Mindanao, the southern island of the Philippines, is home to three general cultural groups – the indigenous people communities comprising 18 ethnic groups; Muslim communities from another 8 ethnic groupings; and the Christian population coming from at least 12 language regions of the country. It is this tri-people composition that has at times caused inter-cultured hostilities in several sub-regions of Mindanao. In particular, the protracted conflict between Muslims and Christians has erupted into periods of violence.
At the same time religious leaders have made repeated calls for promoting a culture of peace wherein warring parties can lay down their arms – and prejudices – to build a brighter future for their children. It is in this light that we can examine six social concerns in promoting a culture of peace, which also constitute the foundations of a Christian ethical framework.
The starting - point and core of these social concerns is Human Dignity – i.e., that every human being is a person endowed with reason and free will and made in the image of God. Thus, as the social teachings of the Catholic Church states, “far from being the object or passive element of social life,” the human person “is rather, and must always remain, its subject, foundation and goal”.
The first social concern is Personal and Family Integrity. Wholeness and fullness of life are goals for every individual as well as for every family. These can be more readily attained through value formation and a deepened spirituality – vis-à-vis the mass media values of materialism and consumerism.
A second social concern for forging a culture of peace is promoting Human Rights and Democracy. Human rights are moral claims to the means needed to protect and promote human dignity. These are concisely articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948. For Pope John Paul II, this Declaration “remains one of the highest expressions of the human conscience of our time.” Some of the these major rights are enunciated in his encyclical, Centesimus Annus – such as the right to life; the right to live in a united family; the right to develop one’s intelligence and freedom in seeking the truth; the right to work; and the right to live in the truth of one’s faith. Respecting these rights is a matter of justice.
A third social concern is Poverty Eradication. Peace in society is illusory if the basic needs of individuals and families are not met. A nation’s economy must be able to utilize its natural and man-made resources in order to create wealth and income for all its citizens. The virtue of compassion and sharing should be inculcated in all citizens.
Complementing personal and family integrity along the social continuum is Intercultural Understanding and Solidarity. In Mindanao, Christian and Muslim religious leaders have engaged in a quarterly bishops-ulama dialogue over the past decade to highlight this need for mutual acceptance and appreciation of cultures. Every November, the Bishops-Ulama Conference has been promoting a Mindanao Week of Peace wherein local communities are encouraged to organize common activities for peace-building – such as multi-cultural programs, peace marches, etc.
Disarmament and Cessation of Hostilities are immediate steps to take toward creating a culture of peace. As part of the political continuum, the ending of armed hostilities represents a shift from recourse to force to recourse to reason in a democratic society. As exemplified by Gandhi in India, Mandela in South Africa and the People Power Revolution of 1986 in the Philippines, active non-violence can be a more potent force than recourse to arms in building a culture of peace.
The sixth social concern and part of the economic continuum is Environmental Protection. In a rapidly modernizing and globalizing society, the irreversible destruction of the environment is not a remote possibility. Indeed many countries have learned lately to conserve and manage carefully their watershed areas, fishing preserves, and clean air domains. In Mindanao, local communities have raised outcries against irresponsible logging and mining operations that are usually undertaken by multinational corporations.
Stewardship is an operative value that has been stressed to highlight the responsibility of everyone for the common good and to remind us that we are only caretakers of God’s creation. Conservation of the environment is an imperative for sustainable development for our present and future generations.
These then are six social concerns revolving around the core value of Human Dignity – which are essential in promoting a culture of peace. Although arising from Christian ethical principles, one could also point out that this framework resonates with the human and spiritual values of other faith traditions as well as of secular governments that endeavor to work out a more comprehensive paradigm for human development. There is no peace without development; but neither can there be development without peace.