Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Real Peace

What is real peace?

Is it sitting comfortably in your chair? Waking up everyday with your routine schedule ahead? Eating three times a day? A life revolving around work, house and night-outs? A life unaffected by the gun shots, the hunger, the discrimination and the suffering? For some people, all is peaceful and just because they’re living comfortably everyday, untouched, untroubled. But is this really peace?

What some people may not know, or may not care to know, is that there are thousands who have been fighting the government for decades because of injustice. And there are thousands who have been leading insecure lives as they fear being caught in the crossfire between warring parties in their community. These realities do not only happen in the Philippines but also in other countries suffering from armed conflict.

You can say that I was one of those people who thought there was peace, at least there was in my own little world where I moved in. I thought that conflict happened elsewhere, far from me, and therefore I should not be troubled. As far as I was concerned, my life was peaceful and those conflicts were someone else’s problem.  I believed that only the military could resolve armed conflicts because they were the only ones who could fight the insurgents. I thought if those rebels would be killed or captured, there would be peace. But this never solved the problem.

It took a one three-hour class to show me that violence was not all about guns and wars and fighting, and that peace was not all about the absence of such either. Rather, violence could be physical, cultural and structural. Violence could mean deprivation of services that you are entitled to or being discriminated upon because of your religious or cultural identity. Peace could mean not just having a ceasefire or killing your opponents, but also solving the deep-rooted causes of why there was conflict in the first place.

In that class I learned that peace was not all about winning; it was about compromise. Peace was not all about actions but also about listening to what other people had to say. As my professor showed us videos of the people in Mindanao, of the women in Bangladesh and the kids in Israel, I suddenly understood, even if just a tiny bit, of why they fight, what they believe in. And I remember thinking right then and there, how much I wanted to go to Israel, to see for myself what happens there and what I can do to help.

I’ve always heard people say about the issue in Mindanao: “Just bomb the whole place. With them gone, who would be there to fight the government?”Or “It’s far away. It doesn’t affect us here.” But pause and imagine, what comes after you bomb them? What comes after you kill the person who killed another? What comes after you turn a blind eye and look away? Will it solve the problem? Will that really give lasting peace? Peace is not just defined by the lack of violence but the freedom from fear of violence. If your people continue to live in fear, then peace is far from being achieved. 

So instead of giving comments without thinking, why don’t we pause and listen to the real situation. Instead of criticizing the actions that have been done towards attaining peace, why not do something in our own little ways to contribute, like tweeting or posting on Facebook about peace. Though little steps, these, I think, would be a much better use of our time. And maybe, just maybe, the ‘world peace’ cliché that everybody speaks of would come true. Peace that lasts. For me, this is real peace. #

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Social Media and the peace process

Angel Santos | With the current developments in the peace process, I cannot help but be amazed by the wave of support from the online community. From the #iamforpeace to #Bangsamoro to #givepeaceachance hashtag, two of which went trending in the Philippines. Suddenly, everyone wants to take part in peace building. Everyone is affirming their stake for peace. And that is something.
Some people think that tweeting and Facebook-ing for peace are not as significant as immersing oneself in conflict-affected areas. Some may think that posting online about peace cannot bring about change in the lives of those people on the ground. Some may think that social media is “all talk, no action,” because most of the people affected by war are “offline.”
But hear me when I say, social media matters in peace work. We live in a time when information technology is at its peak. Information is on our finger tips. Many Filipinos have Facebook accounts where they stay not only connected with their family and friends but also updated with current news. Based on a report from the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2012, the Philippines is ranked 54th out of 70 countries with high prevalence of Internet-connected consumers, businesses and governments. It also pinned #7 in Asia in terms of number of Internet users in 2011.
In our country, there are about 33.6 million Internet users as of 2012 (from Internetwordlstats.com), in which 73.9% use Facebook, 18.1% YouTube, 6.1% Twitter, and 3.8% utilize blogs.  And that is an amazing and overwhelming number of Filipinos online—sharing information, telling stories, and connecting to each other on a real-time basis.
By taking advantage of  social networking sites, we can raise the awareness of these 1 million users on the situation of people affected by conflict. Through Twitter and Facebook, we can bring the “ground” closer to the online community. We can give face to individuals or groups and their struggle to live in peace through stories, photos and videos accessible to people in the virtual world.
The social media is an arena where people can pitch in ideas and exchange opinions on how to improve the peace situation in the Philippines. The effect of such may not be direct, but the mere act of creating a venue for engagement and raising awareness onpeace to other people who are “living in peace” is still an act for peace.
By letting those who have access to the Internet know about what’s happening on the ground, we are not only building an online community of peace advocates from different backgrounds and walks of life, but more importantly we are fueling change. By engaging these people, we are not only enforcing the number of peace builders but also supporting the peace workers on the ground.
In which I quote Sec. Teresita Quintos Deles: “Every new voice, every new tweet, every new Facebook post that comes out to support peace is a bead of ambrosia that will inspire and strengthen our quiet, conscientious, heroic peace workers on the ground who may be obscure or little known beyond the communities whom they serve.” #

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Despite his busy schedule, Sec. Jesse found the time to join OPAPP in delivering peace projects to those who need it the most despite the risks. Here is a photo of him visiting one the housing projects for internally displaced people in Sulu.

