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At Large

Hope in the midst of fighting

To all my Muslim friends here and abroad, Eid Mubarak (or Blessed Celebration)! It’s a common greeting on the feast of Eid al-Fitr that marks the end of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting and good works.

On FB, a Pakistani journalist-friend posted TV news footage beamed from Mecca showing the populace celebrating Eid al-Fitr, a spectacle that she said her family had made an annual ritual of joining, even if from a distance. I guess it is not unlike Christians awaiting the airing of the Pope’s “Urbi et Orbi” (The City and the World) message at Easter, or, for a more prosaic example, Americans glued to their TV sets to watch the gleaming ball being lowered from a skyscraper to Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

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I’m just so glad that the Philippine government has seen fit to declare Eid al-Fitr a public holiday, which fell yesterday, and not just because it gave even non-Muslims a one-day break. After all, if we routinely enjoy nonworking holidays on Christmas and New Year and practically an entire week during Holy Week, it’s just a matter of fairness to give our Muslim brethren a chance to celebrate a significant date in their own religious calendar.

Eid al-Fitr is particularly significant today because the Holy Month of Ramadan happened to coincide with the still ongoing conflict in Marawi, considered by many as an Islamic city where conservative religious, social and cultural norms are enforced strictly. Indeed, both government forces and the Maute Group battling them took the unusual step of agreeing to a “humanitarian pause” in observance of the feast. The pause allowed residents still in the city, whether as Maute hostages or merely trapped by the fighting, to leave their hideouts and seek refuge.

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Sadly, the hostages released by the Maute Group did not include Catholic priest Fr. Teresito “Chito” Suganob, who, along with some parishioners and church staff, was taken by the Maute forces in the early hours of the Marawi siege.

“He’s like a Hobbit,” a friend describes the priest who has been a long-time advocate in the Mindanao peace process. Short of stature and with a shock of white hair and a scraggly beard, Father Chito does indeed resemble a Hobbit, and my friend says he brings with him an air of mischief and humor.

A report in MindaNews says that in place of Father Chito, the Mautes decided to free five other hostages. They also set a “condition” for the priest’s release, which has been transmitted to officials involved in the peace process and should be discussed with President Duterte tonight, during a dinner for the peace implementing panels of the MILF, MNLF and Bangsamoro Transition Commission.

So that’s where the “situation” in Marawi lies now. The cessation of hostilities depends on whether or not the government accedes to the Mautes’ condition—though we don’t know what that condition is for now—and whether the ongoing bombing runs and armed confrontations succeed in driving the Mautes out of their lairs.

Meanwhile, along with the hundreds of civilians still believed holed up in Marawi, Father Chito awaits his fate, for now in the hands of a band of terrorists and the government representatives seeking to find a reasonable middle ground in the midst of the conflict.

The results of the negotiations are also crucial for the thousands who have fled Marawi. Their lives are on the balance, with starvation, disease and violence stalking them in evacuation centers, refugee camps and the homes of relatives and friends where they sought refuge.

Clearly, the sooner the people of the beleaguered city return to their homes and rebuild their lives, the better for their health and peace of mind. Rebuilding and reconstruction will take some time, true, but a return to familiar grounds offers returns that are generally immeasurable and intangible, but are nonetheless crucial. These include a sense of security, of comfort in the familiar, the stirrings of hope and belief that a future is possible.

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Today, a day after the Blessed Celebration rudely shattered by bullets and bombs, hope is the currency all Filipinos need.

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TAGS: At Large, Eid al Fitr, Inquirer Opinion, Marawi siege, Ramadan, Rina Jimenez-David
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