A pygmy among the gods
I am a virtual internally displaced person. Away from home for the most part of my life, I am a vagabond searching for myself in the shadows of a never-ending debate between personal freedom and patriotic pursuits. There is always something I want for myself, but there are other things I desire for the bigger me, my people. I was an angry, bitter and disillusioned citizen when I left my homeland ages ago. I could not quite understand why the construction of a fly-over or an underpass with matching escalators and elevators in the big cities should cost so much more than my community’s annual budget. While we in the far-flung rural areas break our limbs and twist our legs hiking through very rough roads in very rugged terrains, people in the big city face traffic congestion because of too many motor vehicles ramming their bumpers through well-paved thoroughfares. I could not accept the fact that my people… most of us fishers and farmers, should starve and live in destitution while we put food on the plates of those who can afford to buy anything, even the hope of the poverty-stricken! What is happening to our toils and struggles? Where are all our taxes going?!!!!
I am not ashamed to admit that anger, bitterness and disillusionment brought me here in 2001, to the “Imperial City of Manila”. I had the chance of traveling around my beautiful and bountiful homeland of impoverished people – my beloved Mindanao, to the remotest outback and countryside my stint with the rural electrification project of the country’s power giant took me. When my father passed away and my aging and ailing mother was left alone at home most of the time, I left a “good job” in the corporate world in 1999 and ventured on publications. I had just released three issues of a feature magazine when the chance to come to the “imperial city” snatched me out of complacency. I had barged into a seminar on “Dialogue of Life and Faith: Future Peace in Mindanao”, on an old friend’s invitation as a walk-in and lukewarm participant, when the guest speaker took notice of my “passion for my homeland and my people” and invited me to apply for a job in the government’s peace process. The rest is history now … but I vividly remember the first time I set foot on this great “imperial city” of Manila.
As I squeezed myself through the crowds and queues of passengers, some boarding while others, like me, leaving the vessel, I saw destitution beyond description all around! Along the way to I saw squatters cramped in dilapidated shanties along the road so sub-human it can barely be called a shelter! Women, children and elders digging into piles of garbage ... scavengers and beggars here and there! And I thought … goodness gracious, this is the luxurious and affluent “big city” I had read in the papers and seen on television that caused me so much resentment! I checked my heart for the anger, the bitterness and the disillusionment that weighed so much on my being and becoming – and realized at that moment the senselessness of carrying the ugly luggage for so long!
I have been a state peace worker based in the “big city” since 2002. For the past years I have taken part in the peace negotiations as support staff to the government’s peace negotiators in the pursuit of a final settlement with the Muslim separatist rebels in Southern Philippines, to resolve the armed conflict that has rendered my homeland and my people helpless and powerless for more than half a century.
In my present assignment I have pursued my commitment through rough roads, muddy footpaths, thickets, rivers, marshlands and mountains to meet with tribal groups/indigenous peoples and internally displaced persons; conducted intensive research and extensive interviews in conflict-affected communities and rebel-infested areas; organized, coordinated and facilitated meetings, trainings, workshops, press conferences and courtesy calls with high-ranking officials and opinion-makers in government, civil society groups, indigenous/tribal groups, non-government organizations, stakeholder/local communities as well as with the academic, business and religious sectors, in support of the government’s pursuit for lasting and equitable peace … all because I am a stakeholder by birth and a public servant by choice.
My job is my vocation, anchored on the conviction that in whatever role I play in the peace process, the best of my efforts and dedication will take me back to a safer and better homeland, a more peaceful and happier people. So many times my rounds deliver me to critical, embarrassing and perilous ordeals, defined in the urgency and exigency of public service … and my only redemption is in the hope that if I don’t live long enough to see the dawn breaking, my story relates of a series of odysseys that stretches through the darkness of struggle, to keep the torch of the peace mission burning in a relentless relay of unsung strugglers and survivors.
The ever-changing political dynamics tells me peace in my homeland remains an elusive dream. One day I may go home with the pain of an unfinished mission, but I can at least tell my people how things go wrong and why things don’t work, correctly certain that many will pick up the struggle with a much better understanding and a clearer vision of what is worth fighting for. After all, it’s not wrong to fail … when one is willing to try again. It’s not bad to fall, when one is committed to carry on.
My face is a happy smile in photographs beside no less than the President of my country, the powerful generals and government officials, rebel commanders, ambassadors - local and international dignitaries. I am a nameless and faceless pygmy at the beck and call of those whose decisions can make or break a nation. Among the gods I have nothing to show … but for my homeland and my people I have everything to live and hope for.