Dawn Musing on War

It’s already 3:30 AM in Bangkok but dreamland seems to be so far away from me. I read a book “Conflict and Stability in Southeast Asia” but it didn’t help me doze off. Instead, it led my mind to meander over what’s happening around the globe at the moment.

Environmental catastrophes wracked several countries such as the recent earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand and the eruption of Mt. Bulusan in my beloved country Philippines. Political unrest continues to escalate in the Middle East not to mention the conflict over a parcel of land and a temple between Cambodia and Thailand.

Perhaps, talking about war is not a new thing. War seems to be a never ending tale arising from both absurd to serious issues. I said “absurd” having Helen in mind, the face that launched a thousand ships resulting to the Trojan War.

Talking about war may not be new but being where the war is puts one into an entirely different dimension.

More than two years have passed yet my memories of the uprising in Iligan, the capital city of Lanao del Norte in Mindanao are still freshly embedded in my thoughts. Too much reading of news on Middle East made me remember my own war experience.

I was a Global Xchange volunteer then. We were a team of 9 Filipinos and 9 British volunteers who came to Iligan, the magnificent city of waterfalls, for the second phase of the Global Xchange Programme.

Me and my work placement counterpart Dee Mills volunteered at the Reconciliatory Initiatives for Development Opportunities (RIDO), a Muslim non-profit organisation established mainly to settle disputes between Muslim clans.

At that time, clashes between the government troops and rebel groups as well as kidnappings were rampant in Mindanao particularly in Marawi City, an hour away from Iligan.



Our work placement supervisor, a highly respected Muslim leader and peace advocate, brought us to Marawi City to attend the wedding of one of the Muslim volunteers in the organisation. It was my first time to attend a Muslim wedding and I had so much fun and learning.

On our way to Marawi, Kuya Pogs shared his experiences as a conflict mediator. He mediated between kidnappers and the authorities and between clans, amongst others. His sister explained to us the history of Muslim rebellion against the government and their plight for self-determination.

Seeing the face of Marawi was a bit surreal for me knowing there was an encounter between the military and MILF few days before we came. The place gave a historic feel emanated by the preserved historical structures and artefacts.

On our way back to Iligan in the evening, my mind drifted on negative thoughts. What if we will be ambushed or caught in crossfire? Then I told myself, “so this is how it feels to live in a war zone”. There is no peace in the community and peace of mind among the residents.

Who would have thought that I will experience more than just fearing the possibilities that played in my imagination? Few weeks before GX ends, a bomb exploded in Iligan City which marked the beginning of upheaval in the town.


It was never easy to be in such turmoil. Anything can happen anytime at any place. We heard explosions anywhere. The fear we were feeling was tormenting.

Our host family were already talking about leaving the place until things settle down. Then again I thought, “How can things happen so quickly that the other day they were going about their business normally and now they are faced with the predicament of uncertainty?”

They are a well-off family, I am pretty sure they can manage even if they have to start over again in another place. They have a car to take them to where they can be safe. What worried me were the thousands of people who have no resources to support them, people who have nowhere to go.

Witnessing things unfold, seeing the agony in people’s eyes, hearing different tragic stories was heart-breaking.

At dawn the following day, the whole team were evacuated to Cagayan de Oro. Everyone was devastated at the sudden twist of events. We were then looking forward to our community farewell and it turned out we were not even able to say proper goodbyes to those people who have been a great part of our 3-month sojourn.

On our way to Cagayan de Oro, we came across military trucks full of armed troops heading to Iligan. It was just one of the many things I thought I will only see on TV.


We stayed safely at South East Asia Rural Social Leadership Institute (SEARSOLIN), a unit of the Xavier University. We had a session to discuss and let out our feelings and plan what we can do for Iligan. How we wished we can go back and help the displaced people who were staying at the evacuation centres but we were not allowed for our own safety.

We felt defeated at the thought of leaving our host community when the very reason why we came there was to work for peace and development. But then, there are a lot of means to an end. Our team tapped several organizations where we can get involved in their relief efforts. We visited every class at Xavier University and encouraged students to donate goods and food.


My experience with war may not be that worst but the mark it left in my life was something I wouldn’t have acquired if I only read the news or watch it on TV.

It reminded me that material things, conflicts, ambitions, hatred and stuff of that sort will no longer matter when we are at the verge of fighting for our life. It made me wish for only one thing, to be beside the people I love most. It made me count the time I wasted not saying words to people who mattered so much to me. It opened my heart even more to other people and strengthened my compassion.

Perhaps, I can go on with my realisations but at this point, I want to end this by saying, we will never run out of ways to make a difference and help others, all we need is love and everything will follow.


Avatar and the message behind

I’m not a movie-fanatic but I was deeply moved by the youtube trailer of The Secret which I owe great thanks to Joseph Emmanuel Lansang for giving me the link. I haven’t recovered from the frenzy of The Secret yet when he told me to watch Avatar saying “Watch it and you will thank me more“. In less than an hour I saw status updates on Facebook Livestream talking about the movie and how good it was. ‘Twas not until I read the Avatar review of Rebecca Murray at that I finally found my way to the cinema. My friend Jytjyt Soliva was at first very reluctant to watch it because for her, ‘280 Baht is way too expensive for a movie’. But having convinced by her co-teachers, she ended up on the seat beside me.

As I let my 3D glasses take me to Pandora, I felt I was hypnotized by its exhilarating panorama. The 3D glasses was indeed successful in letting the viewers delve into the world of the Na’vis. It gave me the feeling that I was actually there, a part of their world and sharing with them the magnificent beauty that nature has to offer. Two thumbs up for James Cameron for such an ‘out of the box’ creativity. The cinematography was perfect.

What I liked most about the movie was the love ingredient James Cameron has incorporated. Jake leaving the human world to be one with the alien Neytiri was way too romantic. But despite the grandiose scenes and the magical feeling that runs through my veins, I can’t help but be bothered by the evident message of the movie. One doesn’t need to reach the climax of the story before realizing its connection to the catastrophic phenomena humans are experiencing at present.

According to Murray, “Avatar is set in a future in which we’re able to travel to distant planets and interact the natives.” Here’s my own take on that. Watching the movie was like taking off on a time machine that brought me back to the past, where our world  was like that of Pandora, peacefully inhabited by our ancestors. But humanity’s greed placed our mother land to destruction just like the Na’vis’ tree of life.

How the Na’vis grieved for losing their loved ones and home reflects the suffering of those victims of calamities at present. And the sad truth is that what ruined their harmonious life is basically the same to what destroyed our land right now, technological advancement, literally. Although innovations are necessary for the improvement of life, the inevitable misuse and overuse of these technologies led to various environmental destructions.

The last 30 minutes of the movie showed how the humans were defeated by the Na’vis despite their use of high-tech shields. I felt that the Na’vis were sending us a message, that at the very end when it’s time for mother nature to take its revenge, even the greatest inventions of man cannot save us.