THIS week, we are commemorating two dark moments in the histories of our nation and our province: the declaration placing the Philippines under Martial Law fifty years ago and the Escalante Massacre thirty-seven years ago.
The two events are inexorably tied together, as it was during a protest action commemorating 13 years since the dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. declared Martial Law that civilians in Escalante, Negros Occidental were mercilessly gunned down by paramilitary forces. More than 20 were reported dead from the contingent of farmers, students, urban poor, and religious folk who organized the said protest action. It is a day that will live in infamy, and captures the state of our political and civil liberties under the rule of the deceased dictator.
Presently, we are three months into the presidency of Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the dictator’s son. As we grapple and try to make sense of what his rise to the highest office in the land means to our national identity and collective appreciation of history, we are also faced with current realities and challenges that demand attention and focus. There are many of us Filipinos who call on their countrymen to “move on” for the sake of healing. If not, for the sake of unity against the trials of the present. But for others, for those who remember, this is easier said than done.
Make no mistake: the desire for unity is a noble one. Within it is the desire for harmony; for peace. As Christians, we are told by no less than our Lord that those who work for peace are blessed, for they shall be called the children of God. And even just by looking at the consequences of violence and conflict, it is imperative for any compassionate individual to work towards peace. However, many of us who have lived through troubled times, fragmented households, and communities in conflict may not even know what peace means. For a number of people, peace means simply silence, or to have things operate as they
always have, without anyone pointing out if there is something wrong or needs change.
Our faith makes no such mistake. Peace, as was taught by St. John XXIII during the height of the Cold War was more profound than the absence of conflict. During his papacy, St. John XXIII illustrated peace as a quadrilateral - a square - consisting of four pillars: Truth, Justice, Solidarity, and Freedom. The task of peace builders, therefore, is to foster and cultivate these
Upholding truth means the recognition and respect for the dignity of the human person, regardless of our differences. Today, it is quite easy to paint those who disagree with us or those whose beliefs do not align with ours as an enemy. Some even paint other people literal colors - red, pink, yellow - to automatically disregard their concerns and disrespect their humanity. This makes our common quest for uncovering and upholding truth impossible.
To build peace, we must open our minds to what different points of view may teach us, as well as examine our own flaws in logic, failure to investigate, and capacity to be biased. In order to do that, we must first recognize the humanity in ourselves and our neighbors.
Pursuing justice means two things: the fulfillment of duty and the recognition of rights. In order to build peace, we must not only recognize one another’s dignity, but serve one another through making good on our responsibilities. For citizens, this means engaging in activities which will help one’s neighbors and one’s community. For public servants, this means
desisting from abuses of power, and allowing one’s self to be criticized and be held accountable for one’s actions. It is only in an environment where duties and responsibilities are clear and are recognized that differences can be reconciled and debts can be fairly settled.
Fostering solidarity, meanwhile, means building opportunities for cooperation. As we recognize the dignity of each person and our responsibility to one another, we must also find common problems which we can and must solve together. Unfortunately, we have such problems in abundance. Fortunately, this means that we are not lacking in opportunities to work together. It is naive and impractical to think that we can only truly make a difference working with people we “like.” The truth is we only grow to “like” people when we make a difference together. It is journeying together in a common pursuit of good things that the
superficial differences fall away, and the true sources of conflict can finally be addressed.
And lastly, fostering freedom. This means respecting each other’s free will enough that we can accept that not everyone will make the right choices, or even just the same choices we have. While we recognize the humanity in others, while we serve them, and even while we continue to work with them in worthy projects, we must understand that this does not mean we will all be the same. Ironically, it is only upon the acceptance and embracing of differences that we can be truly united. And only in such an environment of mutual respect can such peace truly arises.
Still, all these remain easier said than done. But the difference is that our goal of peace is clearer, and cannot be confused with the mere silencing of grievances or suppressing differing views. It is not a peace which will answer cries of pain and dissent with bullets. It is not a peace which lets the abuse and murder of one’s neighbors go unpunished after half a century. And it is not a peace which will justify such horrendous acts for any reason.
It is a peace that remembers. That recognizes the humanity in each person disappeared. Each person wantonly “salvaged.” It is a peace that does not ask: “How can we make the noises go away?” It is a peace that asks: “How can we right the wrongs of the past?” Wounds do not heal when we ignore them. We acknowledge them, clean them, tend to them, so that we can stop the bleeding and keep them from worsening. The same is true for both our physical wounds and our historical wounds. While it is tempting to deny that they exist, we will always feel the pain - and they will always stand to worsen - if we ignore them for the
sake of the empty goal of “moving on.”
Many of those who want to silence survivors, historians, and the families and friends of those who have fallen during the dictatorship of Marcos have one battlecry: Move on. Today, let us challenge that sentiment. Let us move on towards a society which recognizes human dignity, where people are responsible for and accountable to one another, and which pursues the common good while respecting each other’s freedoms.
Let us start today, by remembering both the sins and lessons of the past. And may we all, in unity, never forget.
September 22, 2022
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