I was born in Zamboanga City from Christian parents; I had to mention it so not to leave my readers guessing about what my religion is. Some people might assume that I may be a Muslim, having been born there, which is not always the case. Many residents of Zamboanga came from neighboring provinces and other regions as well.
However it does not really matter because I have always believed that all men, no matter what religion or race, have the right to exist peacefully and enjoy the fruits of their labor without threat to their lives and properties.
We lived in Mindanao for a short while because my father’s job required us to live in that province at that time. Spending my earlier years in that area had me exposed to tensions that seem to stick to my skin on a daily basis. I learned that there are people who because of their tribe’s self-pride, beliefs and orientations, they already have become a menace to others. They are the ones who have embraced the life of continued conflicts and armed struggles – to either push others away from them, or rule resolutely with little possible interference, or none at all from the government.
I knew what it meant to hear gunshots in our neighborhood day in day out. So I knew, who really want peace, they are the peaceful people like me and my family who experienced not feeling safe even inside our home. Even though my father would instruct us to duck under the dining table or under the bed for safety whenever we hear that particular sound, it only reinforced my fear of danger. Because cowering under a furniture tells you that your fear is real knowing something out there might hit you or even kill you. That is traumatic for a child like me and my siblings. Life for us at that time was not normal.
I asked my father one time, “Who are those people who seem to be running around all the time, and firing their guns indiscriminately”? He said they are the people from outside-in Filipino translation, “mga taong-labas”. To which he explained further, are the people who refuses to be under the cloak of the Philippine Government, and so are called rebels. They are the people who call themselves Moros.
History has recorded that our Muslim brothers have valiantly defended this country from outside aggression in the past, and that is well-recognized as it is being taught in all levels of curriculum in the country. I know so, because I have read it in the history books of my daughter, from elementary to College.
However, history has also said, that they are not the only tribes that defended this country. There are also other ethnic groups from different provinces as well, who fought with courage to defend our towns and provinces from external invaders. Moreover, these other provinces have continued with their lives in peace and contributed to the emerging of a more solid nation which is the Philippines now, working together, with no alienation of others just because they have a different dialect and have unique cultures and ways from the rest. They even made this country vibrant because of their many influences, their unique traditions like their food, beliefs and other customs.
However, it is different from the Moro tribes, it seems like, some Muslim factions wanted to alienate themselves and according to their leader as heard by everyone in Senate that they are not Filipinos –but Moros. Which made their struggle for peace, seem to be a struggle to peel away Philippine territories for their own rule and use.
They never abandoned this life of struggle — always arming themselves in defiance of the government to achieve this cause of being a government inside a government with their own armies, which were never friendly with this country’s armies. And so they have never been able to step up to the tide of changing times. Their areas never reached progress that other regions are experiencing and then blamed the government for it.
Any customs and traditions that contribute to the growth of economy, education, protection of the ecology, human rights for men, women and children is always welcome.
However, if it means, acting like a spoiled prodigal son who wants independence and so claims all the riches that he could get his hands on, is entirely a different story. How many times can a prodigal son claim for inheritance, and only come back to ask for more because he failed — and if not accorded his request will threaten to burn the house of his father? Remember ARMM?
All Filipinos should move in one direction of forbearance and sense of community so that progress and real peace can take its place. “Kanya-kanya attitude will not make this country strong. There has to be unity for this nation to move forward and it is crucially significant that the Philippines has to stay united, and everyone in it should work together with one goal — to make this nation strong and progressive.
However, other people have different things in mind – they want power and they want it no matter how much it may cost.
Having been able to live in a place like Zamboanga is an extreme experience. The nature is outstanding, but sadly is not fully enjoyed by the people because of the conflict that seemed to have been rooted from years of misguided leadership.
Its ocean is so rich that seafood can be purchased in a very low price. However, no matter how exceptional the place is in terms of its beauty and the nature’s gift to its inhabitants, the place is without doubt humming with tension — of people who are restless — of people who want to run and own the place in their own terms without being bounded by the existing law of our land.
So when the conflict became unbearable for our family — my father herded us all to Manila. He said there is no use making a life in a troublesome place like Zamboanga where the daily drumbeat is always threatening to explode like a volcano.
Our family wanted peace, so we moved as far away as we can from trouble. We sold our vehicles, sold our furniture and gave away as much to our friends so we could travel light. I do not know how many thousands of families like us had left that place through the years, to begin a new life in other parts of the country where there is peace and normalcy. Nonetheless, of course, many more chose to stay, especially those who had no other place to go. We had no place to go to as well, but staying was never my father’s option.
Looking back and seeing what happened to the 44 SAF members while there is a serious peace talk going on, is just another reason to say – of course! I was not a bit surprised.
Peace is never negotiated. If you truly you want it, you would LIVE it and you would be a participant and contributor of peace not a threat to it.
Peace is already achieved by those who truly want it. They are the merchants in many parts of the country who left Mindanao and engaged themselves in business to have a decent life away from the conflict they left; they are truly the ones living in peace.
If given a chance to return to their origin where peace truly abounds and business can take place– they are the ones who will bring progress in that part of the county.
Progress does not come to those places, because the power-hungry drives them away.
Those who cry for peace and complain of not getting it, obviously just want to dip their dirty hands in the country’s coffer. In return, they give a hollow promise to rest their bullets and stop harassing the civilians, and then they will give people peace — such is the price of peace, from the troublemakers.
They hold that part of the country by its neck, loosening the noose only depends on how much they could get from the government. However, will they ever take away their hands from the government’s neck? Never!
If the government does not hand it to them, they would declare war in the countryside. They want their own military, want their own laws and want their own government. They hostage the government and pretend to be eager for peace.
They beg, with their left arm behind them, but ready to strike the government and the Filipino people any minute they have another complain.
Give peace a chance. Absolutely, give it to those who deserve it — but do not give peace to those who do not want it.