I ATTENDED a three-day Spirituality Forum Seminar in Manila. One of the speakers, a close friend of mine, Ed dela Torre, spoke on the topic Spirituality and Politics. The speaker was introduced as an "ex-prisoner, ex-priest and ex-rebel."

While Ed was speaking I felt much affinity with him since I went through the same stages as Ed, ex-prisoner, ex-priest and ex-rebel. During his talk I lived through these stages again, that I was arrested by the military in Iligan City because of my involvement in the labor movement. Subsequently I was deported by Marcos as an undesirable alien.

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When I was able to return to the country in 1973, I joined, like Ed dela Torre, the anti-Marcos resistance movement, sympathizing also with the cause of the National Democratic Front. At the 1986 Edsa Uprising I was no longer in Manila. I got a new assignment as parish priest in San Francisco, Agusan del Sur, where I had a traumatic experience which led me to the decision to leave the priesthood and get married.

That was in 1985-'86 when in Agusan the infamous Ahos Campaign was launched by the NPA. Around fifty activists in Agusan, suspected of being infiltrators were summoned to go to the mountains for investigation. Among them were two parish workers of our Parish in San Francisco. None of them ever returned.

We found their bodies, still in chains and buried in mass graves in the mountains of Antongalan near Butuan City. One of them was Manoling Malicay, the husband of Lorna "Angging" Ocaya, who was a social worker in our parish. The other one was Loloy Algones, the husband of an elder sister of Lorna, Lou Ocaya. Two years after that tragedy I decided to marry Angging and to adopt their 6 children, who ranged in age from 2-12 years old, as my own.

Clearly as a blessing from God we received also after three years a child of our own, who is now 18 years old and is in 3rd year college in Xavier University. I had wanted to give her the name Dieu-donnee - Gift of God - but instead I called her after my mother and my wife's mother: Elisabeth, Arendina, Buena, in short Liesbeth.

Because of this traumatic experience, I had a falling-out with the movement. I then could not forgive them the grave mistake they had made in the DPA campaign, even torturing their prisoners in order to force them to admit that they were infiltrators. But in the process also I had second thoughts about armed struggle. A protracted armed struggle cannot be the solution. There is a need for serious peace negotiations in order to end this insane war where Filipinos are killing Filipinos.

When I was in Manila for the Spirituality Forum I had hoped that with the help of some fellow volunteer campaigners of Noynoy Aquino, we could have arranged a meeting with Noynoy to discuss the problem of the peace negotiations. I would have liked to propose to Noynoy to invite the peace panel of the NDF to come back to the Philippines to continue the peace negotiations here. This could be a gesture of goodwill on the part of our government. After all, they have nothing to fear anymore from the Armed Forces. They do not have to lay down their arms but there should be an absolute ceasefire on both sides of the warring parties while the peace negotiations are going on. Would this be too much to ask from our friends in Utrecht?

If they are really serious and they want peace, then this is their chance, with Noynoy Aquino as President of the Philippines. One of the positive effects of my attending the Spirituality Forum, in particular the talk of Ed dela Torre, is that I have learned to forgive and to reconcile with my "enemies".

This attitude, I believe, should prevail also in the peace negotiations. Luis Jalandoni, the chairman of the NDF, is another good friend of mine. He is also an ex-priest. I pray that he would see the light now and cease the opportunity under the presidency of Noynoy Aquino, to definitely make an end to the armed rebellion in the Philippines.

Finally, if I could have realized that meeting with Noynoy Aquino, I would have taken that opportunity to ask his help to apply for Filipino citizenship. That was my campaign promise to Noynoy, to pledge my complete loyalty to the Filipino nation as soon as Noynoy is our president. I hope I can do this very soon, provided it doesn't cost me too much money. After my hospitalization and that of my mother-in-law I am deeply into the red. But definitely, cost what cost, the Filipino is now worth dying for, not as a rebel but as a true Filipino. (For your comments email: arnvv@yahoo.com or call: 851-9809)