ONE congressional candidate asked the audience to say “I love you” to each other, another read a dead man’s affidavit accusing another candidate present of dirty election tactic, and a mayoralty candidate asked everyone to stand up and pray with him. But other than these surprises, the Local Candidates Forum spearheaded by the Interreligious Solidarity for Peace (ISP) last April 13’s achieved its objectives. Which is, for the candidates to inform the voters what – and express their undying commitments to – their individual platforms and plans on how to promote or strengthen peace in Zamboanga City if and when elected.
Not surprisingly, though, some candidates expressed a very limited understanding of what peace means, how it is uniquely constituted in a society as special as Zamboanga’s. If peace were an adobo, every community has its own recipe for how to cook it, excitingly different from others’.
That’s the principle Fr. Angel Calvo, CMF dished out in his opening remarks in the forum, held in Marcian Business Hotel and attended by a few hundreds community leaders. As important as the issues of the Bangsamoro peace process or the spiraling criminality in the city, there are other concerns that are “major! major!” as well: the welfare of street children, marginalized indigenous peoples (Badjaos and Subanens, etc.), urban poor, trafficked women, environment, etc. The structural violence, often created by governmental and social neglect, goes on and on – but should be ended by the candidates lucky enough on May 13 election day. That’s the challenge the forum presented to the candidates.
In varying degrees, most of these issues were discussed in the forum, quickly but hopefully enough to enlighten individuals in the audience as to who deserves their vote as far as their communal peace issues are concerned.
The open forum was superbly moderated by Dr. Grace Rebollos, in the sense that she prioritized equitably the questions from the audience, including from a Muslim street kid and an upland farmer. Fr. Calvo said in his opening remarks that an election is the most important moment in a democratic society. The plain and honest questions from simple folks like the street kid or rural farmer would let voters know in whom among the candidates they could entrust their future and their peace.