Dann Pantoja

Dann Pantoja is beginning to use his Tagalog indigenous name -- Lakan Sumulong. This is a statement that our indigenous identities can be a redeeming factor in healing our 'being' (that is, who we are as a people); help symbolize our determination to contribute what we ought to be 'doing' as a nation (that is--active, non-violent, radical transformation); and, determine how we will prioritize what we will be 'having' (that is, inclusive growth and national development based on justice and peace). Asked what fuels his positive outlook in life: “It’s the influence of Jesus, a first century Palestinian carpenter who was executed by the imperial power of his time. He said: ‘Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.’ Jesus defied the ultimate negative factor in our cosmos--death.”

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(L-R): Bennette Grace Tenecio, PBCI Director of Support Operations; Regina Mondez, PBCI Church Resourcing Coordinator - Luzon; Dann Pantoja, PBCI President; Matt Tiessen, PBCI Technical Assistant

PeaceBuilders Community, Inc. (PBCI) was invited to witness the Change of Command Ceremony at the 1003 Infantry Brigade (10th Infantry Division) of the Philippine Army.  It was held last December 6th, 2010 in the Municipality of Sto. Tomas, Province of Davao del Norte. The new Commanding Officer is Col Lysander Suerte. PBCI and Col Suerte got to know each other on the field and in various military-civilian consultations on issues such as Human Rights and Peace Building.

As part of our Peace and Reconciliation (PAR) ministry among our people in this beautiful land, PBCI is getting more involved in seeing the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). Therefore, we are engaging GRP’s Armed Forces of the Philippines in discussing this issue. We hope the NDFP would also allow us to engage with them in this same issue.

Our PBCI Staff have been actively participating in various consultations on Security Sector Reform in the past two years. As an initial national-level culmination of all the field consultations that were happening on the ground, PBCI has been invited to participate in the 1st AFP Conference on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law on December 17, 2010 at the AFP Commissioned Officers Club House, Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo, Quezon City from 8:00 AM to 2:30 PM. The stated goal of the Conference is “to deepen understanding of how to create a culture of human rights in the AFP by gaining insights and receive practical strategies for action from national leaders and institutions and civilian groups.”

Permanent link to this article: https://waves.ca/2010/12/07/interaction-with-the-new-1003-ib-army-commander/


Muhammad Yunus delivering his Nobel Lecture at the Oslo City Hall, 10 December 2006.

Global hunger and world peace are directly linked.

This is the main idea communicated by Muhammad Yunus, the founder and chairman of Grameen Foundation, when he accepted the Norwegian Nobel Prize last Sunday, November 28, 2010:

By giving us this prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has given important support to the proposition that peace is inextricably linked to poverty.

Poverty is a threat to peace.

World’s income distribution gives a very telling story. 94% of the world income goes to 40% of the world population, while 60% of people live only with 6% of the world income. Half of the world population lives on two dollars a day.

The millennium began with a great global dream. World leaders gathered at the United Nations in 2000 and adopted, among others, a historic goal to reduce poverty by half by 2015.

Never in human history had such a bold goal been adopted by the entire world in one voice, one that specified time and size.

But then came September 11 and the Iraq war, and suddenly the world became derailed from the pursuit of this dream, with the attention of the world leaders shifting from the war on poverty to the war on terrorism. ’Til now, over $530 billion has been spent on the war in Iraq by the USA alone.

I believe terrorism cannot be won by the military action. Terrorism must be condemned in the strongest possible language. We must stand solidly against it and find all the means to end it. We must address the root cause of terrorism to end terrorism for all time to come. I believe that putting resources into improving the lives of the poor is a better strategy than spending it on guns.

Peace should be understood in a human way, in a broad social, political and economic way. Peace is threatened by unjust economic, social and political order, absence of democracy, environmental degradation and absence of human rights.

Poverty is the absence of all human rights. The frustrations, hostility and anger generated by abject poverty cannot sustain peace in any society. For building stable peace, we must find ways to provide opportunities for people to live decent lives. The creation of opportunities for the majority of the people—the poor—is at the heart of the work that we have dedicated ourselves during the past 30 years.

The world is facing a hunger crisis unlike anything it has seen in more than 50 years.

Right now, 925 million people are hungry.


Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes. That’s one child every five seconds.

There were 1.4 billion people in extreme poverty in 2005. The World Bank estimates that the spike in global food prices in 2008, followed by the global economic recession in 2009 and 2010 has pushed between 100-150 million people into poverty.  (www.bread.org)

Every year, 20 million people die from hunger and hunger-related diseases. This is equivalent to more than 150 jumbo jet crashes daily for a year in which there are no survivors and in which half of the victims were children.

