After we finished our coffee, I invited them both to go out for a breath of fresh air outside the airport terminal. Near the entrance, many people were already queuing up for security checkup. I sat along the corridor while my brothers remained standing. When I turned my head up, I focused my eyes to the right side of the wall. Bold words “Ninoy Aquino International Airport” were inscripted above.
Now alone, I rehashed the highlights of this trip. How difficult it was to face paranoia when I was told to get down from a jeepney across Tandang Sora road that day.
"That long-haired one, please come down!" ordered the policeman wearing blue pants that matched his light-blue polo. He searched the faces of everyone inside the jeepney and finally focused his gaze on me. He asked me to come over as he walked closer to his white police car.
"Are you Islamic or what…?" he asked briskly as I now stood in front of him.
"What Islamic do you mean…? Yes, I am Muslim and I am Tausug,” I responded tactfully.
"Which here do you mean? In Manila? In the compound? Or in this spot?" I enquired clearly and firmly.
“Siyu ngan mu…?” he asked, obviously failing in his attempt to speak in my language. He should have said,: “hisiyu in ngan mu?” to mean “what is your name?”
He perhaps wanted to test me, as I told him I am Tausug. "But your name is not Muslim," he said quickly with a high-pitched tone like that of Lea Salonga singing her song.
"I think there is no religion in name, Sir, but at least this name has a good meaning," I said.
But he quickly called someone behind him--perhaps this was his chief--to talk to me. The chief was a guy with white shirt and black shorts. His voice was soft but clear as he asked me questions.
"What are you doing in the compound, Sir?" he asked respectfully and with a smile.
"I visited my grandparents, Sir," I replied with respect too, relieved that at least there was someone that I could talk to with good manners.
"Ohh, you are not from this country, Sir. When are you going back home?" he asked while browsing the pages of my passport.
"What are you doing in Manila aside from visiting your grandparents?" he asked while checking my pockets and some of my belongings, including my wallet and my bag.
"I am here for an Asian dialogue, Sir.’ I said, letting him check my bag with his empty hands.
"What dialogue is that?" he asked after checking everything.
"That’s an Asian dialogue on defying extremism, Sir." After hearing that, he thanked me and apologized for the inconvenience. He told me he is Maranao.
At the airport, I lined up to pay the 550 pesos terminal fee, but the lady in the counter was confused whether to let me pay or not.
My ticket was purchased in the month of February, the same month of my flight, which meant I didn’t need to pay. But I still did since the staff were unsure whether to require me to pay or not and we were caught in a tug-of-war situation.
I instead went to look at the departure information screen. The gate was 107. Good. That wasn’t very far from where I was. I had time. I grabbed my phone and busied myself browsing photos, which I took at the entrance. The photos were those of Ninoy Aquino’s sculpture with a plaque narrating his job as journalist at an early age and his assassination that “enraged the nation, thereby rousing the people’s long-suppressed yearning for change.”
I read this line and wondered too: "Why should the death of one man so move a nation?" The answer was right there at the plaque: “because Ninoy gave up his life for his people, believing with all his heart and soul that ‘the Filipino is worth dying for’." Will Ninoy’s son, P-Noy give his life for the people in his “straight path” to save peace in Mindanao and Sulu archipelago during his term as President of the Philippines as his mother Cory Aquino did saved the nation’s peace and democracy?
Many passengers started to arrive at the boarding area. I came early, and there were only six of us bound for Kota Kinabalu: one aged lady, one Indian-looking guy, two Filipina women, and one Chinese-looking man. We smiled at each other, the simple greetings of peace. I can see peace in their smiles, the peace that I wished to have when I attended the Asian Regional Dialogue.
I could not see paranoia in their faces. They just simply reminded me of my presence in the dialogue, “Defying Extremism: Asia Regional Dialogue” in the Philippines, of how wonderful it felt to be surrounded by women and men peacemakers of the world coming together to embrace peace.
That’s the law of men in this world. I can’t imagine why someone needed to “suffer” just to seek justice. I am praying that he would be free very soon. May Allah protect him from the savagery of the so-called dynamic intellectuals.
While we were talking, that Defender showed me the book, “A Country of Our Own: Partitioning the Philippines” by David C. Martinez. The book talked about how fragmented the Philippines was and what might solve the problem. The solution could perhaps be federalism, or if not, total independence for each and every group of islands. He cooked rice and we ate together with fried Bangus or milkfish.
