Peace, Somewhere Over the Rainbow

RECENTLY, a mother and her three children while fleeing from the fighting aboard a banca were killed by a bomb dropped by an Air Force aircraft flying an operation against Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels in the marshes of Cotabato. AFP Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Alexander Yano promptly and sanctimoniously defended his men for the killings, and these, too, will be quickly forgotten in the minds of the public and the authorities in our rush for survival – like many similar atrocities in the past. Filipino including Bangsamoro life is cheap, possibly worthless, whether you are an evacuee in Mindanao or an economic migrant eking a living somewhere in the other side of the globe.

But the real killing of that Cotabato family or a domestic helper in the hands of her employer – as frequently happens these days – did not occur when the bomb exploded or the rope was wrapped around the girl’s neck. The tragic process actually starts when a military or political leader – going all the way back to Malacanang – signs a sacrosanct but anti-life document that involves stealing the people’s money, or a policy that pretends otherwise but in fact deprives vital basic services to tax-paying citizens, or raises the cost of basic commodities out of the reach of the poor. Once the decision is made in the glittering halls of Malacanang or a department, the rest of the zombie bureaucracy goes into mechanical action and implements the decision – like dropping a bomb on defenseless civilians or forcing a young girl out of school due to extreme but widespread poverty to eventually seek a humiliating, dangerous menial job in the Middle East.

Former US President Harry Truman, humbly educated and without a doctoral degree from a Boston university unlike President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, when he assumed the presidency placed a sign on his desk that said thus: “The buck stops here”. It means he took personal responsibility for whatever government does while under his administration. Alas, we no longer make presidents the way we used to. Today, presidents and their bureaucrats and soldiers easily and even gleefully get away with theft and murder, little or no questions asked afterwards. It is as if Nazism or Hitlerism once again rules – the whole world this time – still in the name of some distorted democracy or a deceitful sense of peace and security.

Where vision is lost, the people perish, King Solomon in the Bible said. Add to that good governance, to put the truism in a more contemporary context. Or, on the other hand as the Chinese philosopher Mencius said, the more laws a government passes, the less peace there is in society. Some governments today only pass laws to enable them to steal or oppress more and cover up or justify their greedy deeds.

The results of such oppressive, perverse and anti-people laws are, among others, thousands of hectares of idle lands remaining uncultivated, unproductive – like we have in Zamboanga and other places in the nation – while most people go hungry, homeless and deprived of amenities and their humanity and dignity. Government officials and even some non-government organizations conveniently blame the poor for being poor and getting poorer, or by the same logic the killed for getting killed and killed some more.

World poverty and communal and structural violence are a complex, complicated human phenomenon, though man-made nonetheless. True peace advocates and social reformers probably know by now that there are no easy solutions. The most valuable gift they give to the poor and violated is a sense of hope, mostly springing from the teachings of religions. A more messianic, wholesale solution will require God’s Second Coming no less.

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