‘I Want Peace But …’

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

If there is one blessing about the Mamasapano controversy, it is that the issue of our Christian-Muslim relationship has been brought to focus. Traditional and social media have devoted much time and attention on the issue. This gives younger Filipinos a chance to catch up on a rather dark history and to better appreciate current developments within a historical context.

More importantly, the hate and distrust that have colored how Christians and Muslims regard each other find their way to the light—at least from the side of Christians who dominate social media. Many will not openly admit this prejudice, even if this history-based predisposition greatly influences our views. But those who had commented on my last article, “Losing the Peace,” less than a hundred from tens of thousands who read the article in Inquirer.net and my blog, affirmed that prejudice. The vast majority did not react as intensely, and even showed approval from a few thousand likes and shares.

There are always those who cannot reach objectivity or civility, and a few who are paid to precisely push an opposite agenda. Their commentaries reveal their hate and prejudice, reminding me that societies are never spared their share of deviants. Agreeing or disagreeing is part and parcel of life, but objectivity and civility usually accompany intelligent discussion. However, psychologists and psychiatrists always tell us that inner fear and cowardice are often disguised as external anger and bigotry. In like manner, the embarrassing inability to be intelligent comes across as inane or insulting bluster.

For example, I never made mention of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), so all the more I could not promote it nor any of its provisions. Peace to me cannot be mandated by a document like the BBL or prevented by another document like the Constitution. Yes, documents will reflect what Filipinos want or agree, but Filipinos must first want peace. Beyond wanting peace, I had asked in my article that if Filipinos want peace, they should express it, openly push for it, Christians and Muslims alike. I had mentioned that the country went to war in Mindanao in the early ’70s without the people having any say (only Marcos decided that), and that we have to tell our leaders today what we want so they can heed us. But the prejudiced, the illiterate, or the mercenaries would base their arguments against an imagined promotion of the BBL.

I am surprised that some graduates of premier universities who had taken even higher studies could have missed the gist of my message and appeal for peace. They all mentioned the BBL, the MILF, the BIFF, with the need for justice and sovereignty. I thought that I had clearly explained how Muslims had originally used the need for justice and sovereignty (the Muslim secessionists always averred their independence) by mentioning horrible massacres committed by government troops against Muslim combatants and civilians. I overestimated the objectivity and keenness of the more learned. I also thought they would regard massacres of Filipino Muslims as equally unjust as the massacre of Filipino Christians. Apparently, prejudice is a simple word with complicated consequences.


I better understand now how prejudice colors our perspective even without malice. Even as we say that we want peace, that embedded prejudice will keep working—until we can exorcise it out of our system. I believe we can raise the power of peace above the power of prejudice only when we become more vocal and active in peace-building forum and activities. We are not lawyers and constitutionalists, we are not politicians or strategists, we are ordinary Filipinos, Christians and Muslims, but we are the people. In a democracy, we are also the largest sector of governance.

It is not criminal or malicious to have a prejudice conditioned into us by our environment from our birth. The conflict of religion, Catholicism versus Islam, preceded colonialism and was exported here when Spain forcibly annexed our islands. Generation after generation of conflict and animosity, capped by a horrible war in Mindanao that affects us until today, cannot but produce prejudice between Christians and Muslims. We cannot have peace under false pretenses, but we must find peace so much more important in order to work at dismantling built-in prejudice.

I repeat, again, that a peace process being negotiated after a violent struggle is born from a common realization that we cannot take more of fighting and killing. In our case, that sacrifice is already over 120,000 lives and counting. I think lawyers understand most of all what a compromise is, like plea-bargaining, like extra-judicial settlements. No side gets what it originally wants, but no side loses everything it wants, either. Both sides have already accepted that the death and destruction of so many and so much are too high a price to keep paying. Thus, the compromise.

Those who have a formula to propose should try their best to do so. They may be heard or not, but they have to speak up above the din of traditional and social media. With millions active in the media arena, opinions and commentaries are a dime a dozen. Advocates, therefore, must plan out their strategies well and execute even better.

Many, though, are not advocates, just plain mean, or stupid, or mercenary. The garbage they produce revolves only around audiences who are garbage collectors. Unfortunately, the ill-informed and naïve make up a large part of these audiences.

The greatest number, though, are clearly for peace. To them, may I appeal once more.

If we want peace, we cannot continue to say, “I want peace but …”

If we want peace, let say, “I want peace so I will do something to build it.”

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