Last month has been full of many surprises for the people in Mindanao, particularly in the place where I am currently residing, Iligan City and some towns nearby of Lanao del Norte.
Our Land Mindanao is supposed to be called a Promised Land,a big island of the Philippine archipelago, with vast natural resources, comprising of peoples from different cultures and religion, particularly the Christians, the Muslims and the Lumads. Development is sprouting from various provinces but now and then threat to its peace is constantly made.
Although born in Cagayan de Oro City, I grew up in a far away mountain of Taparak, Alubijid, Misamis Oriental here in Mindanao. I have spent the first 12 years of my childhood in that place. I have enjoyed immensely the vastness of nature within my reach. I have swam the river especially when there's big flood with my playmate cousins defying safety warning of our parents; I have climbed trees, the mountains and most of all I enjoyed the thought of making that place the only world I had known. To me, it was my own, I was part of that nature! Nonetheless, I knew there's a world out there, where proper education and hard work would allow me to explore.
Then in my quest for knowledge, I have to be in places that's not just there in that one small barangay. I have finished my high school education in Cagayan de Oro City where my father used to work. Since my parents could not afford to send me to private universities in Cagayan de Oro City, I grabbed the chance of being a scholar in a state university in Iligan City. Way back then, for us Kagay-anons, Iligan is a dangerous place, especially that it is near to Marawi City, most especially for me because the only time I have visited Iligan was when we attend the funeral of my father's first degree cousin who was killed in the campus of Mindanao State University in Marawi City. Then the next time I came,four years thereafter, was when the father of that killed uncle, the brother of my father's mother, was killed in same university. They were both university professors. My father had many apprehensions in my quest for knowledge in that place. Although I have many relatives in Iligan city, I opted to live in a boarding house near the university.
As a university student living away from home at such a young age, chances of being into wrong company and places are high. But I made a decision to choose the people I interact with. My growing love for God which has started in my childhood has now grown into a desire to a deeper understanding of His will in my life, to a growing effort of knowing Him theologically and more importantly in how to translate this faith in me into an authentic living of a Christ-centered life.
It was in those years that I have come to met many people from all over provinces of Mindanao. We are all away from home, away from our parents, but most of us decided to finish what we came there for, a good education. I had dirscovered and embraced variety of culture, variety of people, intelligent classmates, intellectual professors, good workers, socially-involved people and of course we had the chance to meet and experience the local culture of Iligan people.
During my stay in Iligan City, I cannot help but always include the presence of the person who has made a significant change in my general attitude towards life, towards my faith and towards people. He is a French priest missionary, Fr. Michel de Gigord, whose founding of chaplaincy dedicated to the nurturance of the youth of the university made an impact on many students lives, that includes me. Being a daily communicant, everyday I heard his homily challenging us young people to be good leaders, to dare to make a difference, no matter how trivial our work seem to be. He would often coach us to be passionate about God, about people and to have the courage to make a stand for the truth. His powerful words probably prompted by the Holy Spirit heavily entered into my soul and I made a decision that I shall always love God, always do things for His people, and that no matter how seemingly insignificant I am in a society, carrying God's truth, would guide every decision that I make. These learnings are things I carry wherever I go.
Thus, after finishing two degrees in the state university,I found myself leaving the city as it lacks opportunity of employment for me. I worked in Manila and stayed there for five (5) years. I made every learning I had in a place much more away from home. There a new culture entered into me. But this time, I was bombarded with many questions, of a seemingly wandering life, of no purpose, driven by guilt that I seem to just survive and not truly live. I have met a many beautiful and good friends especially in an orphanage community that I joined into. The experience of reality of how harsh life could be and how one could possibly lead a different life from what you had always believed as the truth was very present. I seemed not to care anymore of the place from whom I have come to know God, I have come to know nature and I have come to know many people I truly care about.
But fate led me back here in Iligan when I married my former closest friend in the college of law, the then first time incumbent Barangay Captain of Kiwalan, Iligan City, Roderico Y. Dumaug,Jr. I had few adjustments on lifestyle, on dealing with people, and most of all the place. There is much difference of Iligan City from Manila. But I made an extra effort to go back again and immerse myself once again in the culture that raised me up. I understood how places influence the way people behave and in viewing life in general. I am no exemption to it.
Day by day, I met people, active people both in politics and in the church. Then little by little I seem to understand why I am back here. This is the place where I am most productive, where I don't spend much of my time in a traffic jam, where I inhale fresh air everyday, where seas are within my reach, where water is cheap, where people are concern of values and relationship , where a lot of people really needs help, where I grow to be truly concern and show love and compassion for each.
But then, the recent thing that happen here in Lanao del Norte and even here in Iligan City created a truly devastating effect on the people's lives. And I have to admit, I too, was disturbed of the occurence. I could not help but feel insulted, trampled upon on my right and truly felt a sense of indignity of the inclusion of 82% of Iligan City territory in the aborted Bangsamoro Juridical Entity(BJE) which was supposed to be signed in Malaysia last August 5, 2008. The ruling of the Supreme Court against the signing prompted the MILF Forces to attack innocent civilians in the towns of Lanao del Norte, beheaded them and leaving women and children in shambles. Military troops arrived seven hours late since the attack occured.
Now and then Senators and Congressmen, Cabinet Secretaries arrived in this city to see the effect of the attack on the people's lives and some various organizations especially the church made an effort to resolve the conflict, trying to do it in God's way. There remains a constant threat from the MILF to take over the city and the municipalities, leaving people unable to do productive works save those who choose to be productive.
However, I have always believed that nothing will ever destroy people who have deep believe in God and by constantly praying for peace. We have no other recourse but to place ourselves in prayer. Now that the feast of the Patron Saint of Iligan is coming, September 29, 2008, people of Iligan are hoping that once again, St. Michael the Archangel, will protect us all! That people from various cultures and faith, may stay in peace once again. And I still really pray that our national leaders and selfless bandits will come and pray in reverence for Love and Peace. May they be truly enlightened and know that God never aspires for our suffering, through relentless killings and violence. And that may they aspire real dialogue, which can only come from a truly peaceful and loving heart, free from desire to power, money and dictatorship.
I stand that those who made those attack against the innocent civilians be brought to justice and until they are surrendered, then harrassment can always occur now and then. Military offensives against their camps are on going and I hope that along the way, no innocent lives would still be included. I pray for our military forces, especially praying for the wisdom of our leaders, enlightenment to our President and may selfish leaders start to be the leader that God would have wanted them to be!
Meanwhile, we can help a lot by praying for Iligan City,in Mindanao and the whole country! Let's continue to believe that Someone Greater than all of Us is up there believing that we'll all come to Him, as He is God and our Creator, regardless of faith or way of life we adhere into.