PEACE PROBE by Gene Stoltzfus

Philippines: Peace Talk by peaceprobe
February 10, 2007, 9:13 am
Filed under: Philippines

Peace Talk in the southern island of Mindanao here in the Philippines is definitely in. It’s so “in” that everyone tries to have some kind of program that serves up generous helpings of peace language. The Armed Forces of the Philippines has peace programs, peace houses and training in peace. Local officials talk of peace. NGOs try to get peace and human rights education into the schools. Development agencies now call their programs, Development and Peace projects. In colleges you can study peace and development. Training by mediation groups is widespread often accompanied with the language of peace-building, now the world wide word of preference in peace circles. Occasionally chunks of nonviolence training are incorporated in these seminars.

“Everybody is now using the language of peace here but I would like to know what is really meant by the word?” asked a professor. This writer, a child of Viet Nam war had to hear that question several times before I got myself centered to give an answer in this marketplace of peace. I lived in a time when the word was so controversial that we invented ways to talk about it without using the word so that our audience wouldn’t dismiss us before we reached a little deeper into the mind of the time. We thought it meant to stop the war and stop building the means of war. We thought it meant it meant to stop killing other people to get things to come out right. We learned to steel ourselves for silent rejection, charges of naivete and reasoned arguments. This is a new world. Peace is everybody’s favorite word. I guess people of peace could be happy that the spin masters and public relations agents have discovered our language and made us use it instead of reaching for synonyms.

I tried to make an unscientific collection of what people understand by peace language here. In the military, peace means defeating the insurgencies by killing, persuading, capturing or negotiating the way to an end to the conflict. Sound familiar? For leftists, peace means land to the tiller – read serious redistribution of land and perhaps capital to the people. For Muslims it means governing your own people. For peace and development folks, peace is the goal and the way to get there is through well designed development projects that bring economic growth to people. For the Philippine government, peace means a Presidential Peace Commission charged with the responsibility of negotiating with rebel(s). For some missionaries and churches here the way to peace is to be born again. Converts are said to attend born again churches as opposed to Catholic churches or other churches that emphasize service with the poor or social justice as part of the life of the spirit.

When I visit grass roots groups I listen as they describe three day seminars on peace for the village. There seems to be excitement in the organizer’s voice but I can’t describe the content or the methodology – lecture, reading, role play, discussion, or fact finding and interpretation. When another village tells me of a march for land rights, I think that is probably a fair goal but I know that the peace at the end of that tunnel leads through a welter of bureaucracy and conflict.

A respected NGO leader describes the hard work of preparing for conflict resolution training. I take special note of the research that has been done to discover or highlight existing or forgotten local ways of dealing with conflicts in a manner that violent escalation is avoided. I ask if that research also includes deliberate attempts to understand modes of nonviolent confrontation in traditional societies. I am told that sometimes the training work is viewed as “nicey nicey”, we don’t go into the confrontational questions. But even as I listen and work my way through my questions about polite peacemaking, I sense a momentum here for something called peace, flashes of light in places where stubborn habits of settling things with somebody’s version of sacred violence persists. The similarity to the gun violence of gangs of self appointed armed middle class border marshals, or occupying armies in lands distant from here is striking. But the details and the means of legitimizing violent conflict are different here from those distant and “developed” lands.

I come from a world that loves to view this nation of People Power as a shining example of nonviolent change often mistakenly thinking that this festival of peace that sent President Marcos packing to Hawaii in February 1986 arose in a milieu still waiting to be convinced that nonviolence works. Actually most of the great nonviolent “victories” (we usually only remember the victories and forget to study the defeats) in the last century happened in places like the Philippines.

Today we are teetering at, probing, and testing the language and meaning of peace. I am not sure if we are in a phase where peace is just popular or if we are coming to a place where people recognize that something called peace is a basic human need. The flashes of light that I see across this island carry a little hope that readers deserve to taste. Many of the folks here were pleased when they saw outpouring of peace action (there is that word again) this past week across North America. That told me that they saw something there that might give them a little more space for hope and light.

I know you might like me to give a good reasoned definition of peace now that I have confused you. Either because I am lazy or because I don’t do things this way, I am going to try something different. Since I am in a place where some people believe the land is sacred I thought I would quote something from a Holy Book about peace. It might not satisfy you because it describes a process rather than an end. Maybe you just don’t like the idea of a Holy Book. Whatever! Just give it a chance. People in this part of the earth at least appreciate the language.

Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

You are the salt of the earth but if the salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to the Parent in heaven. Matt. 5: 9-16


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