I grew up in the island of Mindanao, Philippines. I was immune of the conflict that arose between the Christian and Muslim Communities. While growing up, the news about Muslim and Christians killing each other in separate ambushes was an ordinary part of our week. When events such as this happened, the corpses would be brought to our town’s auditorium for the relatives to claim.
It was really a sad sight. Members of families: parents, daughters, sons, grandparents, children, all died simultaneously. Others died in ambush, and others died in massacres while asleep in their homes. It was hard to trace who started it all because the conflict had been there for decades. If you were unlucky, you would be considered a payment for what one community did to the other community. On and on it went. And the hard truth is, the victims were always the innocent ones.
I could recall some of the incidents. One was when I was in fourth grade. The two conflicting tribes of the Muslim community had a redo (the term used to describe a conflict between tribes). It happened that members of these tribes met in front of our public market. The clash resulted in gun shooting and killing four people: two Muslims and two Christians. It were stray bullets that killed the Christians. The saddest part that tore our hearts apart was one victim was my schoolmate. At the time, he was on duty at the store of our neighbor. He worked there to pay for his studies. He was thirteen years old and was soon to graduate from elementary with honors. His dreams and his family’s died with him.
The other incident was an ambush in the fields. A group of our neighbors went to the highlands to harvest coconut fruits from their fields. Tragically, they were ambushed by Muslim rebels. Most of them died. Only few managed to escape. One victim was the mother of our playmate. The ambush happened in the morning. No one heard the news immediately because there was yet no cellphones in the eighties. In the afternoon, our neighbor was soon to graduate valedictorian in high school. She waited for the mother who no longer would come.
The other incident was a massacre in our neighboring barangay. My father went there to collect payment from his customers of our dried fish business. He was devastated to know that the whole family died during the night of massacre. With them our business died too.
Should I add that my youngest brother was born at the house of our family’s friend when we evacuated there? Yes, we always evacuate for fear of armed men coming down on our town. This conflict even escalated in the year 2000 when our then President had to give an ultimatum for the Muslim rebels in which many died on both sides.
As Christians, this is our story. I know the Muslims too have their own story to tell. To end the conflict, the Muslims requested for a full autonomy in Mindanao. It should had been granted to them by the previous government had not the Mamasapano incident happened. Now the issue is at the hands of the new government. Whether they would give the autonomy or not, the conflict would still go on, I am afraid because the Christians are also doubtful of it. Whatever, we do hope and pray that we all will have a complete autonomy of ourselves where no greed and racism corrupt us.
Have a purposeful day!