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Interfaith Programs

Interreligious Cooperation Promoted in Mindanao

Cagayan de Oro, Philippines - “Teachers Refuse Mindanao Assignments,” read the headlines of an article in The Manila Times on November 11, 2009. The beheading of school principal, Gabriel Canizares, two days earlier sent a shock of fear throughout the Department of Education and the nation of the Philippines.

Teachers are now refusing to accept postings in Mindanao. Legal experts from the teachers’ union fear there will be a “domino effect” and called on the government to take action to stop the kidnapping and violence.

Against this morbid background, the Mindanao Peace Symposium scheduled for November 11 and 12 went on undeterred. “It was the first time Pentecostal pastors dealt directly with Muslim leaders on issues of peace, cooperation, and mutual understanding,” said Massimo Trombin, International Field Director of the Global Peace Festival, one of the sponsoring organizations.

A coalition of eight sponsors, including government, NGOs, and religious organizations, brought together over 160 participants under the banner, “Peace Development through Inter-Religious Cooperation in Mindanao.”

For two days delegates deliberated and discussed various components of peace—but their approach was very different. Rather than focus on military strategies, arms control, and mechanisms for surrender or ceasefire, they took a journey back into history and looked at their common ancestry.

On the first day, Dr. Ronald Adamat, member of the Government of the Philippines Peace Panel for Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and an advisor to the Office of the President on the Peace Process, gave an update on the current negotiations stressing that the values and sentiments of Mindanaoans must be reflected in any peace agreement.

The next two presentations centered on healing the resentment and division in the House of Abraham, the common ancestor of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Conference organizer and President of the Aid-to-Life Ministries, Rev. William Steel, highlighted the need for reconciliation between, Ishmael and Isaac, since this was the root of the division between the Muslims and Christians today.

Complementing this, Muhammad Riza Dalkilic, President of Risale-I Nur and Executive Director of Service for Peace in Mindanao, underscored the common religiosity between Islam and Christianity since both are revealed religions and seek to reconcile the divide between God and humankind as the foundation for peace on earth.

An overview of the socio-demographics of the tri-peoples (Muslim, Christian, and indigenous people or Lumads) that co-exist in Mindanao followed. This was given by Prof. Rudy Rodil, Director of the Peace Center of the Theosophical Society, as he examined historical and current trends that lead to the current impasse.

The Secretary-General of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front for northern Mindanao, Samie Tagalog, stressed that one of the main impediments to peace occurs when vested interests and personal bias supersede the desire for peace and development.

This laid the foundation for Dr. Ronald Ernst, a professor emeritus from the United States (now living in the Philippines) to explain how prejudices and bias develop. He said they are often self-perpetuating and self-fulfilling, and that they usually emerge within isolated groups.

Life-long advocate for bringing together peace and education, Dr. Estrella Babano, gave four guideposts to achieve peace and development: 1) harmony with God, 2) harmony within yourself, 3) harmony with others, and 4) harmony with the environment. As the director of Department of Education, Region X, Dr. Babano explained why peace must be linked with development. There can be no peace in the midst of economic disparity, she pointed out.

“Peace is something dynamic,” she said, “It deals with human relationship, and these are greatly affected by a number of factors, the biggest of which is our pride or ego.” The key to peace is to become “selfless,” to forget ourselves and seek peace for others first.

Following these six sessions, an equal number of break-out discussion groups followed. They were as diversified as the audience, and they included 12 imams, 30 Pentecostals, 2 Baptists, 35 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, 4 sultans, 5 datus (tribal leaders), 30 Rotarians, 2 Catholics, and 15 Lumads (indigenous people), along with students and staff.

“My attitude was wrong!” With these words, Rev. Steel set the tone for the second day with a heartfelt apology to Muslims in the audience. He asked for forgiveness, saying he had misunderstood the true spirit of Islam. This contrite heart of humility opened hearts and set the stage for healing.

Bishop Temotio Yap, Vice-Chairman of the Aid to Life Ministries and former history teacher, surprised many in the audience by telling them that archeological evidence shows that Islam came to the Philippines before the Spaniards brought Catholicism. He went on to address the root of the problem from a different perspective by saying that, “When our rights are violated, it is natural to fight back.” This he did not question. Bishop Yap did, however, question the over-emphasis on “my rights” and suggested that maybe this was one of the main factors underlying conflict.

Brig. General Ralito Abad, Assistant Division Commander of the 4th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army, described peace initiatives of another kind: “Soldiers as Teachers.” The army is training soldiers to be teachers and deploys them in some of the most backward and dangerous postings. Also “Soldier Doctors” provide medical services using personnel trained by the Philippine Army.

The closeness of Christianity and Islam as outlined by Haleem Baña dazed the audience. The Assistant Executive Director of the Risal-I Nur Institution held conference delegates spell-bound as he listed six similarities between these two religions: 1) Divine Oneness of God, 2) Belief in the Prophets (at least 28 Prophets are mentioned in both the Qur'an and the Bible), 3) Belief in angels, 4) Belief in revelations, 5) Belief in the Day of Judgment, and 6) Belief in predestination.

The fourth speaker of the day was Prof. Adhoud Syed Lingga, the Executive Director of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies in Cotobato City, Mindanao. He strongly suggested that inter-religions dialogue begin by knowing your own religion first. He also said the conflict in Mindanao was not a a conflict between religions but between the Government of the Philippines and the Moros' desire for sovereignty.

Next Mr. Trombin pointed out the importance of service in reconciliation, healing relationships of hatred, and mending broken families. Although the “culture of peace” has many references on the Internet, searching for the phrase “culture of service” yields far fewer references. “And yet,” said Mr. Trombin, “it is service that must be the foundation for peace, because service is transformational.”

The final presentation described the meaning of the Global Peace Festival theme, “One Family Under God.” Most of our social problems can be solved by simply taking the values of the family and projecting them into society. The vertical respect for parents and elders is the model of good governance. On this foundation the equality of democratic values can be built, which originate in the equality of brotherly-sisterly relationships in the the family.

Concluding the symposium, all participants—Christian, Muslim, and Lumad—signed the Mindanao Peace Covenant 2009. It called for the creation of a culture of service and peace to:

  • Encourage religious leaders to begin a ministry of reconciliation among all groups
  • Establish an Interreligious Peace Council based on repentance and forgiveness as the first steps
  • Support elected officials, educators, and leaders of religious and ethnic groups to find common ground as “One Family Under God”

For the full text of the Covenant, click here. For a report on the symposium published in the Gold Star Daily News of Mindanao, click here.

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