Peace First And Foremost

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

The primordial need is for peace to reign in our land. The moral imperative is for brother and sister Filipinos to cease the often-violent hostilities that have stained the historical Muslim and Christian relationship. And the great challenge of all living generations of Filipinos is to rediscover that we are one people, one race, belonging to one motherland.

Beyond everything, no matter how important, no matter how contentious, no matter how controversial, is the desire and need for peace. Peace first, and everything else follows. No peace, and only more conflict can follow. We have to set our priority, because peace after so many centuries of enmity and distrust between Muslims and Christians will be a serious challenge every step of the way.

The current focus now is the BBL or the Bangsamoro Basic Law. It is generating so much controversy that the desire and need for peace itself are overshadowed. At the rate that the BBL is going, how haters are ascribing the devil itself to it (reminding me of how a religious once said a deadly typhoon in Mindanao was because of the RH Bill controversy) and succeeding in stirring the deep-seated prejudice that Muslims and Christians have for one another, we can soon find ourselves sacrificing peace for something less essential.

It is not the passage or rejection of the BBL that is crucial to peace, it is our desire for peace, our acceptance that we need peace first and foremost. There was a brief moment leading up to the signing of the peace process, and immediately after it, that a perceptible level of euphoria affected Filipinos, most especially the militant Muslims in Mindanao and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Those who were fighting and dying in the front lines to satiate the hatred of noncombatants were also the first to greet the prospects of peace with great relief and celebration.

It is, after all, combatants in armed conflict who suffer first and the most. Next would be their immediate families, their parents, siblings, spouses and children. For Muslims who are part of the communities that host the fighting, they are the third most affected, either injured or killed like combatants simply because they live in war zones, or forced to flee like animals to refugee centers if they are lucky. Naturally, many of them then choose to fight even at their early teens. For our own soldiers, and tens of thousands since the 70s have been sacrificed for this historical conflict, they are sent home in body bags or caskets, carried by trucks, ships or airplanes.

The funny part is that thousands can die every year and there is a general apathy among Filipinos, including the noisiest today among news outlets or social media, when the backdrop is an ongoing war. But when we have relative peace or a cessation of violent hostilities, 44 PNP SAF killed can create a national crisis. Yet, the lives of the innocent among the 120,000 already lost to the Muslim Mindanao conflict should be more precious than the lives of soldiers or rebels.

The PNP SAF 44 was a political issue, a situation that many saw could pin down P-Noy in a dark corner before the eyes of a public that was mostly and historically supportive of him. It was not about heroism because the heroism of the fallen 44 had long fallen as the centerpiece of people’s attention and appreciation. It became simply political, as proven that the subsequent deaths of others soldiers battling the BIFF forces after the PNP SAF 44 incident did not merit comments and one article in most newspapers.

Only the issue of peace transcends the lives already sacrificed to the conflict that should end. But politics is not about peace. It is simply about politics and the quest for power. Power is eternally more important to the politically oriented, whether there are public officials or political kibitzers, if we are to go by where public attention is directed by traditional and social media. Peace is sacrificed for interests that are far from ideal, not the value we all can sacrifice for.

Pursuing the BBL in an atmosphere that is hardly concerned with peace is allowing it to be mangled by the partisanship and prejudice that define Philippine politics. It matters little whether Congress will pass it or not—because its passage or rejection will only be fodder for more acrimonious debate and future finger-pointing. If the BBL, in its present or amended form, can become a landmark document, it is only when a desire and need for peace become a felt priority of most Filipinos.

I will suggest, then, for those who care enough for peace, to once again aggressively market peace itself. It should involve Mindanaoans primarily, both Muslim and Christian. Peace campaigns should start from the most affected, and this includes our own AFP and all Muslim leaders like the MILF who are the actual combatants on the ground. If the AFP and the MILF openly and clearly campaign for peace, if communities and municipalities and provinces in Mindanao cry loudly for peace, peace will happen. Maybe, only then can peace happen.

As it is, it is not the most affected who are listened to. It is anybody and everybody with access to traditional or social media, including the worst kinds who care little about people dying, about a nation cracking up in a pool of violent conflict. Every his and her opinion drives the noise, makes the news, and become the expert of a war he and she will never risk life and limb for.

The environment of peace and for peace must be the air we breathe in, the water we drink, the food we eat. When peace and the brotherhood of Filipinos become the cause we all adopt, documents will simply follow that sentiment, that conviction. If the BBL is seriously divisive today, if it draws more accusations than suggestions, that is simple evidence that peace is not yet first and foremost.

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