(super disclaimer -- I am no expert at Mindanao issues, nor do I claim to be)
If you're anything like me, you probably don't understand the nuances of the Mindanao conflict. What's happening in Mindanao, the continuous conflict between rebel groups + government troops, the prickly peace agreements, the clan feuds, etc. -- these are long-running issues that someone like me will never fully grasp or understand. Today, I tried to catch up to what was happening in Zamboanga and found myself almost at an utter loss to really explain it or get to the root of the problem. My background seems to have built itself into a silo that will never truly understand the difficulties of what a Mindanaoan would go through. I'm a twenty-something year old Catholic living in Manila. I've never found myself in the minority in this country before. I've lived in Luzon most of my life and my descendants hail from Visayas. I will never be comfortable speaking about the Mindanao crisis. But this Zamboanga crisis is precisely the wake-up call for the rest of us living in blissful ignorance as the majority.
Let's look at these disaster facts:
Big numbers. Big big numbers. Now tell me, which disaster did you pay attention to more?
Admittedly, we're metro-centric. The infrastructure for media, for government, for progress is largely in Metro Manila so the wealth of information we get from the capital is deeper than what we get from Mindanao. The flow of information is easier, everything is built to support the seat of our government and the business capital of our country. But just because things are easier in the capital doesn't mean we create a silo or a bubble where all the attention is turned inward to our little world.
When a disaster caused by a complex emergency like armed conflict causes numbers as alarming or more alarming than a typhoon, we are required to sit up and take notice regardless of what the issue is and which side you fall on. When more than 100,000 people (a big chunk of that innocent, peaceful civilians) are caught in the crossfire, we should start pouring efforts into humanitarian relief and into the protection and safety of these people. Armed conflict will always be trickier, because of violence and security issues and access, but by all means, we do not give up on getting the conflict-stricken population aid. We take notice, we pay attention, we pressure to get them assistance where we, as laypersons, cannot give it directly.
Here's why a twenty-something-Catholic living in Manila and never in the minority should care. Just because we are not Muslim or Mindanaoan does not mean this does not affect us; in fact, we should feel all the more responsible for dragging the areas less progressive than the major cities of the country with us (regardless if it's elsewhere in Luzon, Visayas or Mindanao). Just because we don't understand the context of hundreds of years of Bangsamoro history doesn't mean it isn't part of Philippine history. And precisely because we can motivate ourselves to care and mobilize civilian efforts into relief and aid for typhoon victims, means we should be doing the same for other kinds disasters in other areas of the country. We can't pick and choose who we help because a typhoon is easier than armed conflict or war, or because Zamboanga is so far south and Metro Manila is not.
Being a humanitarian means thinking about people as human beings, not as opposing sides of a fence where we withhold aid because of geography, religion, politics, alliances or culture. Being a humanitarian doesn't mean you have to be an expert at history, politics or religion. It just means you have to practice being an expert at being humane.
Abbi is a petite human, blogger, amateur photographer, permanent humanitarian, avid traveller, culture addict, giant bookworm and impossible foodie.