He was that one public servant whom a lot of people silently loved. He works with not so much noise, but he has touched so many lives in so many ways. Even Presidential Peace Adviser Sec. Teresita Quintos Deles acknowledged this saying, "The support given by Secretary Jesse to the peace process will live on; not many knew that he was a quiet peacebuilder who made sure conflict-affected communities feel an honest and responsive government working hard to deliver the fruits of reforms." 

Mananatili s'ya sa puso ng marami. Salamat Secretary Jesse.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Stand for Peace in Mindanao

Statement of Moro Youth on the Clashes in Marawi City and Maguindanao

We express deep concern and value to the lives and welfare of our fellow Filipinos, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, who are in difficult situations because of the flood in Luzon particularly in the National Capital Region on one hand, and on the other hand, those who are affected by the recent armed clashes in areas in Maguindanao (as well as in North Cotabato) between the government troops and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM), a rogue breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) last August 5, 2012.

Moreover, we are saddened with the news that lawless elements supposedly linked to a politician in Marawi City had caused armed clashes to break out last night, August 8, 2012 in the perimeters of Mindanao State University campus, as they attacked military   unit which was conducting mobile patrol  in the area, which caused deaths of three soldiers and wounded civilians.

Amidst these untoward incidents, we call on sobriety. There is neither war nor martial law declared in Mindanao. The government pursues lawless elements while maintaining the ceasefire with the MILF—whose leadership since 2011 dissociated from their helm the rogue BIFM. We note that the MILF has joint cooperation and mechanisms with the government to pursue against lawless elements through the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG).

As the 30th GPH-MILF Exploratory Talks are ongoing since August 6 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where the Parties are pressed on substantive discussions to push the gains in the negotiating table, let us be vigilant that the situation on the ground and that the spoilers do not derail the peaceful means of achieving just and lasting peace in the south that aims to address the political and socio-economic conditions of communities.

Some could twist and turn the events or facts, make blame game, or engage in mere criticisms while communities suffer, let us strengthen our resolve to advance the peace process for meaningful and sustainable peace that aims to establish both genuine self-governance and good governance.

Strongly in unison of achieving peace in our time, we persist in our support to the peace process between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and MILF which is now at the heart of peace negotiation for a political settlement of the 15 yr-old negotiation, which the Parties and partners and supporters from the civil society painstakingly worked on in order to resolve the decades-old armed conflict.

At a time of Ramadhan, a Holy Month for Muslims, we strongly oppose the attacks initiated by lawless groups who defy the Islamic values of humanitarianism and peace.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

My First-Ever Muslim Friends

Janessa Tek-ing | I grew up in a city where mostly Catholics lived. I'm a Catholic all my life. I've never had any Muslim friend or classmate. And the truth was, I never even bothered to listen to news about them or to even visit their communities just to get a taste of what it's like.

I thought it was enough to live my own life, to deal with my own problems, and to focus on my own dreams. I knew I was a part of a bigger world but I never cared to truly take part on it.

I once told myself, "I can't solve everybody's problems. I'm only one and there's nothing I can do about it." So, yeah, I was a spoiled brat with selfish motivations in life.

Then, one day, I realized I wasn't happy. The world I was trying to create was unreal. It was superficial, meaningless, and shallow. One time, my dad yelled at me (for some reasons I cannot disclose here), "You're better than this! Is this all you can do?" Then, a sudden realization revealed itself to me.

I suddenly altered the path I was taking in life. I can never undo the mistakes I've made, but I can always create something new. I can start all over again. And that's what I did. One day and one step at a time...

I took part in several community projects and joined some organizations. I immersed myself into the world that I ignored all my life. I never thought it was the kind of world I wanna be a part of. I used to believe I had it all. This one big bold step alone made me discover everything that I've been missing.

There came a point when some of my friends would ask, "Why do you do such things?" But I never answered because I figured out, they'll never understand. I have been blessed with a bunch of good-looking friends. Friends with money. Friends with cars. Friends who know their way around the city. However, no matter how much I love them and enjoy their company, there was something I should do.
I had to do things my way because that's the only thing that will make me truly happy. So, despite some discouragements, I didn’t look back. I continued searching for myself even if most of the people around me tried to pull me back to who I was...

