuation centers all across the Cotabato provinces. I met with church people who sponsored rehabilitation programs for internal refugees in Basilan. I spent time with lumads displaced owing to both military operations and development aggression in Agusan Sur. I did what I could to express solidarity with peace advocates in Lanao.
In many occasions during these travels, I was always struck with the impact of these violence on the children. Whether belonging to settler, Moro or lumad families, they all suffered the bitter consequences of a conflict situation. They became children of war. They suffered the trauma of armed hostilities. Their childhood innocence would be snatched away from them and they are left with bleak memories.
Like many Mindanawons, I was overjoyed with the peace initiatives during the Ramos administration that finally led to the GRP-MNLF Peace Agreement. This peace process did not transform the whole of Mindanao into zones of healing and reconciliation, but, at least, there was a movement towards peace-building. However, the resistance of tens of thousands of Christian settlers to the SPCPD and the other projects that came with the Peace Agreement dampened the optimism felt by peace advocates. It was clear that so much biases and prejudices still lurked in many Mindanawon’s hearts.
The eruption of the war a year ago would break many a Mindanawon heart. I was about to take the Super-5 bus that got bombed in Rizal, Zamboanga del Norte on February 27, 2000. It was around this time that two other buses were bombed on the ferry boat as it moved towards Ozamis City. That very personal experience of being so near the sites of violence made me cringe at this new outbreak of violence.
When the ousted President Estrada ultimately declared his government’s all-out war strategy, one was reduced to a state of depression. Despite the cry of protest among those in civil society, the President would play the bida role as if he were still acting out in his action movies.
In the wake of his war cry, close to a million Mindandawons – mainly Moros – would turn evacuees. Their elderly and children will die there even as the government troops would spend P3 million a day.
For seven months we protested against this war. We wrote letters to the editors and articles for newspapers to pressure Erap to give up his war games. We raised funds to bring relief goods to the evacuees. We explained to communities that we should not support this war. We prayed to God for peace.
Finally, our prayers were heard when Gov. Chavit Singson began to tell outrageous stories about the President’s nocturnal habits. In less than four months, Erap was ousted and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) was installed as 14th President of the Republic of the Philippines.
Within a month after her ascendancy, GMA called on the MILF for the resumption of the peace talks, and set up the GRP Peace Panel and declared a ceasefire. The MILF still has to name the members of its own peace panel but it seems open to this new peace initiative. Many Mindanawons are hopeful that the peace negotiations will begin soon and that this would eventually lead to another peace agreement.
Mindanawons today have learned lessons from history. One of the most important lessons is that democracy will work only if the people are truly actively involved in governance processes. If the peace process is to succeed, the ordinary people must have a place at the negotiating table. There is need to trust and support the Peace Panel because what it brings to the table is most important. But what is more crucial is what the people will bring to that table, even if they are not physically present.
This peace process has to happen at two levels. But it should converge at various points. The first level involves the Peace Panels. But they should not monopolize the processes, neither should they be left alone by civil society and grassroots communities. Both levels will need to interact with each other in order to generate synergy.
In order to make sure that the processes will ultimately lead to peace, such a goal can be attained if we all work together sharing the dreams of peace advocates. Such an objective can be reached if only we can think of the children and have their interests in our heart.
Let the children enjoy their childhood in the only atmosphere that can make them precious to the eyes of Allah, Magbabaya and Dios, namely, that where peace reigns. For no Mindanawon child should ever be a child of war.
by Fabio Motta
I am on the boat together with the whole Seminary community going back to Manila after a short missionary exposure in Mindanao. My eyes are following the waves of the sea hurling against the boat and my mind is already thinking of the future, once reached the port and later on Tagaytay City, looking forward to the next school assignments yet to be submitted.
It would be wrong to run faster than the “SuperFerry” and it might be better for me to postpone my anxieties and future plans to a more suitable time.
So, playing with time, I will try to go backward revisiting these 15 days spent between Roxas (Dipolog) and Zamboanga City. I will attempt to describe some pictures still clearly present in my eyes and much more alive than the two films I bring along with me yet to be developed. It is the easiest way for me to share with you my impressions after this first missionary exposure.
