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Stepping toward peace and understanding
Tuesday April 18, 2006
Mindanao, Philippines — Hiking up the slippery slopes of a mountain accompanied by armed government scout rangers, traipsing through mud and over rocks, and finally resting at a silent graveyard over 2000 feet above sea level – all in the name of peace.
These were the footsteps of Daniel Pantoja, Mennonite Church Canada worker in Mindanao, Philippines. He was invited by the Mindanao Peaceweavers, a major network of local peace advocates, to join the indigenous Tausug people in commemorating the Bud Dahu Centennial. Daniel and his wife Joji Pantoja are engaged in a peace building ministry with Muslims and Christians in the region.
March 2006 marked the 100th year anniversary of the Battle of Mount Dahu, where up to 1600 Tausugs lost their lives in an act of defiance against colonialism. Among the victims were 400 woman and children, massacred at the crater of Mount Dahu, where a graveyard now sits in memorial.
Says Pantoja: “The Bud Dahu Centennial was an important event for me and Gordon [Janzen], as representatives from Mennonite Church Canada, to join hands with the peace movements in Mindanao.” Janzen, Mennonite Church Canada Mission Partnership Facilitator for Asia joined the commemoration ceremonies as part of a visit to workers and ministries in the region.
The multi-faceted, three day event paid tribute to the victims, survivors and descendents of the Bud Dahu massacre. It culminated in a peace pilgrimage to the summit of Mount Dahu to remember those involved and to say, “never again.” The Philippines government provided nearly 100 soldiers to accompany the pilgrimage because it passed through a dangerous “terrorist and bandit” area – though Pantoja says he felt uncomfortable with his M-16 armed personal protector.
“Personally, I felt embraced by the Tausug people as they allowed me to cry with them, to laugh with them, to remember with them, to celebrate with them, to hope for justice with them, and to dream for a lasting peace with them,” recounts Pantoja.
The Tausug people had initially been described as “renegades” and “outlaws” by the American military to rationalize the Bud Dahu massacre. But on the quiet mountainside surrounded by the Tausugs praying for peace, a different mood was evident, reinforcing that there are two sides to every story.
During a prior visit to the city of Zamboanga, Pantoja and Janzen viewed a monument honouring those American and Filipino Christians who sacrificed their lives for Mindanao. A group of Tausug men approached the pair, suggesting that the real story of Zamboanga was not on that monument, but on a historical marker hidden beside the entrance to city hall.
Pantoja and Janzen found the marker concealed behind a palm plant with armed guards sitting in front. The inscription recounted the oppression of the Tausug people under foreign powers, and their resistance against the military occupation and colonization of their land.
“Gordon and I believe that the spirit of God led us to listen to them,” explains Pantoja, “to go where their story was hidden, and to go back to them just to say, ‘yes, we have heard your side of the story.’”
Returning to the group of Tausug men, Pantoja asked their forgiveness for blindly accepting the American account and expressed interest in hearing more about their story. The men opened up with joy and excitement.
“Those Tausug men have been longing to be heard,” says Pantoja. “Their story has been suppressed by both the Philippine government and the American government for more than a hundred years.”
When asked by the group who they were, Pantoja replied, “we’re Mennonites”. Unfamiliar with the name, the men expressed interest in learning about the Mennonite story. Janzen offered a short Anabaptist Christian presentation to the men, right there in the streets of Zamboanga.
Once heavily persecuted for their beliefs and portrayed in many history books as heretics, Mennonites also have a message to share that is not always heard.
Simply displaying a willingness to listen led to a conversation and mutual understanding. Just like the trek up Mount Dahu to commemorate the victims of the Bud Dahu massacre, Daniel Pantoja’s ministry is beginning with single, simple steps.