My zest for new and meaningful adventures has taken me to what would be the most memorable moment of my life. It all happened in Cugman, Cagayan de Oro City where several PeaceTech ambassadors (both Catholics and Muslims) have gathered to start their journey as peace advocates of the country.

I was wrong to think it was just one of those workshops where you'll go home after and forget everything you've experienced. It never occurred to me that this is something I'll never forget my whole life.

Of course, there were discussions and resource speakers whose knowledge about peace is unquestionable. But what I value the most are the relationships I have created with these wonderful Muslims. They opened a whole new spectrum of learnings and made me see things differently. Before, Luzon was the best island for me. Now, I see it as equally great and magnificent as the two other islands of the country - Visayas and Mindanao. 

Honestly, it's hard to be yourself around people who grew up in the same environment as yours. You always want to compete with them, prove to them that you're better than anyone else. I never imagined that those who understand you better are those who never lived your life. Why? Because they don't judge. They just listen. And that's what these people have given me. They've given me a time to speak and never judged me for whatever I said.

Those five days have been meaningful, so meaningful, that for the first time in what seemed a long time, I became myself again. My first Muslim friends (I cannot name names because they're so many and I'm thankful for that) have made me laugh. And it was real. Not the kind of laughter brought by green jokes or anything like it. And they made me cry the kind of tears you shed only for friends you'll miss and cherish. They changed my life in a way that I'll never be the same girl anymore.

When I got back to Manila, my parents were not at home. I called them up and the instant I heard my dad's voice, I began to cry. Like really cry. I was only able to say, "Daddy, ang babait nila." ("Daddy, they're so kind.")

That’s when it all dawned on me. I fell in love with these people because they're so kind and so real that you don't even need to pretend when you're around them. You only have to be yourself.

It's priceless. The chance to be myself, even just for five days, was a luxury to me. Funny, it may be. But it's the truth, a very sweet truth. Who would've thought that I would get the one thing I wished for just because of my very first Muslim friends?

Friday, April 27, 2012

It's unfair for Tawi-tawi

I was surprised by how warm this island province was. Surprisingly warm. We were going down from Bongao Peak that early morning as hordes of people bearing picnic boxes were going up for the Saturday ritual. My Muslim companion was curiously inquiring as this was not typical of a Muslim community. It was a native practice, we were told.  

 I can’t imagine how the locals could climb up with their little kids hanging onto their arms, while I needed to rest after our first 10 minutes of hiking. A few old men greeted us a fine morning. It was steep and slippery. A friend even offered to carry my bag.

Standing on the highest point of Tawi-Tawi was magnificent. You can see bridges connecting some islands, the airstrip standing by, a plane taking off, waters enclosing us all, as if leaving this island was a no-coming-back. A few structures stood out from that height, mostly beach resorts owned by rich families.

Along the trek, we encountered some monkeys swinging from one branch to another. They were aloof, but bananas can win their trust. They reminded me of a scene from Planet of the Apes where the biggest of them all bully the rest in catching food. Nearby, a female was carrying an offspring underneath her belly; it was creepy to see two eyes staring upside-down. I tried to give her extra bananas because maybe she needed them more. 

Also joining the locals’ weekend expedition were fresh high school graduates whom it was the first time to hike Bongao Peak. I saw the excitement in their young eyes, the same kind I hold whenever I set foot in far-off places. 

Down the mountain, the beaches were equally serene, and the houses practically on water. And yes, household wastes go straight to the water. I wonder how the waters remain crystal clear.

What also draws me to Tawi-Tawi is the serene ambience of retreat houses where one can meditate and reflect on their life. In this peaceful town, approximately 23 crimes occur in a year. Imagine that! The police said that’s like the daily count in Manila.

Well, what was the last thing I heard about Tawi-Tawi? There were two foreign birdwatchers recently abducted and still unreleased by their captors. (Crazy as it seems, but incidents like these fail to unnerve me.) I was so prepared to be kidnapped, rehearsing my poker face. 

I find it unjust how Southern Philippines is generalized into a dreadful place: 

“…were abducted Wednesday during a bird-watching trip to Tawi-Tawi, the Philippines’ southernmost province. They were the latest kidnap victims in an impoverished region infested with al-Qaida-linked militants and criminal gangs that often seek ransom for their foreign hostages.” –www.friendsofmindanao.blogspot.com 

An acquaintance said, “These are places we won’t normally want to visit.” How about Turtle Island, where one can lie on the pristine white sand and watch sea turtles come ashore and lay eggs? 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Dreamer's Disease

by Angel Santos

Exactly a year ago, I quit my job. 

It was not a decision born out of whim, not even close. It took me several months to finally give in to what I wanted out of life. It required me one road trip, one Albert Einstein, seven Bible verses, and one epic playlist to make the final decision. 

