Abp. Antonio Ledesma, SJ

As we approach the first anniversary of the Marawi Siege that started on May 23, 2017, several questions have begun to loom large. What is the future of Marawi? How do we help the thousands of internally displaced persons return to their homes or new surroundings? What will happen to the second draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law now pending in Congress? How do we address the specter of violent extremism that may be spreading to other parts of Mindanao? What is the role of religious leaders? What is the contribution of schools as well as of ordinary communities of Christians, Muslims and indigenous people in building a Culture of Peace?

These were some of the questions addressed by twelve Catholic bishops and twelve Muslim religious leaders in a dialogue meeting on “Marawi and Beyond” held in Cagayan de Oro City on April 12, 2018. The bishops represented their arch/dioceses of Ozamis, Dipolog, Pagadian, Ipil, Isabela, Jolo, Cagayan de Oro, Malaybalay, Surigao, Tandag, Davao, and the Prelature of St. Mary’s in Marawi. The Muslim religious leaders represented several organizations of ulama and imams; peace and interfaith centers; and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. They came from Cotabato, Maguindanao, Pagadian, Marawi and Cagayan de Oro.

The dialogue meeting started with a video interview of a Muslim leader who recounted his actions in bringing to safety his Christian companions at the outbreak of the fighting in the downtown area of Marawi. Bishop Edwin de la Peña of Marawi then described the creation of Duyog Marawi, a collaborative effort spearheaded by the prelature to mobilize Muslim and Christian volunteers for the ongoing relief work that was being undertaken, particularly along the “peace corridor” opened up by the MILF along the other side of Lake Lanao across Marawi.

The participants then took turns in expressing their concerns and perspectives on the post-Marawi siege situation. Seven summary observations can be highlighted.

1) Not too long ago, there were harmonious relations among Christian and Muslim communities. We need to restore these relationships of trust and mutual caring.

2) We are all against violent extremism. The attraction is particularly felt among the younger Muslims who are frustrated by the lack of fulfillment of earlier promises and the long delay in passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law which would be the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

3) Muslim and Christian religious leaders should be united in working for a Culture of Peace in Mindanao and the rest of the country. Both Islam and Christianity are religions of peace. Religious leaders are the respected promoters of values for their communities.

4) The displaced residents of Marawi should be allowed to participate in the rehabilitation plan for their city. They have suffered much already in evacuation centers or in cramped quarters with their relatives in neighboring cities.

5) Many of the Marawi residents do not have titles or other documents to their occupied lands. By custom and tradition they have been living there without the need for formalities. Hence, this will pose a challenge to authorities who have earlier expressed the requirement of at least some tax or land declaration.

6) The role of schools and the Madrasah system in promoting peace education is indispensable. The Department of Education plays a crucial role in introducing peace education in the curriculum.

7) There is need to look after the long-term solution by transforming the minds and hearts of all stakeholders in Mindanao. Concretely the passage of the BBL can provide a sustainable framework for the peace and development of Mindanao.

In the course of the discussions, many participants recommended a wider gathering of religious leaders to stress the importance of religious and spiritual values that go beyond merely political solutions in resolving the age-old problem of social conflict in Mindanao.

Two days later after the dialogue meeting, the Catholic bishops accompanied Bishop De la Peña on a sentimental visit to his war-torn church and bishop’s house at Ground Zero in Marawi City. Part of the flooring was still wet from the rains that went through the pock-marked roofing. We looked at the disfigured statues that had been dismembered by some youthful ISIS fighters. This was done and shown on video during the first day of the siege when the attackers also held hostage Fr. Chito Suganob and a number of his church staff. At this moment, we recalled the saying of several Muslim religious leaders in our dialogue, denouncing these acts of violence as un-Islamic and not the true face of a religion of peace.

May the first anniversary of the Marawi siege then be a clarion call for both Christians and Muslims to look beyond and work together in forging a Culture of Peace and Development for the island-world of Mindanao.

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“Opus Solidaritatis Pax”

+Antonio J. Ledesma, SJ
Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro
Archbishop’s Residence
Fernandez St., Brgy. 1
P.O. Box 113
9000 Cagayan de Oro City
Misamis Oriental, Philippines
Telefax: (088) 857-1357
Email Address: acdo_chancery@yahoo.com

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