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‘The Bangsamoro story is also the Filipino’s’

In her commencement address before this year’s graduates of Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro, the presidential adviser on the peace process, Teresita “Ging” Quintos Deles, who was conferred an honorary doctorate degree, posed a key question.

“Why is it,” she asked, “that war’s alarms ring loudest in the safe confines of Congress? But close to Ground Zero the people flee even as they cry out for peace.”

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This, she said, is the result of the “divide and conquer” strategy of the colonizers, who pitted us Filipinos in a “north vs. south” contest. “Spanish colonizers pitted local chieftains against each other, as in the Battle for Mactan … The north-south divide has ramified over time, taking root in the most unlikely places, as in Mindanao and Cebu joining forces against an ‘imperial’ Manila at NGO assemblies.”

The stark differences in opinion and viewpoints on Mamasapano and the prospects for peace between those in Manila and the people living in Mindanao could not be more dramatic. Said Deles: “Other sectors in Mindanao have publicly issued appeals for peace as well: the religious—both Christian and Muslim, business—both big and micro, the academe, civil society. And rightly so, because Mindanao bears the brunt of the fighting, although the entire country must pay the price of war.”

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“Fresh statistics are staggering,” Deles noted. “It is reported that there are now well over 100,000 refugees since the military launched its offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters barely one month ago. And it costs P2 million daily to feed those who seek shelter in evacuation centers.”

And that’s just the costs racked up in a month’s worth of military operations. The statistics are “chilling,” Deles added, when the count goes way back to the year 2000, “when war became a way of life and evacuation was synonymous with survival for whole populations in Central Mindanao and elsewhere.”

And there are even heavier costs to bear. “For most of the decade,” noted Deles, “the death toll on both sides, including civilians and combatants, was pegged at 150,000. But other sources say it could be double that number. And that is speaking of the dead. The living must go on living even if it means being nearly forever on the run.”

Asked Deles: “Do you know why the [government] panel defends to [its] last tattered nerve the peace process with the [Moro Islamic Liberation Front]? For three years the ceasefire held—for three years, beleaguered families and communities experienced a sense of normalcy, planting their crops and harvesting them, enrolling their 10-year-olds in first grade, buying pots and pans and new clothes, daring to dream for their children’s future. Deaths we can count. Budgets we can figure out. Injuries we can treat. But there are wounds that cannot heal.”

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Maguindanao Rep. Sandra Sema, recounted Deles, once shared with her the story of a woman (with an eight-year-old daughter) she met when she visited an evacuation site.

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“The woman recounted how a soldier had come to talk to her and, while they were talking, started patting her daughter on the head. She asked the soldier, ‘Do you have a daughter of the same age?’ ‘Yes,’ he said. The woman told Bai Sandra she suddenly felt pity in her heart for him. She and her daughter were at least safe together at the evacuation site, but it was possible that he would not return to his daughter alive. And quoting Sitti Djalia [Hataman] again, who, in turn, quotes a soldier friend of hers: ‘The moment you decide to go to war, you lose your humanity.’ In war, there are no winners, only losers.

“In short: the costs of war are incalculable.”

At this point in the suddenly beleaguered peace process, Deles offered some answers to the crucial question of “what will it take to break this impasse, in the short term, and to transform the conflict, in the long term?”

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She quoted Sitti Djalia, a Tausug, who “puts it eloquently: ‘Panawagan naming na alamin, intindihin, pakinggan nyo lang kami, kahit hindi kayo maniwala (Our appeal is [for you] to know, understand, listen, even if you don’t believe us.)’ ‘I ask my friends,’ she says, ‘Is there a space for our stories?’”

Deles noted: “When Djalia declares ‘The Bangsamoro story is also the story of the Filipino,’ it is at once a statement of fact and a statement of faith. She is saying that Moros are also Filipinos, part of a nation in the making. Through the peace process and in other ways, we seek to heal the wounds of history that have pitted us against each other, because of religion, because of historical circumstances.”

The peace adviser amplified: “Indeed, we are an archipelago, and therefore diverse. We are two peoples, no, we are a tripeople—Christian, Muslim, lumad—separated by creed, culture, history. Yet we have shared space and time. We have fought the invader, we have paid with our lives. Let us celebrate our diversity, honor our differences and affirm our commonalities. We pray to the same God (Allah for Muslims)—a God of peace, justice, love and compassion.

“And our greetings are nearly identical, word for word. The Christian salutation ‘Peace be with you’ elicits the response ‘And also with you.’ The Muslim greeting ‘Assalamu alaikum—Peace be with you’ evokes the reply ‘Wa alaikumassalaam—And upon you be peace.’ Let us stop fighting and killing each other. That is a dead end. Let us beat our swords into plowshares and turn our spears into pruning hooks. Let us overcome the enmity, bias and prejudice of generations and share time and space, weave our dreams together, so that, finally, ‘the Bangsamoro story is also the story of the Filipino.’”

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TAGS: Bangsamoro, Cagayan de Oro, Mamasapano, Teresita Quintos Deles, Xavier University
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