I still remember how honoured I was at receiving the invitation from Jennifer Freeman of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice, University of San Diego. She said in her letter: "We would be honored if you would consider participating in this dialogue." Of course I would be honored to go. I would never say no to anything that is for peace or meant “to establish peace”.
Spending time with fellow peacemakers was a joy. That square hall where thoughtful discussions flowed freely was a peaceful zone. The presence of old friends made me want to sail even more to protect peace. There is nothing greater than working for peace.
I could still see the lovely gesture of Ms. Warina Sushil Jukuy (I affectionately call her Kah Waring), as she presented her thoughts on peacemaking in the Sulu archipelago and Mindanao.
She said that Tausugs were and are presenting their thoughts and reactions to any issues, be it in the form of dialogue or conflict resolution, via poetic discourse or figurative language - the diplomatic, moderate and peaceful way of Tausugs to "engage" verbally, which I personally do: protesting via poetry.
I grabbed my black bag and my sling bag tied in its thong, Kandit Siyabit, a Sulu native hand-weaved sash, and stood at the tail of the queue. Only few passengers were left. They were conversing in Tagalog. I also heard someone speaking in Malay, a West Malaysian accent. And one was talking on the phone in Bahasa Sug. Some were speaking in English with different local accents.
The captain on PA apologized for the flight delay. The plane moved slowly along the runway, waiting for other flights to take off. I remembered the faces of Dr Dee Aker, Jen Freeman, Emi Noma, Atty Mary Ann Arnado, and Cocoy Tulawie with one phrase: "We’ll see you again.”
The plane was now ready to take off. The cabin crew was advised to get ready. Meanwhile the Press Release from the Asia Dialogue flashed in my mind. It read, “extremism” or extreme act doesn’t only exist in the minds of Muslim individuals but also in the minds of Christian individuals.
Sheikh Hadi said when he asked to speak up, never in the Islamic context has the word “extremism” ever existed. He suggested that we should stop referring to “extremism” as an act of Muslims because nowadays, it was becoming a norm.
On the other hand, when people read or hear about extremism, what comes to mind is violence or negative acts, but in fact, there is a positive form of extremism too, like being extremely good. But I would prefer to stay in the middle. Better to be moderately good than to be extremely good or to be extremely bad. I hope in future dialogues on defying extremism, we will have segments that focus on defying paranoia.
We have seen enough of war. People should look for other ways to solve problems. In fact, people should use peace to solve problems, not create more problems to solve peace.
Seated, I flipped through the pages of Air Asia's in-flight magazine, 3Sixty; I remember our discussion on belongingness and identity after lunch in Zamboanga City with the Human Rights Defender from AHRC-Hong Kong.
He agreed that when talking peace, using “geographic names” instead of “demographic names” may be the better way. Geographic names, such as Mindanao and Sulu archipelago, include everyone from different tribes and faiths.
As there is always good thought in the wilderness, I am looking forward to a better future for Mindanao and Sulu archipelago, so these two will become better places to live in. So that there would be no more tears to shed, blood to spill, mothers to suffer, fathers and brothers to become “rebels”, only armies and warriors working for peace.
It’s almost touchdown. The captain is announcing that we will be arriving soon. The cabin crew started to check the seats, belts, and windows. I tucked the novel and my black notebook back to my sling bag. The good memories in Dulang Restaurant in Padre Faura Street and Sitti Shop, both owned by Tausugs in Manila, surfaced again.
I have pledged to continue to sail for peace. I hope that on this, we are all sailing together. I hope that one day we will all come together to eat Pitis and Apam and drink Kahawa Sug because I am Kahawarista, and so are you.
Then I remember the Internally Displaced Persons camped at the Grandstand, Zamboanga City still waiting for their fate to get back home. All the happy faces that I saw inside that camp were covered with resentment, sadness, and fear of a hazy future.
I am personally calling the authorities and the international community to help and bring them home safely and without conditions. Real security is having them all safe and sound in their homes. Guard them instead of guarding ground zero.
After lining up for an immigration check, I went out and purchased a ticket bus. Ten minutes later, the bus arrived. It departed at 12:20PM to the Kota Kinabalu city center.
At the bus ride, I remember being home reading my correspondences with Kah Cocoy Tulawie, Atty Mary Ann Arnado, Jen Freeman regarding my invitation and Ms Evita Neiderle regarding my airfares.
I really miss my violet cradle, the couch, and my writing table. There are no other words that I can say to you all but Thank you. Yes, we will see each other again sooner or later, for peace!
I love you peace. Let’s sail together. Layag Sug!