|Peace Warriors Cover and Opener|
"The sea is murmuring tonight, bringing a tide of unusual pattern. Fragi predicts that it will rain in the coming days. I have often wished that my Shangrila would have a window, so that the moonlight and the salty air could invade my room and put me to sleep. A Marine guards my porch, he smokes, he talks to his girlfriend on his cell phone. There is a frog under my bed; it used to be that a crab inhabiting a nook somewhere, would crawl to my head at night."
Peace Warriors isn't really a travel book. But the narrative took me to landscapes most Filipinos would never get to see. I came across the book by wonderful accident (or is it a confluence of fate and chance?) when author, Cris Yabes, chose one of my Tawi-Tawi images for inclusion in the book. When I got my copy, I casually browsed through the first few pages but before I knew it, I was hooked and couldn't put the book down. Partly because I find the setting interesting; on the other hand, because I find a lot of the author's insights resonate with me, to wit:
"But walking has become a philosophy over time, over years of isolation and distance from a country; the longer you walk, the more you talk to God."
I've always held a fascination with Mindanao despite the usual Pinoy's wariness about the place. I've known well-traveled people who would probably never consider going to Mindanao as if it is an altogether different country, a place most people are quick to dismiss as that troublesome spot south of the Philippines. Having seen a bit of the place, I think we're the poorer for missing out on what it has to offer. But I digress.
"What did I see? A simple rural landscape: a line of trees, ducks squawking, cows grazing, un-husked rice grains strewn on the road to dry, firewood stacked on a neat pile, a load of green bananas on a truck, a school painted pink, blue and yellow, children bathing in the river, men carrying root crops, women walking in their malong, carabaos sloughing in the paddy, a mosque standing in the middle of the field... If other people had seen it, they would not think this land could carry so much anger. What I saw was a panorama of normal daily life, a fragment of peace."
Author Cris Yabes takes the reader from the dive-worthy blue waters of Sulu, the rain-soaked, mist-shrouded lake of Lanao (lair of the rogue MILF leader, Commander Bravo) to the barren marshes of Liguasan. More importantly, in my perspective, she takes us to a place of peace in the midst of brokenness, a site of hope in the midst of despair.
In between the suspense of the author's adventures (such as traipsing the Narciso Ramos Highway, site of many kidnappings by rebels) and curious interactions like the seemingly-amorous overtures of one of her soldier-guide/drivers (you have to read the book to find out how things panned out), Cris lets us meet real, honest-to-goodness people, not dolled-up characters that seem more at home in fictional novels. She lends a very human face to the people she met on the trail. Like the soldiers who still believe that CMO (Civilian Military Operations), more than the guns and resulting body count of the Clear-Hold-Consolidate approach, can bring lasting peace and progress. The soldiers' wives who quietly play the part of heroes who go unsung. And the Muslims who may not share our concept of religion but nevertheless believe in the power of peace. That peace may be elusive now but still achievable in the morrow.
"For once, for the simple grace of goodness in this land traumatized by the power of guns, I see the children playing with white doves. When their parents go to the open market in town, they ask for white doves for pets, not toy guns, not spears. They want a dove to make them happy, to be their friend, to fill them with hope."
Attribution: Lines excerpted from "Peace Warriors: On the Trail with Filipino Soldiers" by Criselda Yabes, 2011, Anvil Publishing. Now available in major bookstores.