Fr. Mercado is the chairman of Kusog Mindanaw, a platform of dialogue among Mindanao leaders and thinkers since 1994. He delivered this speech at the opening of Kusog Mindanaw 2019 Conference in Davao City on July 11, 2019. 


A year ago, at our Kusog Mindanaw Conference we grappled with three concrete and pressing issues: First was amending the Constitution to pave the way for the shift from Unitary System to Federal Form of government; and 2nd on the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or RA 11054; and the 3rd was the issue of Security and ML in Mindanao since May 2017.


The first issue remains the pending agenda of President Duterte’s administration. The 2nd is now in transition phase towards fully establishing the BARMM in May 2022. And the 3rd remains a major concern, especially after the human & car bomb in Lamitan City, the Suicide Bombing in Jolo Cathedral; and the latest the suicide bombing also directed to the AFP Camp in Indanan Sulu. While all the bombing and the destruction of Marawi occurred within the co fines of former ARMM – now BARMM, ML is in operation for the entirety of Mindanao.


PRRD has delivered on his commitment to sincerely deal with Mindanao issue, that is, to a just and peaceful political settlement that is inclusive of all – Lumads, Bangsamoro and Christians.


The second issue remains ambiguous and still needing further discussion and refinement to establish a national consensus to revise the 1987 Constitution and move to federalism. In the absence of clear direction and consensus on the type of Federalism, people are beginning to contemplate a sort of transition by way of amending rather than revising the Constitution and allow first genuine political reforms like full devolution of powers to LGUs and Regions, political party reforms that include purification of the party list system that represent truly marginal and vulnerable sectors and electoral reforms that apportion true representation and funding of political campaigns.


It is in this context that while looking for an inspiration to open this year conference of Kusog Mindanao, I came upon with Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream”. When I was younger, much younger and many years ago, that same masterpiece had inspired me to go his way and dare dream for Mindanao.


With some modifications in the original “I Have a Dream”, I offer the short piece below for reflection…


I dream of a prosperous and peaceful Mindanao where all the inhabitants feel safe and secure and there is no more war and fear. 


I dare to dream of Mindanao where the majority of people want to live together, to co-exist, perhaps initially uncomfortably but open to learn how to live together as common stakeholders of this land.


I remain convinced that God creates all in love, that love is natural in our nature, and it is in fact hate and mistrust and conflict that are unnatural. 


And if we have been taught hatred, we can ‘un-teach’ hatred and replace it with an inclusive love. Our hearts are big enough for all - Lumads, Bangsamoro and Christians.


Martin Luther King taught us that we have a choice: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We have gone down the path of attempting to violently annihilate one another, and it has gotten us nothing but this vortex of pain and destruction. It is time to try the higher path of nonviolent coexistence, illuminated by love.


I dream of a day when our children, Indigenous children, Moro children and Christian children, go to school together, live in the same communities, and work the same fields together and are empowered to chart our destiny as a community within the community of nations.


That day is possible, and our coexistence is possible and our self-determination of our destiny is possible. We dare each one to rise above our own worst fears, and reach out to others who wish to coexist with us. Dr. King was right: we are all bound up in an inescapable network of mutuality.


Martin Buber was right: we achieve our full humanity when the “I” is projected into the “Thou”. Jesus and Muhammad (peace upon them) were right: that which we do to the least of humanity we do to one another. 


Is convergence of the dreams of multiple communities in southern Philippines possible? Is it an illusion to work together as partners to realize all our dreams, not one at the expense of another? It is to that common humanity that we appeal. And may the path to Truth and Reconciliation begin with each of us, today as we face the new beginning in shaping a prosperous and peaceful Mindanao. Padayon, Kusog Mindanaw.