Hope for Peace

As I look upon the faces of people in countries suffering from conflict or war, I ask myself, "Why do we inflict such fear and pain on each other? What do we gain from this?"


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by Vida Hequilan

Vida is the Coordinator of the Central Leadership Team  of the Columban Lay Missionaries based in Hong Kong.

On February 1st of this year, the people in Myanmar woke up to a country in a coup d’état. On May 10th, an outbreak erupted in the middle of an ongoing Israeli and Palestinian conflict. As these disputes unfolded in the news, I cannot help but remember the most terrifying experience I lived through when my hometown of Ipil (Mindanao, Philippines) was terrorized by the newly organized militants, Abu Sayyaf.


(Photo from Google Maps) 

It was on April 4, 1995, just a few days after my high school graduation. I was eating my lunch in front of the TV when I suddenly heard noises that sounded like fireworks. My first thought was that somebody must be celebrating a big birthday since it wasn’t the day of the town’s fiesta. After about thirty-minutes or so, I saw people running. Our house is on the side of the road, so I went out onto the street with my cousins and uncle. We asked a man why people were running. He said that soldiers were fighting in the town center and shooting at the restaurants and stores. Then, I saw my aunt’s co-worker who told a similar incident. More people came running, yelling at everyone to hide because the soldiers who were shooting in the town center were on their way. As we were about to enter the house, a distraught woman asked my mother if she could hide with us since her house was still miles away.

Once inside, everything seemed quiet, so my uncle checked the road outside and saw a group of soldiers approaching. As they came closer, he noticed that they were wearing slippers. It was suspicious so he told my father what he saw. My father told all ten of us to hide in one of the bedrooms while he and my uncle fetched my father’s photos and diplomas which were hanging on the living room wall so they wouldn’t know that he was a policeman. Meanwhile, I hid under the bed with my younger cousins who were five and six years old. When they came back, they told us not to make any noise because the soldiers were outside our house. I vividly remember the fearful expression on everyone’s faces. Even my younger cousins, who probably did not understand what was happening, were frightened. Overwhelmed with great fear that the soldiers would come inside and kill us, I hugged my cousins and prayed for God’s protection.

I did not know how long the soldiers stayed outside. My father was the one who learned from the neighbors that the soldiers had left through the forest. When I peeked outside, the streets were empty and eerily quiet.

It was decided that it would be safer for us to go to our relative’s house and hide in their basement. We all went including our two visitors. When we arrived, most of our relatives and neighbors were also there. Thankfully, the place was big enough to could accommodate a lot of people. We spent our time in the basement praying, until we were told that it was safe for us to go outside. It was already late in the afternoon when we got back to our house. We learned that the town center was destroyed. The banks were ransacked and robbed, a number of people had died and some got injured, while a few were kidnapped. Some of those who died were my neighbors.

 I also learned that those who attacked my hometown were not soldiers, but rather a terrorist group called Abu Sayyaf in military fatigues. Some of them went inside houses to steal food and money and even gunned down the residents.

Summer that year was sad and gloomy. Fear and uncertainty loomed large as we tried to recover from the devastating experience. I carried this fear with me for some time and it took me a while to reclaim my life. Though I am thankful nothing happened to me or my family, it was hard for us to deal with everything we lost: our sense of freedom, security, and trust in addition to friends and neighbors. My hometown of Ipil has not been the same since then.

When I went home from Taiwan for the holidays in 2008, there were news that the Abu Sayyaf would come again. Everyone was is in panic! For an entire day, Ipil was at a standstill with everyone hiding in their own houses. In the following years, Ipil continued to receive similar threats. It is not easy to continuously live in and with fear.

As I look upon the faces of people in countries suffering from conflict or war, I ask myself, "Why do we inflict such fear and pain on each other? What do we gain from this?" Pope Francis said, “War is the suicide of humanity because it kills the heart and kills love.” However, one thing that did not die that day in my hometown was the gift of hope. We remain hopeful that each human being will work together for peace, so that peace and reconciliation will reign in our hearts.


(Photo by VICTORIA CALAGUIAN, 5 May 1995)

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(Aerial photo of Ipil, BBC News, December 19, 1998)