Wednesday, January 11, 2006

There's The Rub / Encounters

There's The Rub
By Conrado de Quiros

First posted 11:32pm (Mla time) Jan 10, 2006

A FRIEND of mine asked me if I had any thoughts about initiatives that could help bridge the divide between Muslims and Christians in this country. He and some colleagues were looking for instances of dialogue, or cultural encounters, that promoted peace, or curbed hostilities, between those warring factions.

I said half in jest that my friend would do better looking for those instances not in the south but right here in the city. As far as I knew, I said, the perfect model for Christian-Muslim harmony was to be found in Quiapo. Nothing spoke of the heights of mutual tolerance than the Quiapo Church, bastion of Catholicism, on one side of the street coexisting with the Muslim mosque, citadel of Islam, on the other side of it.

Thinking about it later, however, I realized it wasn't a joke at all. A perfectly serious case could be made for it. The "taming of the Moro [native Muslim] quarter" in Quiapo should make for an interesting study, academic or otherwise, offering as it does a wealth of insights into how to turn swords into plowshares.

Not too long ago, the place was a virtual no-man's land. During Alfredo Lim's time as mayor of Manila, in particular, the "Muslim center," as it was often referred to, which is that side of Quiapo opposite the Quiapo Church, past the underpass, all the way to Arlegui, Globo de Oro, and the other small clogged streets that run through there like the arteries of someone badly needing a heart bypass, was whispered with the same awe and dread as "Tondo" in the 1960s. It was not uncommon to find "salvage" victims there. Nor was it uncommon to find close encounters of the bloody kind between cops and robbers there, the robbers disappearing into the folds of the place as into a foggy redoubt and the cops refusing to follow. Many a cop that did so failed to come out alive.

That at least was the image that gripped the public mind, aided in no small way by the tabloids that screamed the mayhem in bold headlines. Until a few years ago, vestiges of that unsavory reputation still clung to that place. When I told people that the cheapest place to buy DVDs was in Quiapo, specifically the Muslim area, some of them were aghast and marveled at my intrepidness in venturing that far afield. I assured them there was nothing fearful about the place, it was nowhere near the wild frontier they supposed it to be. The wariness has disappeared almost completely today. The place is still a sprawl, dirty and grimy, and muddy on rainy days, but it is also home particularly on weekends to Mitsubishi Pajero and Honda CRV sports utility vehicles, parked on its periphery, in the area under the Quiapo Bridge. Or what used to be called "Isle de Tulle," the Frenchified "ilalim ng tulay," or under the bridge.

What had wrought this amazing transformation? The DVDs, of course.

Or more accurately the "pirated DVDs," which can be bought for a song in those parts, or however P50 counts these days. The periodic raids of Edu Manzano's henchmen notwithstanding, which look more and more like an elaborate ritual taken for PR purposes, the DVD market grows by leaps and bounds. The fringes are caught up in it too and keep expanding. The downside I leave the believers in intellectual property rights to argue. The upside is that you find no quarrels between the inebriated crowd that heaves the Black Nazarene through the streets on its feast day shouting pious litanies and the sober one loudly chanting praises to Allah particularly during the lean and hungry days of Ramadan. If that isn't tolerance, I don't know what is.

Two things I gather from this, which could have some bearing on the work of peace advocates. One is that the presumed animosity between Christians and Muslims in this country is more imagined than real. I don't know how it is in Muslim Mindanao, I suspect it is just as exaggerated. The animosity hasn't seeped into the level of the man in the street. I do know that in the Visayas, there are still numerous reminders of the Moro piratical raids. Tagbilaran, the capital of Bohol, as I learned some years ago, means "tago B'laan," or to hide from the pirates. I do know that the Feast of the Cross in some parts of Leyte is related to the many miracles the Cross of Christ apparently worked to protect Visayan communities from the Moro pirates in Spanish times.

But I don't know that the animosity is active today among ordinary folk. The distrust seems to have less to do with the idea of a Moro stabbing you in the back than with him stabbing you in the pocket. Courtesy of all those jokes about the Moro trader, but which are no more and no less than the jokes about the sly Chinese and shrewd Bombay.

The second and more important thing you can glean from the experience is that you turn people into stakeholders, or give them a stake in peace, you get peace. People who have a source of livelihood will not imperil their source of livelihood. Today, the "barangay" [neighborhood district] council in the Muslim quarter zealously keeps the peace there, fearful that any mugging or bloodletting could ward off the droves of visitors that regularly descend on it. Of course some people will argue that pirated DVDs, which for reasons I have yet to fathom have become a Moro franchise-they're the ones selling the thing even in Baguio City, or so someone tells me-are not unlike Colombian cocaine. And some will say the pirated DVDs suggest that Moros have not gotten over their time-honored skullduggery. I disagree completely, though I'll leave my arguments there for another day. Suffice it for me to say that the only thing that suggests skull and crossbones from where I stand are the periodical raids of Edu's men which take on the aspect of Francis Drake's one-eyed and toothless men looting the loot-laden Spanish galleons.

By the way, have you seen the early works of Ingmar Bergman...?

Editor's Note: Published on Page A12 of the January 11, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

No comments: