The major papers here in the Philippines tend to echo the headlines of the New York Times or CNN.

So this week, all the headlines are about Gaza.

Needless to say, few here are aware of small things like Hamas having the goal to eliminate Israel, or the thousand missiles that have kept Israelis in bomb shelters. The headlines blare the number killed, so local Filipinos think the fight is one sided, and feel sorry for the poor people being killed, and rejoice when they find the 17 Filipinos living in Gaza are safe.

No, nobody is worrying about the 50thousand Filipinos living in Israel who are also at risk…or if they are, it is a small one paragraph story in a back section mentioning that they are “safe”.

But headlines here often have a different emphasis than in the US paper: it might report the number of nurses who pass their examinations (and can get jobs in the US) or another Photo op for President Gloria, who is meeting with some other head of state and finding jobs for our people overseas.

For example, today’s headlines are about the Black Nazarene procession, which is forcing traffic in center city Manila to be diverted.

The procession is either a vestige of paganism, a scam by a church that promotes superstition, or a devout religious practice, depending on your point of view.

The popularity of the procession is actually because people identify with the suffering Christ: since Jesus suffered, he understands their own pain and suffering. A South American professor who is a friend of mine described it thus: You North Americans read about Christ’s suffering in a book, and think about it. In the procession, we identify with his suffering not in the head but in the heart…

Those who have been through suffering are part of what Albert Schweitzer called the “fellowship of pain”, which explains why the Filipinos care so much about the suffering of the Gazan people.

Another story that isn’t on the front page but is in the back of everyone’s mind is the danger of bomb attacks at the procession.

A couple months ago, the “peace treaty” with the last remaining group of Moro/Muslim rebels, the MILF, fell through because non Muslim locals, some recent, some there for generations, thought it would mean they would lose their rights and maybe even their land and businesses.

Since then, there has been a couple bombs going off every week, and there have been frequent attacks against Christian villagers in some parts of Mindanao.

The latest is the tourching of 30 houses in a Christian village.

Yet often the overseas press has stories such as this one in the IHTribune, about 2000 Muslim families fleeing from the Philippine military.

Never mind the much larger number of Christians (some estimates say half a million) who were displaced in late 2008 by the “rogue” MILF attacks on unarmed villagers; like the news in Gaza, there is a strange inability to notice atrocities by certain groups hiding behind the name of religion, for fear of hurting their feelings; but let the non peaceful religions fight back and voila, instant “humanitarian crisis”…

So despite the IHTribune, the reality is that the Philippine military are trying to stop the “rogue” MILF groups from harming unarmed civilians, but the innocent Moros who are hurt in the Army “battles” with these rogue groups are sometimes families giving aid and comfort from their comrades/relatives, or sometimes the villagers are hurt because these “insurgents” hide among innocent villagers so that they can cry “atrocity” when the innocent are hurt.

Since President Arroyo is hated by “Human Rights” groups for “extrajudicial killings”, they are quick to point fingers at the military when such accusations occur.

One hopes that the Philippine military will ignore the propaganda, because if the attacks continue, the Christian and animist tribes in the area will take things into their own hands and re-institute their own militias; These groups were infamous during the Marcos era for their revenge, committing atrocities that cause much death, suffering, and refugees back then.

In other words, if the Army doesn’t eliminate the threat, civil war might break out in some areas of the southern Philippines.

In the meanwhile, the government is trying to clam things down.

The major news tends to underreport the attack, for example, so as not to inflame locals.

Christians (who now make up a majority of the population in Mindanao) have been advised by the local police to stop religious celebrations and fiestas, since several grenades/bombs have been thrown at people, buildings, and churches during previous festivals.

Apparently fiestas ” ..might…provoke Muslim militants.”

Behala na, what will be will be, as most Filipinos say. For better or worse, there is rarely the “hyperventillation” over danger that one sees in the US.  So one doubts fiestas, even in Mindanao will stop.

So today a million people in Manila will pray and follow the “Black Nazarene”, strengthening their hearts to bear troubles, knowing God himself suffered and has been through the same.

One hopes that they will also remember the words “Father forgive them” is part of the devotion, and prayers for  peace will be said, because one who prays to forgive will be more willing to make peace, and peace is so needed in the south of this country.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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