“The enemy—and who is that?” Cardinal Luis Tagle asked his audience in his homily at the Edsa Shrine on the 29th anniversary of People Power, Feb. 25, his chinky eyes narrowing yet to give way to tears or laughter or both. I was listening at home, watching him in the intimacy of television close-ups. As a holy man, possibly he had no clue, but, like everybody else less holy, I think I knew and put his words in the context of the massacre of the 44 soldiers in Maguindanao.
I didn’t need a name or a face to it; it was obvious enough to me who the enemy was—who the bad guys, the traitors, the disruptors of peace and harmony were. But after attending a forum on the issue at Far Eastern University Makati last week, I’m no longer so sure.
I found the forum, more than anything else, civilizing, which would seem ironic given the brutality that has attended the long-running conflict over Moroland. I was reminded that in the civilized world war should have no place and that peace is the better alternative, but that to get there the two sides, however admittedly different, need to meet and talk as equals and with mutual respect.
It’s embarrassing how little I cared to know about that part of the country, what unremedied ignorance and persistent prejudices I bore! At any rate, I have resolved not to carry the affliction further and spread it to the next generation.
Now I look back, not to blame anyone but just to see, guess, where and when I may have picked up innocently those seeds of prejudice. I was married to a Zamboangueño for 20 years, and could not have helped but hear all those horrific stories, passed down across generations, about juramentados and other seemingly indiscriminate murders attributed exclusively to Moros.
Prejudice can start quite innocently, but not if Lolo Rafael could help it. I specifically recall a conversation between us cousins in lolo’s Park Avenue, Pasay City, home. With one ear to his stereo, and the other perking up at our prejudicial views about other Orientals, he just had to issue a warning, albeit gently.
“Niñas, ten cuidados. Life has a retributive way of teaching us lessons, particularly regarding prejudice, whose only reason for being is ignorance,” he said. Voltaire is even less kind, he says. “Prejudice is the argument of the stupid.”
In an attempt to trap him, we asked, “Lolo, how would you feel if we told you we’d like to marry an Indian or Japanese or a Chinese?”
“That’s different,” he explained. “Everyone understandably would prefer to marry within their race, their own kind. But that’s preference, not necessarily prejudice.”
It was a good defense for lola’s bias against Visayan women whom she lumped together as a species of gastadoras y lujosas. Well, she did get more than her fair share of Visayan daughters-in-law, but was eventually won over by them. Coming from a family with a slanted sense of humor, perhaps the closest we came to modifying our prejudices was giving two of our most prominent and beloved family members the nicknames “Chino” and “Mora.”
Jonas and the Ninevites
Cardinal Tagle was smoothly tying to current events the gospel of the day: the Old Testament story about Jonas and the Ninevites, the perceived enemy of God and the Israelites. God has decided to destroy the Ninevites in 40 days. But before doing that, He sends them Jonas, a holy man, who asks them to pray and fast for three days, which they do surprisingly, from their King to his lowliest subject. That’s when things turn around for the Ninevites, and God spares them.
Using the gospel, Cardinal Tagle showed how the “enemy” was given another chance by God.
Ironically, God’s change of heart runs counter to Jonas’ own sense of justice. He still thinks the Ninevites, those incorrigible warlike people, deserving of destruction. If he has gone to ask them to pray and fast, he has done so only in obedience to God. And when God decides to spare them, Jonas feels his ego bruised and Israel deprived of ultimate victory.
Jonas, being as human as we all prove to be, cannot see beyond his and his own people’s interest, but God’s love and compassion transcends everything.
Tagle, in his homily, seemed to suggest we do some transcending ourselves. He said, “Why not look at the perceived enemy as a neighbor, a brother or a sister, a fellow Filipino. Then there would be no more enemy and when there is no enemy, who would you wage war against?”
“Alas,” he adds with an apologetic chuckle, “if the enemy is a relative who owes you money, it could mean erasing a debt owed, a condonation.”
That’s what is so endearing about Cardinal Tagle, he makes us smile and think. In fact, he brought me back to a situation in my own life when I had to come to the negotiating table for a marital settlement. Setting aside my own idea of fairness, I settled and ended the conflict. All I needed was to trust and have faith in justice done justly by a higher judge.
Trust, like love, is an act of will, and without it there’s no leap of faith, without which in turn we’d never discover the better part of ourselves and, perhaps, of life itself.