by fr. Peter Geremia, Kidapawan, September 24, 2018

Last year 2017 ended with… a Good News in our Peace Process. Some key church people in our Diocese and other churches, together with key concerned civilians, launched the Peoples Peace Agenda (PPA) on November 29, 2017.

The PPA is a response to the Marawi overkill and the All Out War against the New Peoples’ Army (NPA) in our areas. The PPA started as a suntok sa buwan (trying to reach the moon) or an impossible dream: how to restrain the escalation of violation with peaceful means instead of the use of superior force or superior violence?

We called on all civilian sectors to give their suggestions in order to bring about peace in our communities. A flood of suggestions almost drowned us, from prayers to community action and many requests to all armed groups and civilian authorities. But how to implement them? We approached the various armed groups and civilian authorities asking them to listen to the suggestions of the civilian sectors and to add their own suggestions participating in a process of dialogue and to recognize our Peace and Monitoring Committees. By now we are training peace advocates for these committees.

Then this past July 2018 the Peace Talks between the Government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) finally reached a compromise solution with the signing of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL). This law is generally considered a sign of hope, but it still needs to be ratified through plebiscite. Can this law prevent bombings and terrorists’ attacks from Muslim extremists? Can it reopen the door for the peace talks with the NPA? After all it should be easier for the government to dialogue with Christian rebels then Muslim rebels. Are these signs of Good News?

Meanwhile, the government is still unable to solve the drug problem. The Philippine National Police (PNP) claims that the weekly number of drug-related killings is down from 100 plus to only 20 plus. Is this Good News? Likewise, the government is still unable to solve the bigger problems of corruption, rising prices, economic and ecological crisis, and the man-made disasters due to mining and plantations, etc. Isn’t this a lot of Bad News which is all over the media?

Still, can we find Good News also in response to the Bad News? For instance, there are people who approve of the killings as the quickest solution for all problems and there are international donors who offer plenty of guns and ammunitions encouraging Filipinos to keep on killing other Filipinos. But on the other hand, many are beginning to realize that indifference is used to justify mass murders. The families and those who know the victims are shocked, they realize that anybody can be a target.

The 3 priests recently killed; Fr. Marcelito Paez, 71, killed last December 4, 2017; Fr. Mark Ventura, 37, killed on April 29, 2018; Fr. Richmond Villaflor Nilo, killed on June 10, 2018. These 3 priests were immediately suspected of some improper involvement, but then they were verified to be good shepherds caring for the poor. There are those who are trying to cast doubts on their reputations, but eventually their communities can recognize them as martyrs, and eventually their death can be given justice in court, as now it appears possible that the case of Fr. Pops Tentorio, PIME may soon be brought to trial and there are witnesses ready to identify some of the killers and their motives.

The early Christian martyrs were condemned as “Atheists” because they refused to worship as god the emperor of the Roman Empire. Now some contemporary Rulers may also like to kill all those who may not worship them as gods. Is it Good News to have more martyrs?

Isn’t it Good News when a priest like Fr. Chito Suganob  who survived the hell of Marawi and came out with stronger faith and determination to serve the same traumatized tri-people communities?

Many other priests and many more lay activists are quietly joining the Peace Process trusting that the way of Mercy and Compassion can be more effective than the endless competition of violence and counter violence. Both we Christians and the Muslims or Tribals believe in One God full of Mercy and Compassion, and if we really practice what we believe, then we can trust that the ways of non-violence can defuse the ways of violence. Bad News are only shadows, the light will always prevail and “Good always triumphs over evil”: this is the secret of the resurrection of Jesus.