So, since 911 until now, $530 billion has been spent on the war in Iraq by the USA alone.

Do you know that for $20 billion, we can provide for the basic nutrition for impoverished children all over the world?

Do you know that for $50 billion, we can provide for safe water and sanitation for all the poor people in the world?

How do we, as followers of Jesus Christ, respond to these challenges as part of our witness?

Permanent link to this article: https://waves.ca/2010/11/28/global-hunger-and-world-peace/


I'm with Luis Pantoja II, my older brother who showed me, with his own life, how to be a servant leader

The organization I’m leading, PeaceBuilders Community, Inc. (PBCI), is going through some exciting, positive changes!

It’s during these times of leadership adjustments that I remember my older brother, Rev. Dr. Luis Pantoja II. He went home with The Creator last September 06, 2010 at around 6:00 o’clock in the evening at a resort in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.  Luis had a sudden heart attack while walking on a stairway during a spiritual retreat among a group of international Christian leaders.  A group of pastors stayed with him until his wife, Mrs. Li Pantoja, and our younger brother, Rev. Noel Pantoja, arrived to claim his remains.

I dedicate this article to my beloved Kuya (Respectable Older Brother).


Paradox. A statement of truth that seems to contradict itself.

In his book, Global Paradox (1994), John Naisbitt defined it as “a statement of formulation that seems contradictory or absurd but is actually valid or true.”  He used an illustration from architecture to clarify his point: “Less is more…the less you clutter a building with embellishments, the more elegant it can be, the greater the work of architecture it can be.”  Naisbitt believes that we live in a global paradox of the 21st century: “The bigger the world economy, the more powerful its smaller players.”

Servant-leadership is one of those paradoxical concepts in the Bible.  Jesus Christ is the ultimate model of a servant-leader (Jn. 13: 1-17).  While claiming to be the Supreme Authority in “heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28: 18), He rejects position power as the basis for leadership in the Kingdom of God (Matt. 20: 20-28).  Servant-leadership is symbolized by the throne and the towel. He knew his cosmic authority: “that the Father had put all things under His power” (Jn. 13:3).  That was the throne-symbol. Because of that ultimate sense of security, He was able to humble Himself to “wrap a towel around His waist” like a lowly servant, “to wash his disciple’s feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him” (Jn. 13: 4-5).  That was the towel-symbol.

My journey in paradoxical leadership seems to be a series of contradiction but filled with exciting truths. I’ve been learning at least seven practical insights on servant-leadership. Like hiking the mountains of Mindanao, these lessons are difficult, at times painful, but fun!  Here are the paradoxical lessons on servant-leadership that I’m beginning to understand:

1.  Leadership Skills & Management Capability. Should I lead or should I manage? God has gifted me with the people-and-vision skills that produce leadership.  But more and more, I’m finding that I also need to develop managerial and technical skills that enhance operations.  Moses was a leader who also learned to be a manager (Ex. 18).  Nehemiah was a manager who learned to be a leader (Neh. 1-13).  The Moses-types like me can produce the best strategy in the world, but if it is poorly executed the whole strategy will be futile.  On the other hand, Nehemiah-types can have a superb implementation of the wrong strategy; this may lead to an orderly destruction.  I need to learn Nehemiah’s capability, or at least, I must surround myself with the best Nehemiahs.

2.  Creative Heart & Disciplined Mind. Should I be creative or should I be analytical?  My father trained me to be an entrepreneurial leader.  I can still hear his words: “Be a free-thinker!”  “Fly like an eagle!”  He was right.  This attitude helped me in my church leadership and development ventures.  This is the reason why I am enjoying the waves of postmodernity.  My father, wittingly or unwittingly, prepared me for it.  But at PeaceBuilders Community, I have to be very creative and at the same time I have to make budget, adhere to government’s non-profit corporation laws and be firm in leading our personnel to adhere to those relevant laws.

3.  People-Oriented & Productivity-Driven. Should I be people-relational orproduction-rational?   I love people.  I love working with people.  I love shepherding them.  I love to encourage them.  I enjoy contributing to their growth and development as human beings.  I get energized when I’m surrounded by people.  But I also need to lead the people working with me to contribute 110%-productivity in the accomplishment of the task mandated to us by those who have entrusted their God-given resources to advocate for peace and reconciliation.

