Cardinal Quevedo’s Prodigal Son

What makes the well-known Gospel parable about the Prodigal Son a fitting analogy to the evolving situation and difficulties of the Mindanao peace process?

On Monday, March 9, Mindanews published online a message, entitled “Grieving, Doing Justice, Working for Peace (A Letter To All Christians)” by Cotabato City Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, OMI. In it, he admonished Christian Filipinos, caught in the tumultuous aftermath – often fanned by vicious comments and sentiments – of the Mamasapano tragedy, to “Let not emotions, biases and prejudices prevail over objective reason and over our most cherished Christian values of justice and peace, truth, love and harmony. . . In the face of outrage and calls for all-out war for the manner by which our law enforcers lost their lives, I call for peace. I call for rationality rather than emotionalism. I call for justice that is not selective. I call for openness and fairness rather than bias and prejudice.”

He called for justice for the 44 Special Action Force policemen killed in battle in Mamasapano last January 25. He appealed for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) because “It fulfills the Bangsamoro aspiration for self-determination. It preserves our fundamental principles of national sovereignty and territorial integrity.(Although) yes, by all means we must refine the BBL so that it will hew closely to our Constitution.”

Cardinal Quevedo made no reference to the Parable of the Prodigal Son in his message. Yet, the passage of the BBL that he espouses can be likened to the father – that is, the Philippine government – joyfully throwing his house gate open to welcome back his once wayward, now returning son – that is, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). In Luke Chapter 15, Jesus narrated on with the story thus: “But while he (prodigal son) was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.”

In agreeing to drop secessionism, Cardinal Quenedo alluded in his message, the MILF has opted to return to the fold of the nation, to the father’s house after years of futile attempts to achieve a separate (or separatist) existence.

“Meanwhile,” Jesus continued with his parable, “the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ “

Indeed, those opposing or criticizing the BBL have questioned the huge budget proposed for the new Bangsamoro entity, they have denigrated the MILF as wanton trouble-makers or terrorists, not to be trusted but instead kept out of national community and punished with an all-out war. “We dismiss as sham the conversion of MILF from a secessionist movement into a principled partner for peace. We persist in calling them ‘secessionists,’” Cardinal Quevedo lamented.

In his 29th EDSA People Power anniversary last February 25, President Aquino, referring to the angry response to the SAF 44’s death, said: “For us who experienced Edsa, we are aware of the positive effect of sobriety. Instead of giving in to anger and emotion, let us give way to reason, trust and love for one another”.

Mamasapano in the context of the nation’s quest for peace in Mindanao and relatedly for socio-economic progress for the nation is a conundrum. As a mystery seeking rational explanation, it paradoxically rises to the level of a legend in the making, about the blood of martyrs watering the meadows (or cornfields) of peace. Justice for the SAF 44 can be had from the courts of law (and not the parliament of the streets), through reasoned prosecution. On the other hand, the obstacles to peace their deaths created, a dilemma of subjective human convergence, can only be resolved through the power of intuitive affirmations, to “walk by faith and not by sight”, of a Gandhian response of love begets love.

Jesus concluded his parable story thus: “My son,” the father said (to his resentful older son), “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we have to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (ZABIDA-PAZ)

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