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OpEd 3 -Yolanda O. Stern

Mindanao Series: Land of the Mourning!       
Wednesday, 11 November 2009 
By Amb. Yolanda Ortega Stern – President Emeritus, FPACC

In the wake of the irreversible damages brought by the cyclone of the century to the Philippines, Manny Pacquiao is about  to return to Las Vegas to fight Catto. His photo in TIME and the write- up in the Sports Section of the New York Times all but make him the savior of the boxing industry. Scores of Filipinos are planning to go to Las Vegas to cheer this genuine product of General Santos. In the New York Times article, he talks of leaving his home because his father “ate my dog”.

I woke up today thinking that if only India could produce “Mahatma” Ghandi,  only the Philippines  could  produce a Manny Pacquiao.  Manila, General Santos, and Las Vegas are caught up in the Manny wave. For now, the aftermath of the cyclone and other typhoons are temporarily forgotten. Nillions of dollars are going for the match.

Then news came early of the beheading of the young Christian head teacher who was kidnapped in Jolo last October. It made me ill. Having just vicariously gone through the kidnapping of a nephew’s wife who spent more than 7 months under captivity, I knew that money or the lack of it may have played a role in the beheading. Or is that all?

Someone I recently met in Manila told me, “We are a country of liars.  We sing and dance and pretend that we are all happy and fine when underneath it all we are all rotten to the core!”  My own eyes , ears, and even my own heart have played tricks on me countless times, and even my wallet has been victimized by untruths.  But a life devoted to confirming the truth can be a very interesting life.

“Who did the beheading?” I texted  some Tausugs. I got many different answers but all of them gave me the names that were already in print media and TV.

“Why?” I texted back.

“The family could only raise P150K instead of 2M”. This was also information in print media and television.

I am reminded that there is an Irish priest in captivity. Accusations and counteraccusations between the MILF and the GRP representatives are flying in print media and TV. This administration has had its share of handling kidnap cases.  It knows that those who kidnap can also deliver. It also knows that if there is ransom to be paid, it is to be divided between all participants.  In-between, you just work at keeping the victims alive.

The GRP wants the MILF to rescue the priest with drums not guns and those drums from Lanao are big enough to send signals.  Why not the MILF who claim control over the territory? Is it true the beheading is in retaliation for the arrest of an MILF commander who was on his way to Mecca?  Could this one person have beheaded all those marines in Basilan or was it his command responsibility? The MILF leadership is naturally upset at the accusations if they are indeed false. But how does one arrive at the elusive truth?  Hello Mindanoaons! Does anybody know?

There should be a sign at the International Airport that says, “WELCOME TO THE LAND OF PUZZLES”. Nobody knows the real answers to questions and nobody knows the truth from the lie, not even the courts. Witnesses can be killed and informers are not taking advantage of the multimillion dollar rewards on the heads of the Most Wanted posters. Victims of crimes are fearful of testifying. It is not clear what the US mission is in the Philippines, and it is generally not so clear what the Philippine Military Missions are in Mindanao. It is not clear even why the Filipino soldiers are barred from entering the US military compounds and why a Filipino military officer is often not properly addressed by his title by a US serviceman. There are many in the Philippine military who consider US servicemen “bastos” for disrespecting their commands or their  territories. And the US assertion that “we will let the country dictate what we should be doing here” is a warning cry that they are getting mixed signals. The two militaries do not see eye to eye on the ground and it is not clear what the young Filipino soldiers are dying for. This dichotomy can also be said about the MNLF and the MILF as well as the Philippine Legislature.  Professional rivalry impedes mutual cooperation and can destroy even a good home.

The Philippines is a top down society like India, and in many respects, similar.  This chain of command is broken by provinces, municipalities, towns, baranggays. The rest are local superstitions, omens and signs. The local shamans are doing brisk business foretelling and dispensing advise and answering riddles and treating illness via all sorts of vitamin pills and mediums. But the dam breaks loose often to reveal a people capable of violence, often after much meditation and prayer.

Chopping a head off, a shot to the heart, a fatal blow to the head, rape, assault of all kinds - the police blotters are full of unsolved violent crimes committed in high and low places.

Is the Philippines a country in control?  What would the people have the government to do?  I will canvass the opinion mills and have answers for you in the next of this series.

An Opinion Column. This does not reflect the thoughts and opinions of FPACC or its members

A Separate Peace for April’s Fools?       
Tuesday, 01 April 2008 
By Amb. Yolanda Ortega Stern

A Separate Peace for April’s Fools?

How many “Peace Agreements” can the Philippine Government sign before it has to implement  one of them seriously? And how long can  the co-signers wait before it can reduce the burden that comes with the new pact?

In pre-marital counseling, a psychological and emotional evaluation comes first. Each side is allowed to assume the other’s shoes and given the chance to think  as the assumed character. A compatibility chart is drawn and every area assumed incorrectly by the other side, is laid on the table and discussed. Then future expectations are thrown into the hat and the fantasies are sorted from the reality. Thus, a couple contemplating marriage knows what he/she is getting into while still engaged.

The Organization of Islamic Conference and Tripoli have acted as peace brokers in the Philippines for sometime now. In fact, Tripoli has done more than just brokering peace in the country. It suggests that the government and representatives of the “Mindanao Factor” are not capable of open discussion, therefore, the external broker.  No one can recall the NPA and other “left-leaning” organizations needing a foreign broker for peace.  But then it has been very helpful for the Moslems of the Philippines. It has given them a modicum  of security,  and a small claim that someone is listening and watching out for their interests. So far, they cannot claim the same about the Philippine Government.

There was the GRP MNLF Tripoli Agreement of 1976, followed by the implementing agenda  called the 1996 Peace Agreement. Depending on which side you are on, much has happened or nothing has happened since the signing. The OIC is once again facilitating the review of the 1996 agreement and has called on the Philippine government and the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) to work towards a mutually beneficial conclusion.  At the same time, it has also called for the MNLF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to unite. And to add media confusion for the masses, it is also brokering a peace agreement between the Philippine government and the MILF to the consternation of the MNLF, the Lumads and the Christians. Afterall, they all populate this island called Mindanao today, and driving a few of them out of there by force is without question not an easy alternative.
What’s with the separate peace?

Shouldn’t there be One Peace, One Nation with Separate Territories - that recognize that the Christians, Moslems and Lumads all belong to Mindanao and that they may also be found in Luzon and Visayas? Shouldn’t there be a Development Agreement for the Regions that recognize that the basic needs of the Moslems and the Lumads must be addressed? Shouldn’t this agreement take into account the culture and tradition of non Christians and respect that the people honor the wisdom and guidance of their chosen elders and not necessarily those of the elected officials?

Why do we continue to sacrifice the traditions of non Christians to the wolves? Why have we thrown out basic instinct in favor of crony politics to the point that anyone involved with government who tries to do good becomes associated with sin?

If all the so-called terrorists and communists and scalawags surrendered tomorrow, will Peace catch us by surprise? Then what? Wouldn’t the same cry for basic services still haunt the dead as well as living in the Land of Plenty and of Injustice for Some?

Shouldn’t we practice “makulitism”  to achieve equity for all citizens to include the Lumads, Moslems and Christians who know from experience  that tolerance need not necessarily be an ugly word? Give Mindanao the Bangsamoro and true autonomy where they may have it. Shower it with just kindness so the people – Moslems and Lumads and Christian-  may thrive by land or by sea.

The Philippines is one of the greatest nations in the world, and the Filipino people are one of the greatest peoples on earth, admired and envied by their neighbors,  yet  the people and the country do not know it.

And they will never know it if they live and die for a separate peace!