4.  Earning Trust & Implementing Change. Should I spend time earning trust or save time implementing change?  Earning trust means understanding the value of people—their memories, their contribution to the movement, their view of what is important, their perspective of significance and meaning.  This takes intensive, disciplined listening.  Successful change-agents usually find a “springboard for change” in people’s memories and value-systems.

In early 2006, I invited a 63-year old pastor in Mindanao to participate in an inter-faith dialogue with Muslim religious leaders.  The pastor told me that it would be a waste of his time.  He had too many painful memories of sufferings caused by land-based armed-conflict between the Migrants (mostly Christians) and the Bangsamoros (mostly Muslims).  One day, he visited my home without prior notice.  It so happened that I had a couple of Muslim leaders staying in my home.  After a few minutes of awkward introductions, we had coffee together.  After an hour, I noticed that the senior pastor is able to exchange stories, laugh, and compare experiential notes with my Muslim guests.

Two weeks later, he sent me a text message: “Pastor Dann, I’m inviting you to an Inter-Faith Dialogue that I’m co-facilitating with Ustadz…”

5.  VisionStability & ChangeFlexibility. Should I set my eyes on the vision or focus my sight on the immediate task?  An organization without a vision is like a ship that is well-kept, well-maintained, well-managed, and well-financed but without a clear destination or direction.  However, I am learning that this vision of initiating a nation-wide peace and reconciliation ministry will only be effective when the yearly, monthly, and weekly goals are efficiently-managed, implemented and evaluated on a moment-by-moment basis.  Yes, moment-by-moment evaluation.  Day-to-day is not good enough.  Weekly evaluation is too slow.  Monthly evaluation is suicidal.  Quarterly evaluation is dead.  Effective leaders look at the horizon with bifocal lenses – VisionStability and ChangeFlexibility.

6.  The Initiator & The Team Player. Should I initiate or should I wait for my team?  I will never forget a fellow leader’s reminder using a battle-picture of a military leader:  “Dann, be careful not to go too far ahead of the people who follow you.  They might mistakenly shoot you as the enemy.”  I must initiate in doing the right things.  At the same time, I must wait for my team in doing things right.  I must search for excellence in my personal accomplishments but always with respect to the team’s objective, and with an attitude of interdependence on my team-mates’ gifts and skills.

7.  Ministry Expansion & Cost Containment. Should the ministry output be determined by the proposed budget, or should the budget be determined by the proposed ministry output?  A story was told about an accountant who saw a man carrying a coffee mug on which was printed “Budgets Are For Wimps.”

“Where’d you get that?” the accountant asked, hoping the man would tell him a nearby shop had them.

But no.  The man answered: “My boss had them made for us.”

“He a marketing guy?” the accountant asked.

The man said: “How did you know that?”

Visionary leaders are similar to marketing directors.  We have the tendency to expand our ministries—the ‘production’ and ‘distribution’ of our services.

The immediate focus of PeaceBuilders Community, Inc. is to prepare, equip, empower, and coach leaders to organize Peace and Reconciliation (PAR) Communities, both within and beyond the organizational boundaries of PBCI.  The mid-term plan of PBCI is to establish one PAR Community in each of the 81 provinces in the Philippines by the end of 2015.  The long-term vision of PBCI is to contribute to the attainment of peace and reconciliation in our land where worldviews and value systems are mutually respected and freely expressed in the context of a multicultural society.


The paradox of postmodern leadership is not an “either/or thinking.”  It is both/and thinking.” This paradox is the reason why servant-leadership, despite the pain and hardships inherent in it, is a journey that is full of joy and gladness.  The paradox of servant-leadership is relevant and needed in a conflicted realities of the 21st Century.

In the end, the ultimate picture of paradoxical servant-leadership is Christ’s suffering and death at the cross, and the glory and majesty of His resurrection.

Rev. L. Daniel Alba Pantoja, M.A., Th.M.
President & CEO
PeaceBuilders Community, Inc.


Permanent link to this article: https://waves.ca/2010/10/15/272/


On Monday, September 13, 2010, I was invited to Celebrate Eid Fit’r 1431 in Malacanang Palace with Muslim leaders and other inter-faith peace advocates, hosted by His Excellency Benigno Simeon Aquino III, President of the Republic of the Philippines.

Until now, I have no clue how my name got included in the list of those who were invited. When I received the invitation from the Office of the President, I felt honored and, with so much excitement, gladly accepted it.

But that’s not the point of my story.

This is about my enthusiasm about the peace policy of my country’s President.  I barely touched my food—excellent food, by the way—because I got so excited with what he was saying.

