|Husband and wife Drs. Victor and Bambi Lorica are using songs to recruit more Fil-Am and American doctors to help bring peace in Mindanao.|
POTOMAC, MARYLAND - The cries of help by thousands in Mindanao appear to have floated to America. A group of doctors and sympathizers gathered last Wednesday evening for the Concert for Peace, a program to raise awareness about the plight of people in Mindanao.
The evening started with a rendition of “The Prayer” by husband-and-wife Drs. Victor and Bambi Lorica. Both are members of Norfolk-based Physicians for Peace.
Victor, head of the nephrology department at the Inova Hospitals in Alexandria and Fairfax, was recently named as one of the Twenty Outstanding Filipinos Abroad in Washington D.C. They are familiar faces in countless Filipino American gatherings, tireless supporters of aging Filipino World War II veterans. They are also a family of singers.
|Music master and book author Chrissellene Petropoulos offered the use of her sprawling home in Potomac, Maryland for the concert for peace in Mindanao.|
Opera singer and author of various books on music, Chrissellene Petropoulis hosted the concert in her palatial home in Potomac. As her husband watched approvingly, she delivered powerful interpretations of neo-classics like “If I Loved You”, “Somewhere” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, among others.
Dr. Pamela Sear-Rogan sang excerpts from Kismet. She is a cardiologist at the Washington Hospital Center.
Living in blue tents
Bambi said they were approached by Albert Santoli, a best-selling author (he wrote “The Oral History of the Vietnam War”, among others) and Pulitzer Prize nominee who founded the Asia America Initiative in 2002. AAI is a non-profit, privately-funded peace and development advocacy group that has been involved in strife-torn Sulu, Basilan and Central Mindanao.
“Al Santoli asked my husband and myself to help develop initiatives, recruit physicians from the mainstream community as well as Filipino physicians to help his cause,” she tells ABS-CBN’s Balitang America.
During the intermission, Santoli took the opportunity to explain why Mindanao needed urgent help. “That’s what we’re faced with now,” he said, pointing to pictures of refugees forced to flee the fighting between Philippine troops and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
|Al Santoli founded the Asia America Initiative which has been actively promoting peace and progress in strife torn areas of Sulu, Basilan and Central Mindanao since 2002|
“Throughout the various provinces of Mindanao, this is the scene – people living in blue plastic tents, rains coming down, flooding, others staying with relatives who can’t afford to feed them,” he said.
Santoli estimates over 300,000 natives of Mindanao, Christians and Muslims alike, have been displaced by the fighting. “It puts pressure on everyone,” he admitted.
Something can be done
“Everyone thought that by this time there would be strictly development – the World Bank would be coming in, there would be all kinds of new initiatives across the whole ARMM (Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao) region. But now because the peace process broke down, again it’s back in the hands of voluntary organizations working with local governments to try to stabilize and stop this from turning into another civil war,” Santoli stressed.
Bambi explained they thought of organizing concerts by music-loving doctors like themselves to reach out and educate colleagues about Mindanao.
|(L-R) Performing singers Dr. Pamela Sears-Rogan and Chrissellene Petropoulos with pianist Leticia McDonald, and the evening's emcee|
“This is the first of a series in our campaign so more people can be made aware that something can be done about Mindanao. If we can make sure kids are educated, kids go to school, they are less likely to be recruited by terrorists,” she averred.
“A lot of people have labeled Mindanao as a lost cause,” she added, “but when you see Al Santoli’s program you realize peace is possible.”
The AAI thrust has centered around people-to-people contacts to improve health, education and livelihood opportunities. Santoli revealed they are shipping a container of seeds donated by local-area businesses. He has formulated a progressive self-help strategy, relying on modest but relentless success rather than wholesale intervention.
He showed how little it takes for people in America to make a big difference in Mindanao. For the price of four Starbucks lattes, for instance, they can help school kids build a flower or vegetable garden; for the price of two people dining out one evening, they can build a barangay communal farm. A hundred dollars is enough to buy basic medicines for a school clinic serving 500 students for six months; $400 can send a talented student through one year of college.
Santoli recounted how a rehydration tablet worth about two cents each helped stopped a Sulu battle. He saved a girl’s life using the oral re-hydration tablets, learning only later the girl was a favorite daughter of the local Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) commander. Later, when a clash was imminent with government troops, Santoli was asked to mediate. The goodwill generated by several cents’ worth of medicine staved off a possible bloodbath.
For the next generation
|Asia America Initiative executive director Al Santoli with Philippine special envoy retired Maj. Gen. Delfin Lorenza|
“The land is rich, there’s no reason for people to be poor. The problem has been corruption, mismanagement, lack of education,” he told ABS-CBN’s Balitang America.
“Education is the key. I don’t know if it can happen overnight but if you have better education we work on the next generation. Prevent it from blowing up right now and give the next generation a chance to really build a better future,” Santoli declared.
Retired Maj. Gen. Delfin Lorenza, the country’s special envoy in Washington DC for veterans matters, grew up in northern Maguindanao. “Marami naman nagagawa ng gobyerno natin pero minsan kinukulang sila,” he told Balitang America.
“Nakikita ko na tinatanggap naman siya ng mga Muslim doon which is good. Ang pinaka-malaking benefit ng ginagawa niya ay magiging self-sufficient ang mga tao doon. This is a very good income-generating activity, itong pagtatanim,” he explained.
Here in the crossroads of conflict in Mindanao, Sulu and Basilan lay the challenges and opportunities for building peace and progress. Santoli, repeating his tale of the rebel commander’s daughter, stressed people should never stop striving to plant the seeds of peace because one will never know where it will lead to. He was only bent on saving one girl’s life, not knowing this single act of charity and compassion would reap immense dividends – stopping one war.
“The Philippines is a place where millions believe in miracles,” Santoli says affectionately, adding confidently that if miracles will happen, it would likely be in Mindanao.
Photos and captions by RODNEY J. JALECO, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau