I joined the “Marching for Peace, Serving the Countryside” activities last August 10, 17 and 18. This is a peace-building initiative that was identified by the security sector and fully supported by the Provincial Government through its Provincial Peace Integration and Development Unit (Pro-PIDU) under the Provincial Planning and Development Office (PPDO). The Civil Society Organizations/Non-Government Organizations (CSOs/NGOs) have been involved in one way or another with the Pro-PIDU as major stakeholders in the process of achieving peace especially in Negros. Though I (and our office) have been invited several times in the past years to join the march, it was only this year that I am able to make it for 3 out of 8 days though I really wanted to be present in all the scheduled trips.
The Quest for Peace
The long-drawn quest for peace has always been central in our development work believing that like a two-sided coin, the other side of peace is development and that one cannot be achieved without the other. This is an exhortation coming from the Church through Pope Paul VI who wrote in his 1967 encyclical, Populorum Progressio that, “Development is the new name for Peace”. This is the perspective which we have embraced as we continue to face the challenges in development work within the institution and without to include our community partners and the dynamics of a larger and more complex society.
Caught up in everyday struggles though, the word “peace” has become a motherhood statement that we cannot seem to ground in our own reality, including within our hearts and minds. It has become so farfetched and difficult to achieve and as wars continue, other forms of conflict abound, and with the general restiveness of a society, the more elusive it becomes.
Methinks that the quest must come from within. The outer conviction should be rooted in a deeper sense of self, that inner conviction that peace should be lived out from within. I am of this thinking that’s why I refused to study a course on peace before, saying that I am not yet at peace so therefore I can’t study “peace.” I wanted peace to take root in me (or at the very least that strong conviction) before I go out proclaiming that “I am for peace.”
I think that was still my “push” when I finally decided two weeks ago that I should be part of the “Marching for Peace” in the 6th District of Negros Occidental. Another motivation was that, I spent 7 full years of my life working for development in Cauayan with our fisherfolk and women partners so if there is one place I would want to connect to and contribute a little something and even rediscover that would be Southern Negros.
The Inner Quest
I am also on a journey of reigniting the fire within having been subjected to so many things these past months, both in the workplace and in my personal life. There were too many to take in and though I have borne all with grace under pressure, mastering the art of shielding the outside from the inside and vice-versa, the heart was also restless and the soul encumbered. Everything seemed well…or so I thought… But, the nagging feeling to be away for a while, to retreat and get out of my everyday reality was answered by the invitation to join the march and metaphorically, to “go up the mountains” and take the higher view. My heart was glad and excited. Just the thought uplifted my soul. There’s simply so much “fog” to deal with inside my head and my heart that the march was like a taillight to follow.
The Daily March
Unobstructed by my internal fog, the march was really inspiring and energizing. It was good to see the efforts of the provincial and the local government and the security sector as they reached out to the people. As we all know, basic social services in many far-flung areas have yet to reach the poorest of the poor and the march has somehow addressed some of their needs. Seeing the people flock to the schools where the activities were held tugged at my heart. I think that they were also receptive of this initiative. Representatives from the different government agencies were there to give services and listen to the people during dialogues and informal conversations.
The security sector is another story. The experiences in the past had left deep imprints of human rights abuses and these wounds have left scars that some are still in the process of healing, even to this day. So, seeing the Philippine Army and the Philippine National Police taking the lead in the activities (and sincerely so) and eating side by side with the people during the “boodle” lunch was another source of inspiration and hope. It was so different from what we have known and experienced. To feel secured with the military around was something new, even for me.
Simultaneously, there were medical and dental services, haircut, massage, veterinary services, activities with kids, circumcision, giving out of food packs, mural painting, distribution of seedlings, and others. And, there was the “boodle” lunch, of course, which fostered solidarity among the participants of the march. More than anything else I guess, the presence of people from the government and the security sector made the community felt attended to and cared for. For me, this was more important.
Trying to be useful, I joined the Provincial Social Welfare Department in listing families to get the food packs. Again, there was the familiar tug seeing poverty written in people’s faces and in their gait. I tried to be more present and sensitive to them, which was the very least I could do as I listed down their names and other data needed, one after the other. There were times I had to keep myself from being emotional as I look beyond what I was actually seeing. How can there be peace when there is so much poverty? How can they dream beyond subsistence living? What does the future hold for these children and their families? Will there be something on their table after they consumed the food pack? On and on, the mind generated questions without easy answers and I can only whisper them all to the mountains, the valleys, the wind, the rocks, and the skies that we passed by, knowing and trusting that Someone holds the answers.
Coming down from the mountains (my insights)
When I went back to the office after each day from the march, I saw that my concerns were smaller than I perceived them to be, hours or days before. I thought of the bigger battles, of the bigger challenges to do more for social transformation amidst poverty, social injustice, underdevelopment, cultural breakdown, family disintegration, climate change and a whole lot more. So, how is it that I have allowed the “little battles” to pull me down and dampen my spirit making me forget the bigger ones?
Joining the march made me pause and reflect on my life’s mission—to contribute to social transformation even as I am transforming myself in the process. It reminded me of my reason for waking each morning (“Para kanino ka bumabangon?” question) and that is to work on becoming more human, a good human being at that, with and for others and for our God. I was reminded not to get stuck in the daily concerns but rather continually connect to the bigger questions and not to focus on smaller battles which have little or no significance at all in the higher scheme of things. I am reminded to always be grounded on social realities but more so to people, not just the issues and ideals, but to the really vulnerable and marginalized people who suffer daily because our social structures and systems continue to tilt favorably on the side of the economically and politically powerful.
Traversing the long and winding roads, withstanding weather conditions, and facing possible security concerns, the march strengthened my resolve to continue working for peace and development. It is not easy but I pray that we will never get tired of doing our share as we continue to make ourselves living signs of peace. I have reaffirmed the conviction that indeed there is no other way to peace but through peaceful means. It enlivens my hope that peace is in the offing…that peace is possible…that I should never give up on any effort, however little it may seem, to bring about peace in our land. I don’t want to sound rhetorical, but, truly this is how I feel. It wasn’t just a march to achieve peace in Southern Negros. What I saw and experienced pierced through me and connected me to my inner self where love and compassion, peace and faith take root. It was a march inward to touch base with inner peace and love…marching deeper within where God silently dwells.
“Fangirling” for a cause
On the lighter side, I was also a “fangirl” during the march. I was following closely the Philippine Army and the PPDO/Pro-PIDU people. They were standouts. One of those whom I have come to deeply respect and admire is LTC Jose Dodjie Belloga. LTC Belloga’s gentle and non-threatening countenance, dedication and hard work made such a deep impression on me. Though I bombarded him with serious and nonsensical messages and questions, he patiently answered me and I was learning a lot from him and the life he leads and the rest of the troops. I see from another angle the meaning of “living in the present moment,” the simplicity of life in them, even detachment from worldly things, the capacity to risk everything for a greater cause, the readiness to face whatever happens in the field and more… While I share some of these in my own way of life, still, there was so much to learn and reflect. I was also “fangirling” Dr. Marlin Sanogal and the PPDO staff. Their impact is such that I would want to work with them. I have seen their commitment and sacrifices — coming early every day and making sure that logistical needs were attended to and all the nitty-gritty for the day. I told Ms Marlin, I want to be mentored by her. She is honest, hardworking, open and very affirming as well. I salute them and the institutions they represent. To them I owe deep gratitude for the meaningful “March for Peace” experience, the encouragement, the inspiration, and the friendship.