I haven’t written a column in a few months, so I thought I’d share a snippet of a past column of mine originally published in the USA Today Network.
I think it goes well with the message printed on this page — about the true meaning of Christmas, often lost in this turbulent world we call home.
So, here it goes.
Each year during this season, a Christmas miracle happens in the Philippines: War stops, well, at least for a couple weeks — ceasefire is upheld and observed between warring groups in some regions of the country.
I’ve been in contact with a former colleague, a top political journalist, who told me Wednesday a formal announcement has not been made public regarding a unilateral ceasefire. Traditionally, the ceasefire between government troops and communist guerillas starts two days before Christmas and lasts for about a couple of weeks.
In 2014, it started midnight on Dec. 18. And ended midnight on Jan. 19 — at that time the longest Christmas truce in three decades. This one lasted this long because Pope Francis was in the country for a 4-day visit — the Philippines is a predominantly Roman Catholic country.
The communist rebels have been fighting to overthrow the government for more than 50 years. The conflict has killed well more than 40,000 people and stunted growth in resource-rich rural areas.
The 4,000-member guerrilla force is largely based in mining areas on the southern island of Mindanao.
During the ceasefire, the communist New People’s Army and other people’s militia are not to carry out offensive operations against the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, and the various armed paramilitary groups attached to the government.
I don’t recall how long the ceasefire was in 1991, my second year of covering the Philippine military and national police, but I do remember the relief in the faces of the troops, moments after the president declared that a truce has been bartered and combat operations were suspended.
Several hurriedly left our encampment in the mountains and went home to their families, but some were ordered to stay to maintain security, albeit minimum, within the base camp.
I decided to stay, a move I would forever remember, not in the scale of combat action coverage, but in the humanity I saw, the transformation I witnessed as warriors from opposing sides understood how hard it was to attain harmony when ideologies clash and political aspirations take priority over human dignity.
The officer in charge of the camp allowed me and about 10 rangers to go to town and pick up food — and booze, of course — for the camp’s Christmas Eve meal. Riding with heavily armed Philippine Army Scout Rangers holds a certain degree of risk, but it was different this time. Mind you these guys specialize in jungle warfare, but that trip to town was more of a revelation ride than anything else.
Sure, they were armed, but not to the teeth like they normally were when they went on patrols.
They were wearing civilian clothes but somehow as we entered into the market, the crew-cuts these guys were sporting gave them away. Many kept their distance because of the distrust the masses have of the military.
Then something out of the norm happened. Something I never expected: A group of children with their mothers approached our entourage with a basket full of fruits. The women handed the basket to one of the rangers, pointed at a distance where three men were standing, and said they were their husbands and they wanted to give them something to enjoy with their Christmas Eve meal.
The men were communist rebels, and I thought for sure we were in for a gun battle. I looked around and realized we were out in the open with nowhere to hide. My heart pounded and felt like it was going to burst out of my chest.
The people around us scattered and we were left in the middle of the wet market. I froze, closed my eyes, and got ready to die.
But it wasn’t our time.
Without hesitation, the government warriors walked toward their enemy and what happened next still gives me goosebumps to this day.
The men, who just a few weeks ago were trying to kill each other, shook hands and wished each other peace, lasting peace.
I saw a lot of killing during my time covering the military, and I lost hope along the way that there will be peace in my motherland. That sight that day, the sincerity in the men’s eyes, gave me a glimmer that there still is a possibility the fighting will cease for good.
Indeed, there’s too much at stake on both sides — politically and economically.
I know it’s not easy, but at least give it a chance. This war has gone far too long with no end in sight until one army wipes out the other.
In the end, the outcome of this God-forsaken bloody quarrel will not determine who’s right, but who’s left.
The rank and file, I believe, will not kill each other without orders from the top. So, perhaps the government jefes and rebel supremos need to get together and hash things out.
Maybe start by exchanging fruit baskets.
John Mangalonzo is the executive editor of The Paducah Sun. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @jmangalonzo.