“The most waited moment”: the departure from Manila port. To leave is always exciting! Joy, hopes, doubts, expectations, fears crowd together in our hearts. The departure is an important event of a missionary life. It entails a spiritual attitude of trust and confidence in God’s Providence and the assurance that wherever we go He is already there waiting for us.
“The selection”: we were gathered together in the mission center of the Redemptorist Missionaries in Roxas waiting for the selection of the place assigned to each one of us. L often dreamed of my ideal mission, maybe the farthest, the poorest, the right for me! I discovered the beauty of being chosen to be sent to that “dream mission,” which is the place where God would like us to be. ..this is the right mission also for me!
“The most unexpected episode”: visiting some families in the barrio (Upper Irasan) I could eat for three times in the same day some Italian Spaghetti cooked and served right for me. This is just an example to show the generosity and hospitality of the people I met.
“The funniest picture”: the faces of Bamba and of the kids when they gaze at the “uncle” (as they use to call me) shaving the beard. Fortunately we were approaching Christmas and Santa Claus with the white foam was not really an E. T .! ! !
“The most tiring experience”: the climbing of the 3003 steps in Dipolog with 3 apples (kindly given for free by Father Rolando) to be shared in 4.
“The most enjoyable experiences”: the view on the top of the mountain after the famous 3003 steps and the trip to Pinyahon Island.
“The most arduous task”: attempt to avoid drinking “tuba” every day without showing any boredom or disgust. Ravi (my companion) really supported me in this effort.
“The most dreamed picture”: to see a person climbing a coconut tree.
The most interesting tour: visiting the different projects of the SNOF with Father Rolando. His concern for providing livelihood through sustainable development is concretized by the “Food Processing Unit” (sardines, mangoes and pineapple jam) and scholarship grants for sexually abused young girls.
The most creative person: Bishop Manguiran of the Diocese of Dipolog. He warmly welcomed us in his residence and spontaneously shared with us his thoughts on theology and ecological concerns. We could appreciate his ability in creating new “theological” plants.
The most “delicious” event: the picnic by night on Dapitan beach with crabs and shrimps together with the foster family on Christmas day.
The most inspiring picture: I met many children during my stay in Upper Irasan and Roxas. I would have immediately embraced them all but they demanded me to be patient and wait for the proper time. At the beginning they would look at me with suspicion, maybe afraid, disturbed by the presence of a strange face, tall guy, with a long nose. Then, once used to my strangeness they would change attitude and become curious, more spontaneous in approaching me to the point of preventing me to stay alone for a whole minute! !
It is like the faith we would like to share with others: it requires patience, respect. We are facing the mystery of human freedom. Nonetheless we have the duty to witness to others and share with them our beliefs.
The most touching event: the Mass celebrated in the Cathedral of Zamboanga City in memory of Fr. Benji Inocencio, O.M.I. priest killed in Jolo on the Feast of the Holy Innocents. The Church is still the Church of the Martyrs, still faithful to the crazy logic of the Gospel: “The one who loses his life for my sake and for the Gospel’s will preserve it.” (Mk. 9:35) Even Martyrdom should be part of my missionary spirituality.
A missionary exposure is just a first taste of the reality of the mission but that was what I needed the most. It enkindled in me the wish to taste it again. I will try to treasure all the teachings I have learned and once reached Manila and Tagaytay to live according to them.
In these days I repeated many times SALAMAT. We should be always grateful for the people we encounter, especially for the support they have extended, since ultimately, they are instruments of God’s care for us. So, SALAMAT SADIOS!!!
…Fu il 15 dicembre del 2000, poco dopo le 23.00 che salpammo alIa volta di Dipolog! Io gia’ dormivo beato…ma poche ore prima pensavo a tutti quei missionari che, per raggiungere i loro luoghi di missione, dovevano affrontare mesi in mare aperto. Noi abbiamo impiegato 2 giorni e nel viaggio abbiamo avuto l’occasione di vedere (anche se da lontano) molte isole Visayas con le bellissime insenature e vegetazione.
