Mindanao Peace: Achievable for Long-term?

Browsing news articles about Mindanao awakens my sense of nationalism in me. I was born on the Christian eastern part of the island and long-term peace for me is something I dream of. When I speak of peace, it is a state of harmonious coexistence between Christians, Muslims and the indigenous people, as well as reduced or eliminated terror threat from religious extremists and communists rural folks. However, the ideal seems to be unachievable and unrealistic due to politics. Now, people from the Northern regions and capital of the Philippines are suggesting an all-out-war offensive against these people. Since people in the capital has more influence than us from the South, they seem to know the solutions to our problems, but they are not. I believe we coming from Mindanao has something in common.

1. We do not a war to happen.

Simply, would a person want to have a war in your own island? No. Regardless you are a Christian, Muslim or from indigenous communities, nobody wants war. I remember when the government raged war against Muslim rebel group in Western Mindanao, everybody including us in the far east were warned to be vigilant for retaliatory attacks and were literally advised against traveling westward. That gave me anxiety when I must travel for work on a nearby city using the west route. Once rebels bombed an airport in the largest city in the island. That incident caused me to drop a scholarship in the island because my parents would not take the safety risk. My challenge to those, who advocate for all-out-war: Buy a house and lot in the island, bring all your family, work and live there, and suggest an all-out-war in your backyard. If you still want war, then perhaps we could discuss.

2. We simply want to have livelihood opportunities.

Mindanao is indeed a neglected region. I assume almost all provinces in Central and Southern Philippines are underrepresented. All political powers lies with people coming from the North. Why would these politicians even care for the provinces far from their home province with enormous socio-cultural difference from theirs. It is indeed factual to say, Mindanao represents less in relation to population size. But that is not a reason to spend a fraction of the meager amount of taxes collected in the island for large infrastructures in the capital, which brings no direct economic advantage to us from Mindanao. Yes, the island contributes less, but that does not provide a reason to get a share from those who earn least to spend for the benefit of those who earn most. This unequal distribution is the core reason why this arm struggle have prevailed until now. Should more investments be made in the island, the lesser probabilities that these rebel groups would have sufficient followership. The people of Mindanao would not kill in an arm struggle, if they think that struggle will not bring them long-term socioeconomic advantage.

3. We just want to respect our socio-cultural differences.

I have lived over 25 years in the island. It would be impossible for me to say I do not have friends or acquaintances, who belong to another religious or cultural denomination. I see no problem with coexisting with them, as I have learned to respect differences. They have their sensitivities about their religion or culture. One must just listen and assume a neutral stance. Imposing my belief to them is a dumb thing to do. In the same way, politicians who even have not lived in the island for at least two decades are deciding for the future of the island. Let the people of Mindanao decide. We from Mindanao have learned to separate what differentiates us from what unites us. If we could work together on a common interest, we would succeed. But if we do not agree on the matter, then we negotiate later to seek for compromise without disrespecting each others' values and morals. If we Filipinos working abroad have adapted ourselves in our new foreign land, we Filipinos must also adapt well with people of other cultures in own land.

Lastly, I remain optimistic still with an achievable lon-term peace. This is possible if we will have leader, who is respected by almost every culture and religion in the island. A leader, who understands the Mindanaoan people and have the strong will to implement common laws for everybody, is needed. The leader must have no bias with one group, rather have a universal fair treatment for everybody. Furthermore, I suppose the people of Mindanao have been long before ready for long-term peace, but it is the government and the politicians hindering that to happen. The need for change has long been perceived by the people of Mindanao, a contrast to what the government has been expecting.

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