Religion joins the few and divides the many. This is the belief that fortified within me from the years that passed. When I was in fifth grade, I had a friend, and as it was then, living in a small town affords one to chance acquaintances, most especially at Sunday masses, and since we lived nearby I decided to look for him. On the Sunday Masses, I searched fervently for my friend yet for naught, every mass session i coaxed my parents to go varying the schedule every week. How big is this edifice anyway? Why can I not see him? And as we drove away from the church not a semblance of his shadow paced my vision.
I was bewildered: how could we miss each other? The church only had around twenty pews then, and come communion every person is visible in the long line leading to the altar. I brought this up to him and the mystery has been unveiled, we have different religions—he is a protestant and I was catholic! It is then that the realness of difference in faiths sprang to my consciousness.
Later as I grew up, I witnessed people from all walks of life denigrating those that have different names of worship; this apparent chauvinism could be seen on those shows aired on television only to defend the bastion of their interpretations and customs, putting down another to go up higher. This self-righteousness irked me. How could this be a way to save us from the rupture? But still, what do I care about this. I am far from their chasms. I could turn the remote easily. I could shrug my shoulders at a debating fanatic. Who gives a fiddler’s fart about this? I don’t. For all I believe is that it is not the confessions that you make nor the prayers that you sang communal that matters but it is the relationship with yourself and the Almighty that will solely determine one’s salvation either from this earth’s carnal disintegration or from those that Death would gladly bestow without reservation.
In spite of my apathetic stance—perhaps borne from the laymen’s unperturbed cacophony of mores or from my experiential realizations—this collective separation cannot be ignored for the tumult it creates provides a threat for dismemberment not only for people, but for this nation as well. More than the unspoken caste that hounds our people, wars have been waged and fought for this sake. And yes, we could easily point our fingers to Mindanao—the Moro wars.
Regimes, administrations, has passed like the years that withered into decades (maybe in another millennia still) the conflict between the Muslim separatist movement fighting for an independent Moro nation is still left unresolved, like a wanton courtship between the government and the revolting faction, honeyed by peace talks yet often led to bloodshed; it is often annotated as a Muslim-Christian conflict.
What are they really fighting for? Why do they want to separate? By so doing remove a star from the half-risen flag, maiming it forever. I hate to see the Philippine map fade, the archipelago reduced. And if so do we need passports to go to and fro. Then we will endure to forget the favourite line, “…mula Aparri hanggang Jolo.” Truly, the effect of that separation would be equal to castration, even to impotency to progress. I hate to see them go—a nation divided! Brothers at war!
But who am I to stop their so called independence? Who am I to tell them—or any one in that matter—to stop and accede to the government? Who am I to tell them to remain? I haven’t even plodded my feet to the land they so fervently fought, and whose rights they give their life so wilfully. I haven’t even bled a single drop to their cause nor spent an hour with them—how could I understand! I am alien to Mindanao, alien to the brothers I avidly trace on the map. Perhaps I know more about America than of this fallow land. Aren’t we all in the Metro the same? Too, those in the south knows more of Malaysia for there it is more real; Sabah is nearer than Manila anyways. Perchance more akin to other Muslim nations even to those across the endless deserts and jagged seas.
There are a lot of peace treaties that has convened yet these are mere negotiations that fell short. There were different pacts discussed but still this war waged on, claiming lives by the hundreds, leaving people homeless, their stomachs violently churning, their mouths frothing. And when a loved one dies¾by accident or by fighting—a sense of repulsion, fear, worse of all, hate is injected in the hearts of those who were left. With this cycle a new Moro will replace the dead, a new soldier will replace the ranks of those who was decimated; the Moro dies a faithful martyr, the soldier a gallant hero. Yet always, and always it was a deadlock. More so, although blood has spilled the soil are they really enemies?
Once I have read that it is not the difference in religion that sprang war but disparity over land. More than what the Moros claim of ancestral domain, it refers to the soil that is tilled, the soil that nurtures man, the soil that provides. I believe this is so, too. Adding to that it is the neglect that the Moros in Mindanao have faced, far from modernization—aloof (might be self-implicated too) from progress. While Luzon is crammed by buildings, malls sprouting out of nowhere, edifices are meek and scarce in most areas of the Muslim region, at least those which are functional and opt for public. Hospitals, roads, schools, libraries, transportation these are gifts of development scarcely reached even to the proximity of the war-torn area.
Aside from the blooming suburbs and condominium units, malls, schools in the city—if you would like to define progress with it—Mindanao has been left emaciated. Its growth stinted, the structures that they built reduced to rubbles. Illiteracy,hunger, health are identified not only to the government’s inchoate policies which are not sensitive to the real needs that needed addressing—and please, clear-cut policies not the patch-me-up projects (though sometimes it as all that can be done for the moment). While those in the seats of power, those politicians championed attention in these concerns, none of them, though, really did action, ningas cogon—all words, little action.
This is a regurgitating betrayal. Here is one clear cut reason why these things has never been resolved after decades and decades of dialogue for the people seated are—in both sides—not sincere enough to listen, their agenda is always a hidden constrict at the back of their minds. There will be no enough deaths; no amount of blood could stop these macabre for generations are born anew. They will take oaths and swear duty under the flag and to their faith. Discriminations will never end, more so the war. I heard one of my religious friend say, quoting a passage which, forgive me I cannot recall where nor could I rehash impeccably, it says, “if I fought for God nothings is against us…how could we lose?”
But when will we win? Before the many dead that were sent to the ether. Before the children that may never learn to read and write. Before those who bore the ancient odium that blinded them with power and sanctimonious dogma. Before the land that stood silent witness to the hearts of men that flung dead to her cause and accepted them as they return to earth as earth. Before us are lives that never be. Aren’t all these enough a loss?
No matter how seemingly desolate the situation is, I believe that there is still hope for understanding, for peace. We have known war for so long, especially the Moros but yet not the peace we fought for subsisted. But as long as we have hope, new minds shall be conceived—both from the womb and in one’s own experiential incubation—grasping the realities that we cannot see now, opting for a better way that was averted and ignored. Then a longing that one day this nation would rise above this part of our history, breaking the chain of hatred and glum. Thus, allowing people to see that we are all given breath by the Unseen Hand, placed before some distant islands. I know, though we are divided by faith, we still live under the same home. We are still brothers!
*photo by the author