It is often said the Philippines observes the longest Christmas celebration in the world. The country’s holiday season would unofficial start as early as September and in some provinces, would end on the third Sunday of January. During these months, lavish decorations are installed outside houses, along bridges and at shopping malls. Despite the uncertain economy, there is simply no stopping the Filipino from celebrating this joyous occasion in its pure or excessive form.
Among the many Christmas decorations I’ve seen so far, an iconic archway in Naawan, a small municipality in Northern Mindanao, stands out. It depicted a mosque and a Christian church as pillars on opposite sides of the road, while two hands reaching to one another served as an archway. It was so striking to me that I requested my parents that we stop by the archway to take a good photo of it one December evening in 2006.
I would later learn that the local government did not put up the archway anymore after that, due to the hazard that it presented to the many motorists traveling along the national highway. However, the message that it tried to convey is still relevant today as it was before. And if you grew up in Mindanao like me, then you would probably understand this more than anyone else.
I could only wish too that attaining lasting peace and sustainable development especially in some portions in Mindanao is as straightforward as the image shown at Naawan. It is, for the lack of a better description, a ‘complex problem’ which also means that there are no simple answers as well. The wounds that Filipino Christians and Muslims have inflicted towards each other over a long period of time, run so deep such that launching another military operation in these troubled areas would actually do more harm than good.
Amidst the festive preparations and colorful decorations this season, I would like to encourage all Filipinos to think of ways where we can contribute towards the peace process not only in Mindanao, but in the Philippines as a whole. I am hopeful then that just like the Naawan archway, every Filipino, regardless of faith, educational attainment or economic status, would start doing something meaningful, radical and different this Christmas time.