His message was very similar to his speech last September 1st, 2010, celebrating the National Peace Consciousness Month.  He started by revisiting various landmarks in our journey as a nation as we pursue just-peace:  “We hark back to the peace accords that we forged with the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army twenty-four years ago and with the Moro National Liberation Front fourteen years back. Each year in this month, we celebrate these and other notable breakthroughs while rekindling our fervour to build a more peaceful and progressive society. And as we recall the milestones, we acknowledge the people—from within government or without—who have been the driving force in our journey towards peace.”

During the course of that presidential dinner, he kept mentioning the theme for this year’s peace celebration: “People Power at the Heart of the Peace Process.”  I like what he said: “I believe that all the triumphs that we have achieved would not have been possible if not for the concerted efforts of peace advocates from the communities, from friends in civil society, and from the common, compassionate Filipino who believes in equality, good will, and the power of positive discourse. Their solidarity demonstrated through active involvement in the dialogues, consultations, and other spaces for peace has provided us a staunch brace to sustain our work for peace and development.”

And of course, he said his favorite campaign statement: “Kayo ang aking boss” (You are my boss.)  This time, he said it in the context of describing the role of the people in the coming peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People’s Army, and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP): “The peace process is for you and should be by all of us. As long as we have ownership of it, our collective voices will continue to reverberate for peace. We will ensure that these will be heard through responsive governance.”

Responsive governance!  This phrase made my day!  I enjoyed that phrase more than the excellent food in Malacanang Palace that evening.

I’m one of those peace workers on the field who have seen people whom the President described as “people… shackled not only by violence, but also by the insecurity, cynicism, and paralysis that arises from violence.”

President Noynoy (P-Noy) seems to really have embarked on a “journey of transformation.”

I believe he is sincere.  Sincerity is a very good start.  But we need to see his volitional acts as a leader of our nation.  He must have the political will to implement those beautiful words, especially in the midst of global and local forces, many of them motivated by greed and power, who might derail the people’s aspiration for genuine and lasting peace.

I promise to pray for my President everyday—for the sake of the people and of this beautiful land that I love so much.

Permanent link to this article: https://waves.ca/2010/09/15/reflecting-on-the-peace-policy-of-president-benigno-aquino-iii/



Municipality of Ampatuan, Province of Maguindanao, January 28, 2010 -- Gerd Bartel identifies himself as team leader of a Canadian Mennonite Delegation before the members of the Philippine Army. The Canadian Delegation was accompanied by PeaceBuilders Community to the site of the Ampatuan Massacre in Maguindanao.

In a conflicted land, what is love?  What is justice?

I write this spiritual reflection as a follower of Jesus Christ who works happily and meaningfully with peace-building colleagues. They come from various religious, spiritual, or philosophical backgrounds—Christians, Lumad, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Non-Religious—here in the Philippines and in Asia.

These beautiful people and faithful friends often ask me about love and justice in the context of an armed-conflicted land.  I share with these people various experiences where violence, historical injustice, land-grabbing, abuse against women, neglect of children, and betrayal even between friends and family members happen in their day-to-day realities.  I also share with these beautiful and faithful friends various experiences where budding peace, a taste of justice, redeemed land-ownership, respect for women, care of children, and harmonious relationships between family members and friends actually happen.  In these shared experiences, we often have informal, heart-to-heart, inter-faith dialogues or conversations.

In these notes I attempt to think through two of the Christian values—love and justice—I often share with them.  (I have reflection notes of what I’ve heard from my friends, but I’m asking them to read my drafts first for accuracy.)

Finally, I write this spiritual reflection as a student of biblical theology and social ethics, wrestling with these issues as I seek to put my faith into practice.

LOVING MY ENEMIES.  Is it possible?  Loving our enemies definitely does not start from emotion. That’s why I do not have any feeling of attachment or affection to those who regard me as their enemies. My love to them is definitely volitional, an act of the will, in obedience to the example of Jesus Christ.  The New Testament word for God’s unconditional love is agape.  It actually encompasses all faculties of our humanity—intellect, emotion, will.  It is through agape-love that people can identify those who claim to follow Jesus of Nazareth: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). Agape-love is the highest among Christianity’s most important virtues: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

The Person whom I look up to as the foundation of the universe became a human baby and later died on the cross.  This is how Jesus taught us about love.  This is radical-agape.  For me, this is the meaning of Christmas Day and the Resurrection Day.

