Peace and Order in our Lives
Upon the invitation of Sr. Mailyn Bolivar, OP I facilitated the overnight-retreat of the four batches of 4th year students of Notre Dame-Sienna School of Marbel in the city of Koronadal, South Cotabato. I readily accepted the offer because it would be a great opportunity for vocation guidance and orientation during the sessions. Who knows that among those students attending, a potential candidate for the seminary could come. God is a God of surprises and the retreat is a grace-filled moment. Besides, it would be my first time giving retreat to students from Mindanao! Though I was enthusiastic and willing, there was also fear and anxiety within me especially due to the armed conflict that I have been hearing so recently in the news. There were questions of safety and security in my mind.
When I arrived at the airport of General Santos City, the Dominican sisters fetched me with a few of their teachers. I could not help but ask about the peace and order situation of the place during our lunch. Being still totally a stranger to them, I could sense they were looking at each other in order to give me full assurance as a group that everything was under control. Their place was peaceful but not without violence. At the outset, they told me two separate incidents that marred the peace and order of their place. Sr. Mailyn recounted that last week a student was expelled from the Public School he was attending because of a certain misconduct. In anger, the student stabbed the Principal to death one afternoon after class. The other story was told by Rolex, an English Teacher of Sienna. The violence happened the day before I arrived. One of the parents who owned a business just in front of their school was robbed and shot to death by unknown armed men. But the police have caught up with them and the money was recovered. Such stories could happen to any other city in the Philippines. Even worse.
On the way to Marbel, there were military Check Points in certain strategic locations. But upon my arrival to that city, I was amazed how industrialized and progressive it is. The atmosphere was serene. It takes more than a visit to experience the peace and quiet the city has to offer. That very evening, I also witnessed a cultural performance of the “Blaan,” one of the indigenous tribe residing in the highlands of South Cotabato. They sang and recited poems from their own native tongue; they danced and swayed accompanied by their gongs and musical instruments in their colorful costumes.
I spent almost two weeks in this part of Mindanao with varied experiences and encounters with the people of Marbel who were mostly Ilonggo-speaking. The school, during my visit, also organized a Youth Camp participated in by the high school students. The event started with a walk for peace with students carrying placards advocating peace. I realized that their students were Christians and Muslims living, studying and interacting with each other in peaceful co-existence. When they prayed, sang and danced during the youth camp, ones religious affiliation did not matter. They saw each other as friends enjoying each other’s company.
Before my visit to Marbel, I was anxious and fearful. Now I realize my fears were unfounded. What beautiful places and people I have been. The sight seeing and boating in Lake Sebu was an exhilarating adventure. The durian and tilapia treats were unforgettable. The faith-experience, the simplicity and exuberance of the students during the retreat was heart-warming. I arrived as a stranger but I left with pledges of friendship because they say I have enriched their lives and nourished their faith. But deep in my heart I know they have enriched me more than I have given them. I discovered God had been with them all the while, all the time. Though I continue to hear of conflict and crisis in Mindanao, I have a reason to smile. Somewhere in this big island are people committed to peace, bring change and keep God at the center of their lives. And in the midst of instability and confusion they still manage to uphold the peace and order in their lives.