I was in the middle of writing my article for this week when I caught the news about fighting in Marawi. Soon after, the news already said that martial law in Mindanao was declared by the President. While the article I was writing had intimate connection with the conflict in Marawi, I thought it best to abort it. In other words, things are moving faster than I anticipated and it is now simply the moment to observe and reflect.
Again, innocent lives are being sacrificed for the game of control. The Maute group is but one expression of a deep wound that has been allowed to fester. Peace in Mindanao has not been given a chance to begin in a meaningful way. Politicians are too busy looking at the fine print, the projected budgets, and where to place their political careers in the whole scheme. It is amazing to realize that the greatest prospect for peace is in the hands of those who are less affected by the conflict, and almost never by the violence.
But then again what else is new? If I ask innocent Muslims and the Christians what they can do to promote peace, they will tell me that they are just trying to live it day by day. Yet, even in their struggle to stay out of the conflict and the violence, they know it takes very little for them to join the fray. It just needs for someone in the family to get hurt, or get killed. It is not really about territorial boundaries, legal privileges, economic benefits; it starts in a very primal way – survival. That is why peace is how it begins, not how it ends. That is why peace must be given the chance to begin or nothing will.
Muslims and Christians in Mindanao are not the key players in the conflict. Yes, they are the ones who are most affected. They are the first to be hurt, to be killed, to be displaced. They are the ones who are threatened every day. But they are not in control. They are not the ones who can declare peace and begin a new journey of brotherhood that the island has no more memory of. There were eras in the past when conflict was local. It would start in one place and it could end there. No more.
Globalization is not about politics, it is about life. As much as our physicality can put boundaries on us, man’s imagination as manifested in technology has created a whole new world. Some call it virtual, but its impact is actual. What used to be the big wide world is now a very connected village, not only by trade, but more so by the Internet. What would once be an isolated incident can today shock a global population, like 9/11, or even a smaller event like the Manchester bombing.
That is why it is not anymore about Muslim rebels or terrorists, or Muslim and Christian civilians in Mindanao, but war there is not their exclusive problem anymore. And the solution is not exclusively in their hands either. Almost fifty years ago, Jolo also burned. Almost fifty years ago, martial law was also declared. From Jolo, the conflict spread. From martial law, no solutions were found, not for the Mindanao conflict, not for the communist rebellion. Many Arab countries, a few Communist nations, they gave support to the conflict here, to the Moro rebels and Communist insurgents. And America did the same for the Philippine government.
President Duterte is reported to be asking Putin’s assistance in resolving the Mindanao conflict. It is not farfetched to assume that he will ask China’s help, too. And whether he likes it or not, America will be involved, directly and indirectly through the Philippine military because Filipinos, soldiers and civilians, overwhelmingly want, or will welcome, American assistance. That is why it is not just a Mindanao conflict, it has become geopolitics.
For those among Filipinos who understand that geopolitics is as integral a part of globalization, and that it is impossible to be an isolationist country whoever and wherever one may be located, then it becomes clearer that we must all intercede and participate in creating peaceful initiatives in Mindanao, and in other areas where armed conflict remains active in our motherland. Because if we do not, others will – and others are already there, have long been in there.
This is a message for Congress as well. In Congress may be moves that can bring about peace in Mindanao faster than Mindanaoans can do it for themselves. But Congress, like all Filipinos who are not directly affected by the violence and the tension in Mindanao, must be pro-active instead of investigative. There was a proposed law, the Bangsamoro Basic Law, that is now suffering the Mona Lisa fate – it just lies there, it just dies there. What is horrible is that people die with a document that may be the boldest, most powerful initiative for peace ever in Mindanao. It is not perfect nor will it even be perfect – or any other agreement that will be proposed in its place. But something must begin the peace.
Calming Marawi will mean saving lives. But a victory over Muslim rebels, a splinter group they may just be, is but a lull until the next flare-up. Because the conflict in Mindanao is not only armed and violent, it is social, too – meaning it does not die because blood relationships keep it alive more than anything else. Mindanao must be given a chance to have an atmosphere of self-rule, slowly maybe, but as immediate as possible. A new ingredient of great potential, a new medicine or therapy, must be introduced into an old wound that does not heal. I do not know what that is but our leaders must find it fast. Or else Mindanao, and not just the South China Seas, will become an attractive, dynamic arena for global politics.
Inquirer calls for support for the victims in Marawi City
Responding to appeals for help, the Philippine Daily Inquirer is extending its relief to victims of the attacks in Marawi City
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