Manila, July 22, 2003 By Domini M. Torrevillas (Star)  (Excerpted from a talk delivered at the Rosewood Methodist Church, Los Angeles, CA, July 20, 2003)

There is a war going on in Muslim-dominated areas of Mindanao between the Philippine government and the Moro rebels led by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and this war has resulted in the senseless deaths of hundreds of thousands – most of them civilian casualties – and immeasurable damage and loss of property.

We do not have the luxury of time to enable us to discuss the historical roots of this war which began five centuries ago, when settlers from the northern part of the Philippines started to arrive in Mindanao which was then governed by the Sultanate of Sulu. The influx of Northern settlers, who were Christians, eventually led to the change in the demographics of Mindanao – from a Muslim dominated majority and Christian minority to a Christian dominated majority and Muslim minority.

One perception about the war in Mindanao is that it is not a religious war, i.e. between Christians and Muslims; rather it is rooted in the issue of ancestral domain, i.e. the Muslims claim that the conflicted areas are theirs, and they want these lands returned to them through self-determination. The Philippine government thinks otherwise, however.

So for decades, beginning particularly with the Marcos administration, there has been fighting in Mindanao. Several agreements on security, cessation of hostilities, development and rehabilitation have taken place, but peace is still a long way off. Hopefully, new Peace Talks will be resumed soon, and we shall see light at the end of the tunnel.

Meantime, continued fighting between the government military forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are still going on, and this has, as I have mentioned, caused the senseless loss of thousands of lives, tremendous loss and damage to property, more than half a million refugees in their homeland, millions, if not billions of expenditures on the part of the government to end the war that could otherwise be put to good use for development and reconstruction, as well as education of the people in the rural areas.

And more than the damages to property, we have to look at the impact of the war on the lives of the people. As a sociologist describes it, there is disruption of the social and economic life of people and communities. People are not able to go about their daily life and livelihood activities. Children’s education is interrupted. Women are forced to seek work outside their households, and there is the mental/psycho-socio trauma on the population.

Of the victims of the war, the women are severely traumatized. They lose their husbands, fathers, brothers, sons and nephews in skirmishes. They dread the sound of knocking at the door, fearing the bearer of bad news that their relatives have been killed, or their husbands are wanted by the enemy. They are fearful for the security of their children’s feature.

Studies have shown, too, the effects of war on children, who at an early age, show depression, violent actions, lack of interest in things going on around them, or the urge to kill Christians, or Muslims, whatever their faith is.

Even as they wait for the peaceful culmination of the armed conflicts in Mindanao, government agencies, non-government and church organizations have been working to help find peace in Mindanao. Churches have been helping provide food, medicines and clothes to evacuees or internally displaced centers in the evacuation centers.

The Mothers for Peace, an organization made up of Muslim and Christian women is waging a campaign for peace. It has been going around the country and holding rallies in the town plazas and talking with military and government officials to stop the fighting in Mindanao. It believes that if women bond together and ask their husbands to put down their arms, peace may be attained.

Our Center, the Center for the Promotion of Peace and Development in Mindanao – an NGO- was created – as its name implies – for the purpose of providing assistance in the promotion of peace and development in Mindanao. Mr. Saeed A. Daof, the Center’s director general, is with us here, and he will give a talk on the situation of the peace process of Mindanao at the fellowship hour after the worship service.

An on-going program being undertaken by the Center’s Women’s Desk is the sponsoring of dialogues between Muslim and Christian women and the Media. The aim is to create awareness of the commonalities and differences, but more of the commonalities, between Muslims and Christians. The biases and animosities that Christians have toward Muslims and vice-versa, have to be threshed out, accepted, and respected, in order for both groups to come to an understanding that peace can only come about via the negotiating table, via dialogue, and not through violence. Through informal discussions, women living in the areas of conflict are empowered to make life better for themselves, their communities and their children.

And why do we involve the media in the dialogues? Because media is a powerful instrument for information dissemination that could influence the attainment of peace and progress of the region of Mindanao. The media can remove the hostile and biased attitudes of Muslims and Christians against each other – which is essential in helping in the promotion of better understanding and cooperation between Muslims and Christians, – and by so doing, the media can reform itself by imparting fair and just reporting of events and at the same time, improve the image of and create favorable attitudes towards Mindanao, its people and communities. Media thus becomes one of the strongest forces and agents of peace-building and conflict transformation.

On this note, you can greatly help win the peace in Mindanao because your ideas and suggestions are crucial, and listened to in the molding of public opinion in the Philippines. Express your vi3ws and write the President of the Philippines as well as the editors and columnists of newspapers in the Philippines so that your views can be ventilated in public. You should also write churches, your friends and relatives, and schools about your concern for the early attainment of peace in Mindanao, so that they will emphasize the urgent need to have peace and development in Mindanao.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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