How do I apply agape-love to my enemy?  I have to open my intellect, my mind, to the fact that they are humans who are loved by God unconditionally, and that Jesus commanded me to love others as Jesus loved me. That love means giving my life to the person that God commands me to love.  Jesus demonstrated that love through healing the sick, embracing the so-called outsiders and the marginalized segments of his society, boldly preaching the kingdom of God that critiqued unjust world-systems operated by local and imperial powers of his time, liberating people from all manifestations of oppression, and giving his life for others even to death on the cross.

Personally, this is a very painful realization.  The warrior in me wants to hunt down my enemies and make them pay, and I want to have the skills and the capacity to defeat those enemies. That’s when I have to deal with my emotion.  I must admit to God that I cannot love my enemies because I have no agape-resources in me to agape-love them. Then, I need to make a volitional act to allow God to make me a channel of that unconditional love, because I have no love in me on my own.  I have to submit myself to God so that my empty being can become a tube through which God’s love can flow.  Imagine that!  God can actually love people, even enemies, through me, and despite me!

It is within the framework of love that true forgiveness happens.  Forgiveness is as basic as our breathing.  Energized by God’s Spirit, we inhale the love of God; and also energized by God’s Spirit, we exhale our hatred and other negative energies from our psycho-spiritual system.  Using the energies available to us through the power of the energy of God’s Spirit, a follower of Jesus can absorb the violence committed against him or her so that the life of a Christian may be used as a servant to stop the cycle of violence within us and around us. A loving Christian will seek the forgiveness of peoples and communities who were treated unjustly by those who claim to be Christians—who misused the name of Christ to advance their greed for wealth and power.

Jesus commanded his followers to carry our cross: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).  Loving my enemies through self-emptying is my understanding of carrying my cross daily.  The cross is not just a symbol of suffering.  (I have to be careful about this cross symbol, for this suffering symbol was misused by the powerful religious institutions as an opiate to sustain their oppressive actions against the people who are suffering.)  The cross is really about dying to my selfishness.  And I have to die everyday because my sense of injustice wants to wage war.  “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:17-18).  Love and peace always go hand in hand.  This is one of the spiritually-energizing convictions that sustains me and my team in advancing Active Non-Violence in the midst of a violent mission field–whether it’s in our peace-building office in Davao City; in the armed-conflicted areas of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao; in the corporate board rooms of Manila’s financial districts; in the political power rooms of religious institutions; in the project offices of local and international non-government organizations; and, in the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches of our government.

What would happen to our enemies if God would use our empty being to be God’s channel of love?  Perhaps our enemy can become our friend?  That’s one of the many surprises in a Christian’s journey towards Christ-likeness.

REJECTING REVENGE AS A FORM OF JUSTICE.  When I choose not to take revenge as a matter of obedience to Christ, I declare, by faith, that God will avenge for me. That’s what the Hebrew Scripture calls salah—literally ‘to sprinkle,’ ‘to pour out.’  This is the Ancient Hebrew imagery and verb ‘to forgive.’ Whatever we have that motivates us to take ‘a tooth for a tooth,’ or ‘an eye for an eye,’ I sprinkle and pour it out before God. Then God becomes my avenger.  It is actually flushing out the toxic mix of hatred, vengeance, murderous thoughts, and violent imaginations from my psycho-spiritual system.

Do I forgive the person who has not, or would not, ask for an apology?

For the sake of the healing of my being, within the framework of agape-love, I say: “Yes, I will forgive at once.”  I must inhale the unconditional love of God and let it fill my being.  Then, I must exhale, or pour out, the toxic elements of hatred and malicious intentions from my psycho-spiritual system.  This inhale-exhale process of forgiving is a volitional act, an act of agape-love.  This is the offended person’s psycho-spiritual healing process, especially when the offending person would not even consider asking for an apology.  My healing, then, is not dependent on the apology of the person who offended me.  My healing is dependent on the love of God embracing my whole being: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

For the sake of the healing of the one who offended me, and still within the framework of agape-love,  I say: “Yes, I will start the process of forgiveness.”  Jesus taught his followers a sort of a truth and reconciliation process: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.  But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17).  This is my understanding of forgiveness as a process.  It’s based on truth and justice.  It’s oriented towards reconciliation.

Forgiveness, then, is both a one-time decision and a long-term process.

No, I do not have to trust a person just because that person apologized.  That would be so hypocritical, especially when the person was forced to apologize by some legislative act supported by an armed force.  Justice must be served—whether it’s personal injustice committed against me, or a series of historical injustices committed against our people.

The desire for justice, however, is not equivalent to the desire for revenge.

