ON JANUARY 21, this year, I was requested by Mary Ann Arnado, a renowned alternative lawyer and peace awardee and secretary-general of the Mindanao People?s Caucus -- a civil society movement which is now in the forefront of peace advocacy in Mindanao -- to lead in the opening prayer in time for the Seminar-Workshop on Peace Reportage held in General Santos City on January 21 to 23, 2010.

In partnership with MPC, this activity was sponsored by the European Union (EU), which is one among the few international organizations which regularly assist the victims of the continuing blood-letting in Mindanao. It offers assistance not only in the aspect of cushioning the crushing impact of the war, but also to help create a condition for peace in this troubled Island.

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The seminar-workshop was held as an offshoot of the Maguindanao massacre which practically served as a time-machine which brought us back into the 70?s when our bigotry and prejudice against our Muslim brothers and sisters still reigned supreme in our national consciousness. The activity was, then, designed to set a certain framework through which media reportage would not be able, wittingly or wittingly, to rekindle the flames of social unrest in Mindanao which, following the Maguindanao massacre; had once again become a powder-keg.

To be candid, I am not capable of delivering an impromptu prayer for, as a terribly sinful man, I am not used to it. Adding to my woes was the fact that the request for me to deliver an opening prayer came so close to the occasion that I only have had few minutes to compose a prayer. But, considering that Lawyer Arnado is one person who is very difficult to refuse, I was left with no option but to heed to her call. I then hastily scribbled a prayer and, then, rushed to the venue of the activity.

Compounding my problem was a feeling of dread, imagine, I would be made to deliver a prayer (based on the activity program) before the Ambassador of the European Union (EU), Ambassador Alistair Macdonald; Professor Rudy Rodil, a book author and a renowned Mindanao intellectual; Maureen Mac Phail, of the Unicef; Jaime Espina, Vice President of the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP); Carolyn Arguillas, Editor of MindaNews; Maritess Vitug, of Newsbreak who is an author of various books on the Mindanao struggle; Nora Gamolo, of Manila Times; and Dulce Sanchez, of Philippine Star, among many others.

Certainly, to speak before these people who have devoted a substantial portion of their lives doing social critiques on the affairs of the nation is not, at all, easy. Indeed, it was not easy. When my time came, I approached the rostrum trembling almost uncontrollably and, as a result, when I delivered my prayer, I was not able to consciously check my provincialist accent and pronunciation.

But, despite these fatal defects on the way I delivered the prayer, Romy Elusfa, Secretary of the Board of Directors of COMSTRAT, who acted as a master of ceremony at that time, described it as a ?very powerful prayer?. Some seminar participants also approached to share with me the same impression. In this space, let me share the prayer which I hastily right for the above-mentioned occasion. Here it is:

God Almighty, From far and near, we come and gather before you to celebrate press freedom as we continue to grieve for our fallen comrades, and, at the same time, seek protection for the rest of us who were not there in Maguindanao, and who still live.

We assemble before you today to declare to all and sundry, including the axis of evil responsible for the carnage in Maguindanao, that we have had permanently painted in our collective memory the incident that had shocked the world, and instilled the march of modern civilization.

We are here to declare that we have not forgotten those who perished before us; that we cannot falter in our quest for their justice; and that we cannot stop in our resolve to make press freedom free.

We are gathered before you today to declare that press freedom is immortal; it cannot be imprisoned; it cannot be buried; it cannot die. Before Your people, we declare that press freedom is an abstraction that cannot be torn apart, and cannot be mangled by any powerful instruments of death.

We are here to declare that killing media persons would only make press freedom even more magically powerful and vibrant, and this is because the death of a media practitioner is the very fortress of its invincibility.

The death of press freedom is the death of a nation, as its demise means the absence of an indispensable element in the summation and distillation of the people?s experiences which are necessary for cultural cohesion and for the continuity of the race.

Finally, we are gathered here today to help create a society where media persons are not offered in the altar of sacrifice in the processes of its becoming and self-correction. We are here to serve the welfare and interest of the living.

We heartily summon Your divine blessings so that we may be able to contribute in the task of building a society where there is no need for media persons to die so it could free itself from the shackles of injustice, ignorance, oppression and poverty.

Dear God, you know that it is not always necessary for media persons to die so that society may live. So, then, help us find the way.

By the way, politics in Gensan and Sarangani are now becoming livelier and livelier as we approach the start of the campaign period. Political parties are now in fidgety recruiting leaders, and attending community-based fora and doing all forms of electoral campaigning in blatant travesty of the election law.

However, the Achievement with Integrity Movement (AIM), the party of Congresswoman Darlene R. Antonino-Custodio, who is now running for city mayor, and City Mayor Pedro B. Acharon, Jr., who is now running for Congressman, seems so relaxed and unaffected by the heating electoral fever.

On the other hand, the Sarangani Reconciliation and Reformation Organization (SARRO), of Governor Migs Dominguez, who still batting for reelection and Roy Chiongbian, who is a candidate for the lone congressional district of Sarangani, remains to be in a jovial mood, without any trace of worry, at all.

Probably, the reason for this is the fact that these tension-free electoral parties are nurturing their organizational life, with or without elections.

Thus, they are now confident in the formidability of their respective parties, on the public acceptance of the competence and integrity of their candidates, and on the great public impact of their achievements, in the field of economic development, democratic and effective governance, in the preservation and celebration of culture, and on the efficacy of their vision.