LAST WEDNESDAY, my family had dinner with two Filipino American doctor friends -- Joe and Stella Evangelista -- who are in town for their reunion (University of Santo Tomas College of Medicine). Joe and Stella, and their lawyer son Marcus, were so kind to my daughter Romina and me, when we were stranded in Detroit last year. Joe is the honorary Philippine Consul in Michigan. Stella, his loyal spouse and partner, goes the extra mile to help Joe attend to constituency problems. I have always experienced that Filipinos abroad are generous to their fellow Pinoys in need. The Evangelistas, who run a large physical rehabilitation center in Detroit, are the icing on top of the cake of generosity. Thanks, Joe, Stella and Marcus!


Anyway, as I was walking to Via Mare at the Rockwell Power Plant Mall, I passed stalls doing brisk business selling flowers for Valentine’s Day. Expensive flowers!!! Roses, roses, roses everywhere!


I have often wondered when Valentine’s Day became associated with romantic love. Who was Valentine anyway? I googled -- who doesn’t? -- and found out that this day for romance started as a Catholic tradition. According to Wikipedia (the first source for the lazy), "St. Valentine’s Day began as a liturgical celebration of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus."


Can this be? "The most popular martyrology associated with Saint Valentine was that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire; during his imprisonment, he is said to have healed the daughter of his jailer Asterius. Legend states that before his execution he wrote ‘from your Valentine’ as a farewell to her. Today, Saint Valentine’s Day is an official feast day in the Anglican Communion as well as in the Lutheran Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church also celebrates Saint Valentine’s Day, albeit on July 6th and July 30th, the former date in honor of the Roman presbyter Saint Valentine, and the latter date in honor of Hieromartyr Valentine, the Bishop of Interamna [modern Terni]." A hieromartyr is a martyred bishop or priest who died for his beliefs.


A day to celebrate martyrs has been transformed into the celebration of romantic love. Maybe because blood is red, pumped by the heart and the heart is thought of as the source of feelings of love? It occurred to me that perhaps we should think about martyrdom as we celebrate Valentine’s Day.


Then yesterday, Valentine’s Day, I received an e-mail from Fr. Jun Mercado OMI that a common friend was killed. Alber Husin, a Mindanao peace advocate, was shot in Pagadian City on Sunday and died early yesterday morning. He was working on the Indigenous Peoples and Muslim Education Program of the Department of Education-Region 9 based in Pagadian City. Was this a senseless act of violence? Or was Alber the latest victim -- a martyr -- in the violence against individuals who have taken a strong position to support human rights of minority communities?


I first met Alber over 10 years ago, in Zamboanga City. We kept in touch through our e-groups. I e-mailed him about our Eidl Fitr celebrations, sent him our paper on Islamic peace education, among others.


The last message I received from Alber, five days ago, was about his participation in an international forum for peace and democracy. I was going to e-mail him back to ask if a representative from the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy could join. I wish I had sent that e-mail, if only to renew our links.


Last June, another peace activist, Raffy Nabre, was murdered in Cotabato City. As of today, there are no leads about his murder. In 2010, Maguindanao Vice Mayor Alex Tomawis, a young man with a bright future, was also gunned down. Again, no resolution of his assassination. And now Alber is gone. Will Alber’s death also be unresolved?


Government has focused on peace and security as a priority. For the last 10 years, we at PCID have been lobbying for the strengthening of the national police force so it can better address lawlessness. But this is only part of the solution. We have advocated in the past that the security problems of Mindanao could not be addressed by military strategies alone. Government has to invest, not just primarily in defense, but also in strengthening civilian capacity to ensure peace and order in the region.


If we want peace and stability in Mindanao, effective civilian institutions and authority are required. Rule of law, not military dominion, is essential. First, government should tend to the local government leaders.


Second, the police. They are under-trained, ill equipped and under-manned. Even if the police were strong, where would they bring evidence and who would enforce it? I have repeatedly advocated the importance of strengthening our local police and local government leaders, especially those who operated at the barangay level. They are the government’s eyes and ears in the areas of conflict. Why then are the military -- who are outsiders -- the primary recipients of training, technology and logistical support for internal security? How about the local police and LGUs?


Third, a well-functioning justice system including prison administration, police reform, and human rights protection are essential.


Unfortunately, the administration of justice in conflict-affected Mindanao is weak. As we focus on a peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, we cannot take attention away from the real security problem: weak administration of justice in Mindanao.


On Valentine’s Day, I spent my time remembering Alex, Raffy and now Alber -- three young men who will never again send Valentine’s Day greetings to their loved ones.


To the families of Alex, Raffy, and Alber -- may the love you bear see you through the dark days of their unsolved and outrageous assassinations. I send this poem by John Downland, an English Renaissance composer, to their loved ones. And to mine.


Deare, when I from thee am gone,


Gone are all my joyes at once;


I loved thee, and thee alone,


In those love I joyed once,


And although your sights I leave,


Sight wherein my joyes do lie,


Till that death do sense bereave,


Never shall affection die.


Blog AminaAmina Rasul is the President of Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy.

Surviel is her column in BusinessWorld.

Follow her on Twitter @aminarasul.