Memories of war and
an historic peace
By DANILO REYES, Asian Human
April 14, 2014
(Note: this article was first published in the April 6, 2014 issue of
the Sunday Examiner)
Eleven years ago, I was in a
small store with a friend in Pikit, North Cotabato, in central
Mindanao. We were exhausted after an all day field work of
interviewing people about how and why they were evacuated due to
fighting. We had seen people shot dead, taken to military camps, and
disappeared, rebels blocking main highways, and so on.
As we ate and drank beer our
table shook repeatedly due to the heavy impact from artillery rounds
from a 105 howitzer, inside a military camp next to us. They were
firing at a marshland and riverbanks where the Moro Islamic Liberation
Front (MILF), the biggest rebel group in Mindanao, was camped.
As the firing continued my
friend and I were too exhausted to pay much attention to it. We
continued drinking. Days later, nongovernmental organisations, peace
advocates, including myself and journalists, went inside what used to
be the lair of Hashim Salamat, the founder of the MILF, by boat to the
riverbank. It was deserted; structures destroyed.
Known as the ‘Buliok
offensive,’ the scene I had just described was one of the many
memories, I myself had witnessed, from late 90s to early 2000s, of the
government offensives against the Muslim rebels which spanned 40 years
of the armed conflict in Mindanao.
At that time, however, I
thought there was no end in sight. After decades of conflict, it never
occurred to me that, after eleven years from that day, I would live
and witness myself the political settlement of a deep social and
political division in my homeland; the island of Mindanao.
The armed conflict and
insurgencies in Mindanao had been there, even before I was born. All
my life I grew up hearing stories how people lost their loved ones.
You learn that surviving takes the place of living.
Surviving means any person,
like myself, would grow up with military and police checkpoints in
every corner of a road, if not every kilometre, and believe that it
was just part of the daily routing. It was normal for a family to keep
a ‘bail out bag’, that is a bag, or bags containing clothes, documents
and necessary items handy in case they run from an escalation of
fighting. It was normal that when we went on a bus, to the markets,
malls, and public places, the authorities would be checking that no
bombs had been planted, and so on.
In fact, in my years as a
former journalist based in Mindanao I have covered many stories of the
protracted fighting, bomb blasts, arrests of individuals – whether
guilty or not – accused of bombing, soldiers and the rebels showing
off their fire power, and how it was the people, not the insurgents or
the military, that suffered.
I know that, while
journalist obtain some sort of ‘glory of by-line’, by writing
exclusive stories, and getting published in the newspapers, but as a
person I thought at the time, and still believed today, that it has
to, and needs to change. I felt that although there were some sort of
glory, to obtain glory from the misery and suffering of others, the
Mindanaoans like me, was not worth it. It was one of the many reasons
why I quit journalism for NGO work.
Thus, others may refer to
the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), by
the government and the MILF on March 27, 2014, as “just a piece of
paper,” to me it was more than that. While there is truth in it, that
the agreement would have meaning only when its objective is realized;
however, the very symbol and gesture of conciliation itself was very
The agreement cultivates
tolerance, acceptance and the concept of how to learn how to live in
harmony with others who are different from us.
Of course, what will come
out of this agreement remains to be seen, but for now, the Filipino
people, notably the people in Mindanao, had shown that there are
political solutions, even to very deep social and political
differences when people make the effort to understand each other.