Reflecting on the siege in Marawi: Peace, where are you?

Marawi is a beautiful area in Mindanao with the beautiful lake populated by Maranao people, most of them Muslims. I recall a play of many years ago presented by a Maranao group with the title “Kalilintad, anda ka?” (Peace where are you?). It was a great presentation on the Maranao culture and conflicts among tribes midst a love story. Today, I reflect on the same question: “Peace, where are you?” a question that comes from a reality of war in Marawi that started last May 23. My reflection brings me back to the beginning of my experience in Mindanao.

Forty years ago when I arrived in Mindanao, I learned the history of conflict that has been one of the reason why, at that time, President Ferdinand Marcos proclaimed Martial law. That situation of violence at that time challenged me to be closer to those who have been suffering most, especially to the Muslims. After years of being closer to the Muslim communities and even to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to help in the process of peace, I started the Silsilah Dialogue Movement in 1984 in Zamboanga City.

Many things happened in Mindanao from that time on. In 1986, the Edsa Revolution was one of the factors to overthrow the power of President Ferdinand Marcos and started a new stage of hope in the country. Unfortunately, pockets of conflicts remained especially in some areas in Mindanao and in the year 2000, President Estrada thought that he could solve the problem by declaring all-out war in Mindanao. In that occasion, we saw the danger of this new war and we started to organize Silsilah groups called Silsilah Forum in different parts of Mindanao from Jolo to Cotabato, including Iligan and Marawi — the areas affected most by the conflicts and refugees. At the same time, we organized the Harmony Chain Initiative—a chain of peace inviting all to pray for peace according to their own religion and form of prayer. Also, we introduced the Harmony Prayer as a universal prayer for Muslims, Christians and people of other living faiths. This is a universal prayer that we are spreading in different countries with the slogan “From Mindanao to the World”. Today, the world looks at us in Mindanao trying to understand what is happening. Often I call friends and coordinators of Silsilah Forum of Marawi, Iligan and other friends in the area for me to understand more what is going on. It is quite difficult for me to say in a short reflection the many news that bring us to the question: “What will happen next?”

Indeed, the conflict in Mindanao today is not the same as that of 40 years ago. Today, those who fight are children and the children’s children of that time. They are not only claiming for justice based on so called “Historical Injustice” of people in Mindanao especially against Muslims and indigenous people but it is emerging in a more complicated scenario of ideology that is a fruit of ideologies of radical violence “colored by Islamic identity”. Today, Mindanao has to face together not only the history of Mindanao but also the ideology of that many today identify with the name of ISIS and international terrorism.  The conflict in Marawi hopefully will end soon and the people can return to their own places with the support of National and International help so they can rebuild their houses. But what is more difficult is how to rebuild the trust especially among Muslims and Christians in that area and in general in Mindanao? This is the question that many of us have in mind. Many will find it difficult to start the process of reconciliation and dialogue because the wounds of these conflicts are becoming deeper and deeper. We in Silsilah are called to move in the spirit of “Padayon” (move on). This is our spirit expressed in the word of “Padayon” in 1992 where Fr. Salvatore Carzedda, PIME, was killed in Zamboanga City by a group that is now known as Abu Sayyaf and is also partially linked with ISIS.


This reflection can bring many other details and innocent people killed, more poverty and division in Mindanao. A similar conflict that is now happening in Marawi, also happened in Zamboanga City in 2013 still related to the conflict in Mindanao but with different proportions and implications of the siege in Marawi that, for sure, will be more complicated considering the radical religious color to this new conflict.

I close this reflection with the prayer that we, in Silsilah and many in the Philippines and other countries pray. It is the last part of the harmony prayer:


Give me O Lord the courage to live in dialogue

In the midst of divisions and conflicts

And to build peace with all people of sincere hearts

Who believe in your love and compassion,


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