The ancient Hebrews understood justice as mishpat.  Its root is shapat–to judge, to deliver, to rule.  Shapat refers to the actions of a third party who sits over two parties at odds with one another.  Mishpat is the noun form of shapat which means judgment, rights.  Mishpat is a picture of one who is receiving the action of someone who is sitting as a judge, hearing a case, and rendering a proper verdict.  When the judge has declared its verdict based on due process, with established facts, with witnesses, in a public setting (transparency), the verdict becomes one’s right.  For the guilty ones, it’s their right to be punished.  For the innocent victims, it’s their right to be vindicated and rewarded.  These biblical concepts guide me and my team as we wrestle through the complexities of peace building in an unjust system.  How can peace be built in a society where the judiciary branch of the government contradicts the principles of mishpat?  How can the oppressed minority trust the oppressing majority when the law itself justifies the oppressive system?  How can the poor people claim their rights in the so-called Justice Halls when the law and the system are designed to perpetuate the control of the rich and the powerful to further advance their greed for wealth and power?

Despite these questions on justice that are difficult to answer, these biblical concepts give us hope as we pray for the peace negotiations between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) to be mediated effectively by Malaysia.  These biblical concepts also give us hope as we pray that the peace negotiations between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) would effectively be mediated by Norway.  Above all these top-level peace negotiations, the real building of mishpat-justice and shalom-peace must happen among us, the people—in our families, in our schools, in our respective religious communities, in our barangay neighborhoods, in our municipalities, and in our cities.

Yet mishpat is not the end.  There is something more.

As a follower of Jesus, I understand that God integrates chesed—that is, not applying punishment even though we deserve it—into this mishpat system.

And it gets better!  In the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth, charis—that is, undeserved favor—has also been integrated, in flesh and blood, into the mishpat system.


Chesed and charis are translated in English as ‘mercy’ and ‘grace.’  (Grace and mercy are the two most important spiritual virtues in Islam and the first recitation in the Qur’an says: “Bismillah ir Rahman ir Rahim.”  In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.  The first verse in the Qur’an is always a great starting point of dialogue between Christians and Muslims.)

In Christianity, this is how we can embrace the reality that God is a gracious and merciful God.   A true Christian is a person who has experienced, and continues to experience, God’s grace and mercy in Christ.  God’s grace and mercy are received conditionally—through the act of repentance.  Repentance is turning away from our unjust ways of treating ourselves (through various addictive and self-destructive behaviors) and from our unjust ways of treating others (through oppressive behaviors and systems).  But God pursues everyone, with passion and perseverance, and gently invites everyone to repent and submit to God. Hence, I must not reject anyone who is willing to change from unjust ways to just ways of living.  For the oppressor who repents, this means relinquishing her or his power and wealth for the just stewardship of the people, and to reintegrating herself or himself into the community as an equal member.  Knowing that God is gracious and merciful, we can advocate Restorative Justice with passion and sustaining energy.

Revenge means acting as judge and executor to another party with whom you are in conflict.  This is the system of taking an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.  This is the cycle of violence that can go on for generations.  Whether it is called rido or paghi-higanti, revenge will only escalate violence and increase the suffering of the people.  This is why I want to clearly distinguish my actions: Am I motivated by justice or by revenge?

From a Christian perspective, love and justice are two values that must go hand-in-hand in genuine peace-building.  Love provides a purifyng, self-emptying, other-orienting processes as one seeks justice.  Justice provides workable structures through which a person or a people can practice love.

I’m holding love with my right hand.  I’m holding justice with my left hand.  I need both of my hands to build peace among conflicting parties within our families, within our religious bodies, within our tribes, within our organizations, within our government, within our people.

These understanding of love and justice are my spiritual energizers that sustain me as one of the many peace-building workers in this beautiful land.

Permanent link to this article: https://waves.ca/2010/01/29/love-and-justice-in-a-conflicted-land/



Set in Japan during the 1870s, The Last Samurai tells the story of Capt. Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise), a respected American military officer hired by the Emperor of Japan to train the country’s first army in the art of modern warfare. As the Emperor attempts to eradicate the ancient Imperial Samurai warriors in preparation for more Westernized and trade-friendly government policies, Algren finds himself unexpectedly impressed and influenced by his encounters with the Samurai, which places him at the center of a struggle between two eras and two worlds, with only his own sense of honor to guide him. (Theatrical Release Poster)

My cardiologists told me I have a coronary heart disease. Despite my active lifestyle, I was told I’d get it because both my parents have it. So here I am, ordered by my doctors to stay in bed, watching old DVDs, while waiting for my surgery.

