On the “do no harm” humanitarian principle and the Moro problem

The Moro struggle is not just about a conflict between the Philippine government and Moro rebel groups nor a religious conflict between the Muslims and Christians in Mindanao. Rather it is a complex, deep-rooted and multifaceted one spanning several centuries starting from the Spanish and American colonial times up to the present.

No single cause can sufficiently explain the Moro problem. Despite the many literature on the conflict, much is still to be told, learned and understood regarding the causes and consequences of the conflict that the Moros believe to be their holocaust.

Much of what has been written about the conflict in Mindanao focused mainly on its economic cost and partially on its social cost. Most of these accounts failed to expose the wounds and sufferings that are deeply entrenched in the Moro psyche that continuously shape and influence the Moro’s attitude towards the Philippine government and the rest of the majority Christian Filipinos. Since no respite was given for the wounds to heal, they are continuously aggravated by the protracted war and the elusive peaceful resolution of the problem.

Human Development, Economic and Social Costs, and Spillovers of Conflict: The Case of the Province of Lanao del Sur, Yasmin Busran-Lao

In our last stop of relief operations for Marawi City evacuees, while I was observing the queue of evacuees, under a very hot sun, toward the tables where their names would be verified against earlier validations and their names registered etcetera, a Moro leader came up to me. He told me of his concern that for fellow Moro who have not gone through a process of awareness, understanding, and thus opened themselves up to healing and closure, the fact that Christians were the front-liners in the operation (not withstanding that, too, the soldiers and police in the Marawi conflict are Christians) might again revive sentiments against Christians. My spontaneous reply was, “I understand. That was exactly what I was thinking last night.” When I got back to my place after the relief operations at another town, I couldn’t help the tears flow and spent much of the night trying to understand where humanity – us, Filipino Christians – did wrong. But such thinking always end up in me realizing my own limitations, humankind’s limitations to resolve it’s own problems. Humanitarians can only do so much. I finally went to sleep thoroughly humbled yet again.

The Moro leader had approached me asking if I could help them facilitate for a phase two of the relief operations to assist Moro evacuees undergo a culture of peace education, essentially a process of peace building that begins with the self and then with others. As goes the UNESCO Charter, since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed. 

Moving on, still on our exchange, but with one other a Christian migrant who joined us, I said, “but, you know, I’ve also thought about what if I was on the other side, an evacuee? how do I respond to aid, people helping me?”

“Ah,” said the Moro leader looking amused, “sige daw ano? (okay, what?)”

“Sige (okay),” added the Christian migrant, “ano ang gagawin mo given na ang taas ng pinag-aralan mo (what would someone who’s had a university education like you do in that situation)?”

I laughed and said, “I’d refused to be interviewed. I’d refused to have my photo taken. To hell with them.”

The two men became silent and offered no response or reaction. I believed they fell into thinking. Perhaps the Moro leader was thinking I’m worse than his people? I didn’t offer further explanation. Let them think about what I meant, which is that human dignity is for every human being regardless of religion; it’s about one human being responding to another human being and taking care to do that justly, and to achieve that one must have an understanding of one’s own basic needs and rights transcending one’s prejudices against race, religion, gender, etc. For example: Just because someone is an evacuee doesn’t mean he or she is stupid or uneducated or his or her rights suspended that other people think they could go around the evacuation centers taking shots and making them public and thrusting microphones, recorders, or cameras at, for instance, mothers breast-feeding their babes, demanding or expecting coherent replies (and when they receive incoherent responses they readily label the evacuee-interviewees as schizophrenic. My god, who is the schizophrenic in such a situation)? Would I want that done to me if I were an evacuee? NO! If I’m required or pressured to be interviewed in exchange for food relief then take back your food relief! But media do that to evacuees to their fellow Christians too (think of evacuees from natural disasters in Luzon and Visayas).

Irresponsible callous acts are monitored by the offended party and added in it’s long List of Sins by the Enemy, naturally. Then when the offended party has decided it’s done with listing, it fires back and in the process not only are members of the offending party hurt but also innocent parties. Media and those dealing directly with fragile communities therefore have a great responsibility in sustaining the gains in peace building.

