Heeding the Call for Peace in Mindanao
By Apolinario Villalobos
March 27, 2014 shall find its space in the annals of the Philippine history as the most significant day that serves as a landmark for the concerted effort in finally planting the seed of peace in identified areas of Mindanao, populated by Muslims, Christians and indigenous tribes. Misunderstanding, that some blame to religion and later, politics, hindered all efforts to establish a lasting homogenous atmosphere in the central, western and southern areas of the biggest island of the country. Decades have been spent by past presidents to ponder on how peace among the diversified people could be achieved, to no avail. Even the attempt of a powerful Middle East country to mediate which resulted to the establishment of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), proved futile. It took a firm resolved from President Noynoy Aquino to finally complete the pages of mutually beneficial provisions that heeded the incessant call for peace and finally put an end to the senseless struggle among Filipinos with diverse faith and culture.
For so many years, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters were lost in pockets of “war”. Villages were abandoned, school buildings were razed to the ground, children were deprived of their basic needs for normal mental and physical development, rice fields were untended and left to the mercy of the cogon grass and talahib (sturdy tropical grass that grow to as tall as seven feet). Affected Filipinos who survived the senseless killings, be they Muslims, Christians or members of indigenous tribes could just cry as they recall the tragedies that befell them.
I was a witness to this. The unrest was the reason why I got hired to work in the Department of Social Welfare that opened an office in our town to serve the evacuees who came in hordes. We would visit evacuation centers in neighboring towns filled with families uprooted from their villages, forced to abandon ripening grains of rice ready for the harvest. We encountered maimed villagers being brought to the hospitals. Practically children stopped going to school as the buildings were used as evacuation centers. In some villages, during “encounters”, we witnessed how Muslims would run in one direction and the Christians in another direction, although, they had been living together for years as neighbors. Those are pathetic scenes that still linger in my mind.
This time around, the survivors have the right to be heard and be given a chance for a peaceful co-existence in Mindanao. I just pray, that those who have selfish motive in the process for peace shall think twice before doing their act …again.