I took my seat next to Tony Meloto. He is the father to many – especially the poor of the Philippines – and also happens to be my “Papa”, my God Father.
We were on a flight to his hometown, Bacolod. I have never been to the Visayas region before this. In this trip, we would visit three cities: Bacolod, Iloilo and Capiz. Once again, I found myself on a plane bound for a foreign place.
This brought back memories of our trip back in 2009 when Papa took me to Mindanao, a place stained with a history of bloodshed, anger, tears, violence and much hatred. Yet through Gawad Kalinga, peace is returning to this war-torn land in the most remarkable way.
Our trip then took us to one of the high-risk areas in Mindanao, Bangsamoro.
My original film crew resigned upon learning that we were going there. They genuinely feared for their lives. However, it did not stop me and I cannot explain why. I only knew that I had to see for myself how PEACE is built and sustained in a GK Community where Christians and Muslims are living side by side in harmony. I needed to witness this fearless brand of peace.
It was in Bangsamoro that I met two inspiring women, Bai Linda and Issa.
Bai Linda is devout Muslim who was an ex-Muslim Rebel Commander with a camp of over 300 men. After she witnessed the death of her uncle who had saved her from a Christian soldier, she began serving with a Muslim rebel group. She was only 6 years old. Today, she is a full-time Gawad Kalinga worker.
“Gawad Kalinga showed me that love can be the most powerful force to bring peace. I understand now that Allah’s plan is for me to become a model not just to my fellow Muslims but even to Christians, to witness to all that we can live in peace.” ~ Bai Linda Eman
Issa is a Christian young woman who lost her father when she was very young. He shielded her from being killed with his own body. She went through a personally trying journey, emerging from the darkness to shine with her own pure light. Although she tells me that the darkness will never truly disappear from her life, she uses it to propel her further in her Gawad Kalinga work. She travels into depths of the conflict zones like Camp Abu Bakar to build sustainable peace between Muslims and Christians.
“Beyond being just peace keepers, we were all peace-builders and I know the seeds we planted will bear fruit that will remain.” ~ Issa Cuevas-Santos
Bai and Issa are the best of friends. Let me rephrase, they are sisters forged in the mutual love for greater peace. Bai is also the God Mother to Issa’s son. These two ladies epitomise Fearless Living in every sense of the word.
And there we were, three women of very different background and religious beliefs.
Myself, a Buddhist, sitting in between a Muslim and Christian in a van with the camera pointed right at us. We were bawling eyes out after listening to Bai’s and Issa’s stories. Right there and then, our friendship transformed into sisterhood.
A month or so after my visit to the Mindanao, one of the deadliest massacres in the Philippines occurred along the very same highway we had travelled on during our time there. 32 Journalists and 26 civilians were slaughtered. It was known as “The Maguindanao Massacre”. It could very well have been us if we had delayed our visit to Mindanao.
Violence and hatred will never end when there remains political agendas that stand to gain from the chaos. Racial divides will only grow bigger when those in power continue to think of only fulfilling their own selfish ambitions. Peace will continue to evade us all when we do not RISE UP AND WAKE UP to the truth – to stop electing corrupt officials, stop buying into the lies, rise above our own ignorance, fears and insecurities.
Our freedom does not come from suppressing others.
Our wealth cannot proliferate when we keep denying others access to opportunities and justice.
Our independence will not last when we remain blind and silent to the injustices done to others.
Our happiness is never gained from the suffering of our neighbours, friends and fellow citizens.
Only by understanding that we cannot accomplish anything of value at the expense of others, can we strive for peace and harmony. Because ALL LIVES MATTER.
There has been too much blood shed as it is. Too many lives have been shattered, and friendships torn apart due to the many unscrupulous policies or extremist beliefs around the world. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.
Violence, hatred, discrimination, suppression and pain should not be the very things we keep passing down to the next generation as if it were their most precious heritage.
OUR most priceless heritage should always be our COLLECTIVE HUMANITY.
What we pass onto our children, and the succeeding generations should always be THE CULTURE OF PEACE.
“We are different. We eat different foods, pray to different Gods and wear different skin colours. But we are sisters bound by friendship and love. Because love means peace for all. With love, everyone wins. ” ~ Shirley Maya Tan
(In the above photo is Issa-Cuevas Santos, Bai Linda Eman, and Shirley Maya Tan in Manila, August 2015.)
NOTE: This blog post is actually published as part of the “Fearless August” Newsletter. Only subscribed fans would receive it. However, I felt compelled to share it in this blog, as Malaysia celebrates her National Day or Independence Day on 31st August.
The same questions haunt me to this day –
What independence are we really celebrating? Whose independence? What national unity or pride do we truly share? When the push comes to shove, will we stand united as One, or fall prey to the racial divisive-ploys?
Will we finally heal and rise together as the great country we are meant to be, as the people we have grown over the years as neighbours and friends? Or, will we choose to fall and perish as individuals?
Peace and harmony, if not now, when?
All my love,