At it’s most basic level, human security consists of the freedom from fear, freedom from want, and freedom from humiliation.

Human Security and Armed Conflict, Philippine Human Development Report 2005

Prolonged humiliation does things to your head not to mention it’s ill effects on emotions and the body hence being genuine is a response that is so welcomed, in fact, heals.


To vote or not to vote

The in-fighting between and among Presidential hopefuls in 2016 appears to be the only news-worthy material these days.  On one hand it’s a free campaign mileage for these personalities who otherwise are not in the consciousness of the voting public.  If this is the sort of campaign strategy that Presidential candidates are resorting to, woe to the nation!  It won’t surprise me if voter turn out next year is at it’s lowest.

But for those who don’t vote, will they lose the right to complain?

A Washington Post article cited philosopher-author Jason Brennan for his writing on the matter which mirrors my own. In his book, The Ethics of Voting, Brennan argues that

voting isn’t sufficient to discharge those duties (i.e. promotion of the common good, no free riding, promotion of fellow citizen’s welfare) because many people vote badly in ways that on a collective level tend to undermine the common good and harm their fellow citizens.

Ilya Somin, writer of the WP article, expounded on Brennan, providing an example for why someone would abstain from voting, an act which Brennan avers as not only morally acceptable sometimes but actually morally praiseworthy:

When you lack sufficient knowledge of the issues to vote in a minimally informed way, and don’t have the ability or the time to increase your knowledge at least to the point where you are better informed than the average voter.

Somin continues

they at least should not be stigmatized for abstaining in situations where their participation is likely to make the situation even worse.

Having rights implies the freedom not to exercise a right.

Back to the situation here, it’s the same old story that’s being recreated before us,  Thanks to media, certain candidates who only have their grave mistakes in public office as credentials are the ones earning a following.  It’s sick which is why people who refuse to be sucked into participating in the game can’t be blamed for not voting.  It’s not the voter.  It’s just there’s not a trust-worthy candidate anymore.

In any case, most citizens who abstain from voting in a particular election continue to do good on their own, even when no one is looking or without somebody leading or telling them to:

On the visit of Pope Francis

I’ve noticed that almost on a daily basis for some months now front pages of national dailies have been featuring Pope Francis and his impending visit to the country set on January 15 through 19 next year.  I get it that the Philippines is predominantly Catholic and Francis is the Pope but is there no other front-page material?

It’s like how Christmas is now celebrated here for which I blame national and local media particularly the FM stations.  At the start of the so-called ‘ber’ months which is September they play Christmas songs and launch the countdown to Christmas Day.  One wonders if the excitement over the countdown is really in anticipation for the Birth of Christ or merely a count of days until Christmas Bonus or 13th Month Pay when we can go berserk with our shopping and what have you.  Christmas has now become an activity focused on frenetic accumulation of perishables.  And then when children carolers come to our front steps we can’t even invite them in and have them partake what’s on our tables and inside our pantries. We throw them a coin or two instead and when feeling especially devilish unleash the canines on them to boot! This isn’t Christ-mas.

So it’s not the visit per se of a Pope or a religious relic for that matter that Filipino Catholics and the media should overly concern themselves with.  Mumbling the National Prayer for the Papal Visit out of rote isn’t enough too.  Rather it’s how prepared we are to truly imbibe that which the Pope represents who is Christ and when I say Christ I’m referring to Christian values of justice and concern for community, and yes, mercy and compassion according to the theme of the national campaign.  May I also add that the Pope’s assumed name of Francis stands for poverty of spirit and love for creation?

The country’s been visited by a Pope before, Pope John Paul II, and has there been significant change since because of his visit?  Has Baguio City which he visited changed?  There was change but not at the level JP II had hoped Filipinos were potentially capable.

Just as we have remained reactive after the innumerable and deadly storms that have visited the country, there can be several more Popes who will visit after JP II but if people are not prepared to align themselves to the symbolic meaning of such, the visits are rendered fruitless like the seeds planted in dead soil.

But, there’s still time to make real preparation, in fact, now is the best time for it:  the Christmas season.