For 24 hours, I won't be eating anything. I am praying and fasting for peace amidst the escalating armed conflict in central and western Mindanao during the month of Ramadan. I will be doing this every Friday, starting today. I will still be fasting on the other days of the week but it will be the traditional Catholic type of fasting - this means eating only one meal a day.
I am saddened by the turn of events. The government has abandoned the peace negotiation with the MILF due to the attacks and atrocities perpetrated by two units of the MILF on civilians. There is an ongoing hunt for these groups. The bombings carried out against the MILF positions has collateral damage. There are civilians - both Muslims and Christians - in various evacuation centers. The Philippine military has vowed that there would be no let down on their operations even during the month of the Ramadan. Meanwhile, Christian vigilante groups have sprouted to defend themselves from MILF attacks. I am concerned that this can turn into a Christian-Muslim conflict.
There is nothing much I can do. I feel so helpless in the midst of this seemingly hopeless situation. I cannot bike for peace across the war-torn areas - the classes have already started and besides I am afraid to be caught in the cross-fire. So I can only fast and pray.
Being a Christian, I am observing a fast to express my solidarity with Muslims in Mindanao who are fasting today. Way back in the 1980s, the late Bishop Benny Tudtud of the Prelature of Marawi and the Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference introduced the "Duyog Ramadan." It was an invitation for Christians to reach out to the Muslims during the Ramadan in order to engage in a dialogue of life and faith. It was during the height of the armed conflict between the MNLF and the government. Today, I am doing the same. As I fast, I also remember in a special way theMuslims who have become close to me - my friends and partners in dialogue whom I consider my "relatives", not by blood, but by a common faith in the One God - the God of Abraham (Ibrahim), Isaac, Ishmael and Jacob. The God whom Jesus (Isa ibn Maryam, al Masih, al Nabi) calls Father. The same God that Muhammad (pbuh) worshipped.
As I fast, I also pray that that this armed conflict will not worsen Christian-Muslim relations. Above all I pray that it will stop. This war has already claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.
I pray that President Arroyo will have more patience and not allow these attacks, which the MILF leadership denied ordering, to scuttle the peace negotiations. May she not make impossible pre-conditions (such as disarmament, demobilization or integration) for talks to continue. These are supposed to be discussed at the later phase of the negotiations once agreement has been reached.
I pray that the MILF leadership show convincing proof that it is investigating and intend to punish the local MILF commanders responsible for the atrocities. May they not make the signing of the MOA-AD a precondition for peace negotiations to continue. May the become aware that majority of Filipinos cannot accept the dismemberment of the nation as the cost for peace.
I pray that Christians and Muslims and Lumads learn to accept that the land and all its resources belong to God and should be shared by all - by this generation and the next. "There is enough for everyone's need, but not for everyone's greed."
What is needed is an all-out peace, not an all-out war. May the new peace panel be reconstituted soon. This what I am praying and fasting for.
Government leaders and politicians who live in safety and comfort in Manila should think about people in Mindanao who are the ones to face the consequences of an all-out war policy.