I found myself crying after watching this movie. Perhaps because I am subconsciously resenting the fact that I have heart disease. Perhaps I identify with the character played by Tom Cruise, having trauma because of injustices done by the state against the Indigenous Peoples. Or, perhaps, I’m just getting old and becoming more emotional. Whatever! The fact was, I cried after watching the movie.

So, I did some Zen meditation and rested from the cognitive noises within me.

Afterwards, I reviewed the movie in my imagination. I found myself watching the movie again in my mind through, at least, four layers of lenses. Then my emotional reaction suddenly made sense. I began to see my subjective feelings from a more ‘objective’ (I think?) point of view.

1. THE LENS OF MARTIAL ARTS. I like Japanese and Chinese sword fights, especially when the directors and the cinematographers understand the irreducible complexity of a simple move in martial arts. The use of Japanese sword (katana) was so articulated in the context of the Bushido (The Samurai Code) and the ethical standards of honor, compassion, duty, excellence, and service the Code represents. They must have trained Tom Cruise in the art of katana—at least, the fundamentals.

Of course this love of martial arts is contrary to my non-violent spiritual and political conviction. This is one of those aspects in my life that is not coherent. It annoys me! I wish I’m more consistent with my views and practices about life and reality!

2. THE LENS OF PHILOSOPHY AND ETHICS. A whole article can be written about the delineation between Western philosophy and Eastern philosophy in this movie. I guess most critics will focus on that.

I have chosen to focus on the philosophical issues of PreModern and Modern values expressed in this movie. Modernism is a narrative that the universe is a huge machine, in a closed system, which is populated by rational individuals. The Western diplomats and the military experts that went to Japan with Tom Cruise’s character were the ‘evangelists’ of the good news of Modernism. The big word in Modernism is “progress.” The Samurai warriors were the representatives of the old, traditional, backward Japan—as seen from a Modernistic perspective.

This movie is a postmodern critique and evaluation of the interaction between the representatives of Modernity and the representatives of Tradition or PreModernity. I can’t help but read critical questions between lines while watching the movie: Did Modernity really bring progress to humankind? Are Traditional Values really backward and counter-progressive? What happens to people when we mechanize a society? Should we reduce the person as a modern “individual-in-the-marketplace” in the name of progress? Is it really right that the pre-modern person in the traditional society—the “person-in-community”—be annihilated in the name of progress? Should we continue to erase the “poetry-of-our-humanity” and replace it with “efficiency-of-our-productivity,” all in the name of progress?

We cannot go back to the Pre-Modern Era. Modernity is here to stay. In fact, the impact of computer technology brought Modernity to its advanced stage—that is, HyperModernity. This is both a blessing and a curse. As a blessing, HyperModernity is helping us solve problems in communication, transportation, medical science, and information processing. As a curse, we have the ability to kill people more efficiently and to destroy our planet more quickly. It’s ironic that, in this movie, America helped Japan modernize its military capability and the Americans were paid handsomely. The same modern Japanese military attacked Pearl Harbor a century later, and the Americans paid dearly—not just with money, but also with the lives of their sons and daughters.

Perhaps it is time to re-write the “poetry-of-our-humanity” at par with the “efficiency-of-our-productivity.” Perhaps we should stop sacrificing human beings before the altar of an idol called “Progress.” Only then can we define human existence not so much on how we died, but rather, on how we lived.

3. THE LENS OF POLITICAL-ECONOMIC JUSTICE. Politics is all about power. Economics is all about wealth. Wealth and power are like the two pedals of a bicycle. They are the yin and yang of the wheels of international relations. America, as depicted in this movie, made money by selling war technology to Meiji Japan. Meiji Japan, historically, became more powerful, not only in Japan, but throughout East and Southeast Asia. Eventually, however, Japan aligned itself with the enemies of America. Then in World War 2, America used its weapons of mass destruction against Japan—in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It seems that this has been a pattern with the United States’ foreign policy. They would arm an ally as long as they can use such allies to advance their political-economic hold in a globalizing world. America gave Mao Zedong and his People’s Liberation Army military equipment against the Japanese during WW2; after the war, the Chinese Communists used those arms to take control of China, Inner Mongolia, and Tibet (Han Suyin, “Eldest Son: Zhou Enlai and the Making of Modern China,” pp. 178-194).

America armed Iraq when Saddam Hussein can be used against the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran; later, Hussein turned against his own people and against Kuwait (“Hidden Wars In the Middle East,” Terra Documentary Video, www.hiddenwars.org).

