To a 6 year old, a television filled with hijab wearing girls, gun slinging boys and prisoners of war constantly brought confusion as to what is going on away from the confines of southern Luzon, specifically in Mindanao, a far region from where I stay in the Philippines. I saw it as a horror story, as a nightmare, as a long cramped ride, a dark room- where all I wished for from the moment I learned about it was for it to end, to fast forward to closing credits, to wake up, to reach my destination, for the lights to turn on. I could not comprehend how anyone can create that much fear in a populace (or rather in my 6 year old mind, simply, how any person scare that much other people), how they keep a stomach for gagging people with a threat of lopping off their heads should monetary ransom not be made. I could not, still not, comprehend that 15 years after, the television screen still shows the same thing as it did when I was a kid… if not worse.
Just recently, the whole of Philippines was taken by storm, maybe by novelty, maybe out of genuine concern, when news broke out of a recent encounter between conflicting parties which rendered 44 of police enforcement dead. As for the casualties from the other end, the numbers were not as definite. The place of attack is a residential area wherein both civilians and militants are residing. It is hard pressed to think that no civilian casualty ensued. This situation is but one of the many versions of the Mindanao conflict.
Despite threats that loom the region every single minute of the day, I, as someone who is not in the direct line of fire and nowhere near a possible grenade explosion, manage to keep the knowledge just at bay. In much recent years, however, most especially with the recent encounter, long suppressed fears and worries came crawling back up.
Children of the region are robbed of the childhood that many in the more peaceful parts of the country experience. Men and women live in fear of their whole lives being torn down to ground zero. Residents tread with the anxiety of who is who, with the worry that they who shake their hands can be the same ones who thump their backs for the final blow.
And yet… they live.
They go through the motions of life with death and conflict as their backdrop. They rely on their own versions of faith to save them but not without the wits to save themselves.
They manage to eat, study, teach, love and most importantly, inspire despite what fate and humanity decided to give them.
I thought that time will pass fast enough and the awareness and urge to do something, anything, for my brothers and sisters in Mindanao would would again take to the corners of my mind but a year after I initially wrote this piece, Mindanao still inspires me to brave. Everyday I would consider myself lucky for living through so many moments. There are days when I would feel proud because I got past menial or relatively larger life challenges. Then I hear about stories of war, I see soldiers return to home base just outside our house, and I feel for those who have to put on the mask of courage in the most turbulent of times and I know that what they are going through is so much bigger than whatever I have gone through and I am urged to do better so eventually I can do something for them.
When I was pondering on the question on what place inspires me to be brave, I immediately thought about this region that might just seem a hyped up Philippines version of the Middle Eastern conflict. In spite, however, of the global experience that travelling and studying abroad left with me, in spite of the many people I met there that are all brave in their own ways, it is the collective struggle that the people in Mindanao go through that tells me that no matter what situation one is in, there is no reason to stop fighting for one’s life. I have traveled to places wearing the lens of a tourist, an athlete, a student but one thing has always been constant, whenever I travel places, I am a Filipino. It is only fitting that the place that inspires me to be brave is in my country.
***The piece was first published in wesaidgotravel.com as a featured entry for their theme of Bravery. I have edited it as befits my current state of thought on the matter.***