For nine months, I battled with my inner evils, telling myself that it was my duty to work after college and support my family. I came to a conclusion that idealisms and dreams were only for people who could actually afford them. I was not one of them. I coaxed myself into giving up my dreams of being someone noble in order to earn a decent living for my family. I wandered without a cause. I talked without substance. I merely existed and barely lived. I woke up everyday without a reason and motivation. I was stuck in reverse. I convinced myself that quitters never win and that only those with enough perseverance and patience would actually get to the end goal—success. For nine months, I let myself be blinded by social norms and society’s definition of success. During those months, I was my own unhappiness.

Until one road trip to Batangas. I was in the passenger seat, looking out of the window, seeing past the street lights and headlights. As we were passing by Tagaytay, the city’s cool breeze was touching my skin, sending chills down my spine. It was almost midnight then. Modest Mouse’s Float On, the third song in our Road Trip Playlist, was playing on the car stereo. My friends were singing along to the song. I was keeping my quiet and drowning myself in retrospect: Why did I accept the job? Why was I still staying? Was I happy with the decisions that I made? Were the norms worthy enough to sacrifice my own happiness? Those were the questions that I found no answer for until I thought of Albert Einstein, and the Bible verses that I read the other day. I was pretty sure that Albert Einstein, just like any other scientists, despite other people’s skepticism, still kept on doing things that inflamed his passion and interest, which proved beneficial, if not best, for him. Why subject myself to further suffering when, in fact, I could be happy if only I choose to? Right there and then, I knew what I had to do. Screw social norms, I did not want to be miserable anymore. 

And so, I quit my job. I bummed around to find what I lost—my idealisms and my dreams of becoming someone who could effect change to the great masses. Thinking that I could do and contribute more to the society in the future, I decided to go back to the academe. While I was planning and preparing for my immediate future as a student, Destiny was brewing something else for me. On my third week in school, something happened that changed the course of my life. Apparently, the academe did not want me. At the time, I could not understand and I refused to understand why it happened. I could not see its logic. The academe was for me, I could feel it in my blood, but I was wrong. Out of frustration in the recent events in my life, I did what I never thought of doing again in at least four years—I joined the working class. 

It was a Tuesday, the first day of my exile from that school. I was on my deathbed—figuratively and literally sick—when I received a phone call. It was a job offer, a job offer that I would have refused given a different situation. But since I was depressed and in need of something to do just to keep myself from breaking down, I accepted the job as a peace worker in a government agency.  

To put it simply, I entered the work force as a government employee. Yes, 21-year old government employee, a bit younger than the typical government employee I had in mind. On my first day at work, I was sure I was going to quit after three months. Never had I imagined myself working for, with, and in the government in my immediate future. Some of my Tibak friends would definitely slap me for this. I was sure that I would feel the way I did on my first job. Boy, I was wrong. What happened next was a certain realization that it was not what I thought it was. After a week of doing the job, I became conscious that I knew little of peace and the peace process in the Philippines. I was disturbed by the fact that despite my significant background in Anthropology and Sociology, it was still not enough to fully understand the peace process. I found it unsettling and challenging at the same time. I knew a little? Well, time to learn more. I did, and I still am. 

As of this writing, I am on my seventh month in the office. Four months past the deadline I set to myself, I am still working for peace and feeling content, something I did not feel with my first job. Four months past my deadline, I realized several things in life. 

First, “Do what inspires you and everything will be okay in the end.” Those were my mom’s words when I told her that I quit my first job and I intended to go back to school. Unfortunately (or fortunately), school was not for me. Not yet. I may not have found myself on the grounds of the university last year, but I believe that I am where I need to be right now. Working for peace is not easy. It was, it is, and it will never be easy. But it is where I get my inspiration to do more and to be more. It inflames my soul, knowing that I am doing something for the greater good.

Secondly, the cliché: everything happens for a reason. Had I said no to the offer, I would not learn certain skills and knowledge that I have now. I would not be able to contribute to the greater masses. Had I succumbed to depression, I would not be able to experience the things that I am experiencing right now. I would not be able to fulfill half of my dreams of becoming someone who can effect change, someone who does noble things for the people and for the country. Had I refused the job offer, I would not have found where my passion lies. Had I done things differently, I would not be as content as I am now. 

Thirdly, everyday is a learning process. Working for peace is like being a student again—with experience as my teacher. Everyday there is progress, new information that I have to process and save in my frail human brain. I have come to understand that the search for peace never ends. It does not stop with a signed agreement. It requires more than a signed agreement; it entails patience, faith, and perseverance to achieve it. Peace, I realized, is something hard to grasp, and it takes a dreamer to chase after it. 

Exactly a year ago, I quit my job to find a cause for my existence. Well, I think I already found it.