E’ stata un’ esperienza bellissima! Il 17 siamo arrivati a Dipolog e padre Rolando ci ha accolti portandoci in una parrocchia di Roxas (paese vicino Dipolog). Li’ siamo stati assegnati in diverse famiglie e io sono capitato nella famiglia del presidente del consiglio pastorale. E’ stato bello perche’ mi ha parlato un po’ dell’ organizzazione della Parrocchia e delle BEC. La sera stessa del 17 alcune giovani hanno avuto il loro momento di preghiera proprio nella casa dov’ero: e’ stata la prima volta che ho partecipato a questo tipo d’incontri. Il 18 abbiamo poi avuto il meeting con lo staff della missione redentorista e ognuno di noi, singolarmente, e stato assegnato a un villaggio. Io sono andato a Sindutan, tra le montagne, in un posto splendido. La prima notte sono stato presso una delle famiglie piu’ povere. Abbiamo cenato a lume di candela (non c’era l’elettricita’) riso, bulad e qualche verdurina. Poi ci siamo fermati un po’ a suonare la chitarra e verso le 8.30pm (come era solito per tutte le famiglie in cui sono stato) siamo andati a dormire. La sveglia, fino a Natale, e’ stata alle 4.00am per partecipare alIa “Misa de Gallo”. Ovviamente il sacerdote non c’era e cosi’ il lay minister conduceva la preghiera. Anche li’ quanti pensieri…
Mi risuonavano nel cuore tanti versi della Scrittura e ho sperimentato quello che forse anche i primi Apostoli e missionari del Signore hanno provato: la gioia dell’accoglienza, il vedere che anche tra le difficolta’ e senza sacerdote la comunita’ continua con perseveranza nella preghiera e nel condividere il Pane… La gioia di sentire presente il Signore.
Nei giorni seguenti mi hanno portato a raccogliere un po’ di mais che poi abbiamo cucinato e mangiato, siamo andati al fiume per fare il bagno sotto una cascata che formava una piscina naturale, e ho avuto l’ occasione di incontrare tante famiglie. Mi hanno trattato davvero come un figlio, molto piu’ dell’ospitalita’ che potremmo definire “ordinaria”…ne sono rimasto davvero colpito!
Alcune cose pero’ all’inizio mi hanno un po’ messo a disagio: ad esempio andare al bagno…senza carta igenica. O farmi la doccia alla fontana con praticamente tutto il villaggio che mi guardava, o dormire per terra suI bamboo duro. O il mangiare pesce secco a colazione con le mani. Ma mi sentivo cosi’ felice!!! Ed e’ stato bello per me notare come anche loro, benche’ molto poveri, sono pero’ assai felici. Forse alle volte la gioia che dimostrano nasconde tante difficolta’ ma credo che la loro allegria fosse autentica.
Il 21 siamo poi ritornati a Roxas a fino al 27 padre Rolando ci ha portato un po’ in giro. Abbiamo visto la realta ‘ della cooperativa, abbiamo incontrato lo staff della SNOF che ci ha parlato dei vari progetti di cui si occupa. Abbiamo visitato un centro per ragazze abusate e abbiamo passato un po’ di tempo anche nelle nostre famiglie.
Il 28 siamo poi andati a Zamboanga e li’ ci sono stati due eventi particolarmente toccanti: il partecipare al rinnovo d’impegno dei membri del Silsilah di p. Sebastiano e il funerale di p. Ben Inocencio, OMI, ucciso a Jolo il giorno dei Santi Innocenti.
Al Silsilah mi ha colpito molto vedere soprattutto un Ustadz musulmano che ha rinnovato il suo impegno nel dialogo nonostante avesse ricevuto minacce di morte.
Quanto al padre OMI…beh…sono rimasto senza parole…vedere per la prima volta un martire…e sentirlo parlare e testimoniare umilmente con la sua sola presenza e con il suo silenzio il Dio della Vita e della Pace. Lui…morto…a causa della violenza!
Beh…ringrazio davvero il Signore per questa bellissima esperienza e affido a Lui tutta la gente incontrata, i missionari e tutti coloro che ognio giomo, con semplicita’, annunciano la Buona Novella.