Love necessarily involves listening. Listening is the first act of love. We listen because we love and worship a Creator-God who listens. We listen because it is the initial action we need to demonstrate as we seek to love, and to build peace with, our neighbors.

Datu Brunz, Lyndee Prieto, and I pose for a souvenir photo near the tomb of Sultan Muhammad Dipatuan Kudarat (c. 1590–1671), the 7th Sultan of Maguindanao from 1619 to 1671. Lyndee is the Philippine Program Coordinator for the Initiatives for International Dialogue who led the facilitation of this Listening Pilgrimage in Maguindanao. 12-13 December 2018.

Last Wednesday and Thursday, 12-13 December 2018, I was in Sultan Mastura and Sultan Kudarat municipalities in Maguindanao Province, participating in a ‘Listening Pilgrimage’ with a team from the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID) through the invitation of Ms. Lyndee Prieto, who serves as the Philippine Program Coordinator for the Initiatives for International Dialogue.

We were seeking to —

  • Strengthen relationships among certain tribal leaders towards durable and sustainable peace;
  • Understand the Bangsamoro traditional leaders’ or sultans’ narratives and perspectives on history, culture, and governance in attaining justice and keeping the peace — including their views on historical injustices as traditional leaders, and their perspectives on the milestones of the Bangsamoro struggle and stories of survival;
  • Recognize the cultural dimension and role of Bangsamoro traditional leaders or Moro clans in the overall “peace process” — including the role of culture and governance in peacebuilding — then, now, and beyond.

This listening process is a part of a low-key and often community-oriented transitional justice related efforts of the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID). These efforts are widely supported with the participation of the All-Out Peace (AOP) network — a national convergence of civil society organization “where citizens are emboldened to take a stand for peace and reject war or any form of armed violence”; and, of the Mindanao PeaceWeavers (MPW) — “a convergence of peace advocates in Mindanao with solidarity networks in Manila and Visayas.”

PeaceBuilders Community is an active member of both the Mindanao PeaceWeavers and the All-Out Peace Network. Our participation in these movements is motivated by a Peace Theology which is the framework of our peacebuilding ministry.

For me, this particular ‘Listening Pilgrimage’ is a continuation of a decade-long relationship building with the Maguindanao and the Iranun peoples in Central Mindanao. It was in 2004 when I rediscovered and embraced my Malay heritage through my immersion into the Maguindanaoan culture. I also experienced that, as a follower of Jesus, I can appreciate my cultural heritage in a redemptive way — that is, enjoying the God-glorifying and humanizing aspects of my newly rediscovered Malay culture, while submitting to the Creator those dehumanizing aspects of culture that need purification.

In Maguindanao, I have been transformed. In Maguindanao, I rediscovered the Malay part of me that my Western upbringing has forgotten. In Maguindanao, God redeemed a part of my cultural identity and opened my eyes to a new understanding of our ultimate future — when the redeemed cultures and dignity of all ethnic groups will be brought before the holy presence of our Creator (Rev. 21:26). And in Mindanao, I can start enjoying that ultimate future — right now!

After listening to the leaders and representatives of the Téduray, Erumanen Ne Menuvu, and Iranun tribes regarding transitional justice in the last few days, the more I am convinced that a justice system is effective and sustainable only when it’s based on indigenous ‘worldview’ (what to them is final reality), indigenous ‘value system’ (what to them is important), and indigenous ‘behavior patterns’ (what to them is right and proper).

Such justice system may be enhanced by some best practices imported from other cultures, but it must be indigenous in its foundations.

A justice system without indigenous roots is not sustainable and therefore not effective.

I participated in this particular ‘Listening Pilgrimage’ as an act of love.

  • I seek to listen because I seek to love and worship a Creator-God who listens. “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.” (Psalm 116:1-2)
  • I seek to listen because listening is the first act of loving and building peace with my neighbors. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19)

The final realization that dawned on me during this ‘Listening Pilgrimage’ is this: It’s not about how we feel about the excellence of our talk. It’s about how they expressed their assessment on how much we listened.

For a Protestant Christian preacher like me who’s trained to deliver a talk and to work hard to be an eloquent speaker, this realization on improving my listening skills is a new revelation!

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