Zamboanga (Fides Service) – “The only possible way to end the conflict in southern Philippines is to promote dialogue and marginalise the more radical rebel fringes”. This is the opinion of Father Sebastian D’Ambra, a missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, (PIME) presently working in Zamboanga City, Mindanao, where he is director of the interreligious Institute Silsilah. Father D’Ambra says the Moro Islamic Front MILF, wants peace as it demonstrated by its recent unilateral decision for a cease-fire.
“The people of Mindanao, Christians and Muslims – the missionary says – would do anything to return to a situation of peace. Of course the local problems are many: poverty, underdevelopment, displaced persons. In Cotabato, in the centre of the island there are still many displaced people who are afraid to return to their homes: people are disheartened because this has happened before: in 2000 they left their homes and then returned. Today once again violence forces them to flee. Some Christians in Mindanao feel that military intervention is necessary to eliminate terrorism, but many think that war is not a solution. Military intervention only increases hostility towards the army and the government among Muslims and it generates fear. There is a danger that, this humus may breed groups of suicide bombers! This possibility has been voiced by certain extremist fringes also because of the example of suicide bombings in the Middle East and Iraq”.
To defuse this danger, according to Father D’Ambra, it is necessary to encourage dialogue, as is being done by some local organisations, the Silsilah Movements and the Bishops Ulama Conference, which has considerable moral authority and can have a positive effect on peace negotiations. “In Mindanao there is not only violence” the priest remarks.
“The work of educating to peace is slow – he continues - it requires patience. It must be done in schools, in city squares, in families. In Mindanao there are several groups and organisations working in this field. For us here at Silsilah, dialogue is a spiritual journey which leads to peace. The culture of dialogue as the path to peace is understood and accepted by Christians and Muslims. We must find in the Christian and Muslim faiths motivations which give the strength to cultivate a spirituality of dialogue”.
How can the path of peace be supported? Father D’Ambra explains: “Through a personal journey which gradually involves the community. In this process the religious belief cannot be neglected since it gives individuals and groups the deep lying motives for this activity. This is obvious particularly among young people”.
With regard to the conflict in southern Philippines, Father D’Ambra recalls that “we cannot forget the international context and the war on terrorism launched by the United States. The Philippine government has always given full support to the policies of the US which increased the presence its military in southern Philippines to help eliminate terrorist groups which infest the area such as Abu Sayyaf which some say is connected with Al Qaeda”.
Abu Sayyaf is on the Philippine government’s list of terrorist groups; also recently added to the list, the New People’s Army, an old pro Communist group, but not yet on the list MILF: to label it as terrorist, would mean to eliminate any chance of negotiation. “I hope they will not make this mistake – the missionary concludes. The only possible path is to promote dialogue and to marginalise radical extremist fringes”. PA (Fides Service 16/6/2003 EM lines 49 Words: 594)