American CIA trained the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan–one of them was al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden–to fight a guerilla war against the Soviets; later, bin Laden used the same guerilla tactics he learned from the CIA against the Americans (“In Search of AlQaeda,” Frontline Documentary, www.pbs.org).

America armed Ferdinand Marcos to protect its military bases in the Philippines even though they knew that those military materiel were largely used to oppress the Filipino people; when they were done with Marcos, they spirited him out to Hawaii to escape justice from the Filipino people (Heather Gray, “Opposition To American Military Occupation: The Case of the Philippines,” http://www.commondreams.org/views03/1117-11.htm).

This movie also brought up the issue of one of America’s most profitable exports—modern, efficient weapons. Today, this business is euphemized as “defense industry.” Right now, rich and poor nations—led by the US—have already appropriated more than US$80 billion on military spending. This breaks my heart. This figure flashed through my mind during the part in the movie when the United States soldiers were massacring non-combatant women and children of the American First Nations. This was the nightmare of Tom Cruise’s character, remember?

Do you know that for $9 billion, we can provide for the basic nutrition for impoverished children all over the world? Do you know that for $13 billion, we can provide for safe water and sanitation for all the poor people in the world?

Every year, 20 million people die from hunger and hunger-related diseases. This is equivalent to more than 150 jumbo jet crashes daily for a year in which there are no survivors and in which half of the victims were children. If these unjust military spending and foreign policies are justified and politically supported by the majority of the American voters in the name of patriotism and consumerism, then I pray that those people might have dreams, even nightmares, of suffering children and women around the world, until they wake up to their political-economic responsibilities in the face of current global injustice!

As a Filipino who grew up in a city adjascent to Subic Naval Base (the biggest US military installation in the Pacific during the Cold War) I see America through the eyes of one who has experienced being intimidated by American military presence in our own soil. I saw them guarding their American interests at the expense of the dignity of the Filipino people. As a teenager, I did not understand why they guarded their hamburgers, beverages, toys, chocolate bars, and Levi’s jeans with their M16 rifles, F14 fighter planes, tanks, and missles while we share our land to them. The painful part was that, I saw those Americans throw away, without totally consuming, their hamburgers, beverages, toys, and chocolate bars in a nearby dumping areas and guarded those garbage dumping areas from local kids with their M16 rifles! The teenager in me reacted while I was watching “The Last Samurai.” Americans have been entrusted with so much; Americans, especially those who claim to love God, are expected with so much. America is not entitled to the goods and services its people are enjoying; America is merely entrusted as a steward. What America is enjoying is not a right; it’s a privilege. What America have is not absolutely for the Americans; what America have is absolutely God’s. And what is God’s is for all the people of the world to share and enjoy. We’re all “persons-in-community”; we’re not merely “consumers-in-the-marketplace.” The world is our community. Our life is inherently connected with the lives of all people around the world.

4. THE LENS OF A RELIGIOUS LEADER’S JOURNEY. Tom Cruise’s character at the beginning of the movie was an alcoholic, purposeless gun salesman. I wonder how many pastors and religious leaders are merely buying and selling church growth programs that would increase church attendance (churchy term for ‘religious customers’) as well as increase their tithes and offerings (churchy term for ‘sales and revenues from religious goods and services)? In a sense, I was part of that religious marketing system. I felt meaningless and purposeless even though people around me thought I was successful.

Like Tom Cruise’s character, I’m done with salesmanship as far as irrelevant, outdated religious programs are concerned. I’m in the process of growing with a community that is really burdened to bring peace—the salam/shalom that God gives—in the lives of people from different cultural backgrounds. This peace is the kind that transcends our rational analysis, guarding our personal hearts and minds. This peace is also the kind that is the result of political-economic justice. This peace is both subjective-personal and objective-political.

For me, the purpose of pastoral ministry is not to sell ‘a god-belief system that can be packaged neatly in a box,’ but a God-given privilege to walk with, and grow with, a community of people in their search for authentic spiritual experience with the Relational Creator who is beyond our theological categories.

“The Last Samurai” helped me cry, not just to express a ‘justice-motivated anger’ (otherwise known as ‘righteous indignation’), but also to enjoy the serenity of God’s shalom.

The movie, after much reflection, served its purpose. It helped me to be relaxed–good for my heart. I enjoyed the show. And yes, I was entertained.

Permanent link to this article: https://waves.ca/2009/06/18/reflection-on-an-old-movie-the-last-samurai/