Peace Belle-A A +A
Monday, October 22, 2012
ASK not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for Belle. Adieu, Annabelle Abaya, mediator, peace and human rights advocate. Belle went gently into the night, and did not rage but embraced the dying of the light. However, most did not notice that an outstanding individual's passage from this world went largely unnoticed even by Google. Which is what she instructed her children.
She probably would be displeased with this column, but her son Anton let the cat out of the bag. He emailed the news to Belle's family and friends on the passing of his mother who fought her battle with cancer the way she has lived her life: with courage, integrity, sincerity, and open arms to whatever was to come. Belle passed away quietly in her sleep, was pain-free and well-prepared for her "next adventure."
I first met Cabinet Secretary Annabelle Abaya when she headed the Office of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. She flew to Bacolod to join us during a December 10, 2007 commemoration of International Human Rights Day held at the La Consolacion College in Bacolod.
We invited OPAPP and the Government Peace Panel, the RPA-ABB, peace and human rights groups, the Church, the local governments, and the Communist Party of the Philippines/National Democratic Front for a dialog. Not surprising, the NDF boycotted the dialog.
We met again in 2009 in Negros Occidental when I joined the Ambassador of the Royal Norwegian government, Hans Brattskar and his diplomatic staff, members of the government Peace Panel and OPAPP who visited Negros Occidental in an effort to find real-life models on peace building and rights-based approached to sustainable development.
Our latest interaction was in 2011 when I coordinated the e-Conference on Sustainable Mountain Development in the Southeast Asia. I requested Belle to share her experiences in the Ambuklao-Binga mediated dialog, itself a back story that the public would find interesting.
We had an interesting exchange on the approach to mediation. I told her that I'm a court-annexed mediator so I try to bring to the table "interest-based negotiations" and that I invited some people from extractive industries but they declined to participate in the dialog.
Which drew a sharp riposte. Wrote Belle, "You know what? My own mediation practice shows that interest-based mediation is too shallow to respond to the needs of people involved in long, protracted, often intractable conflict. We have to go to needs, not interests, to help people find profound endings to their situation."
I shot back that I fail to see any major difference between "need" and "interest" in actual mediation that I wondered if the issue is semantical hair-splitting. I gave her several examples.
To which she replied, "With many communities with historical conflicts, it goes beyond interests. For example in the case of mountain communities we worked with, they expressed their interest in terms of land. And yes, you might think that this is the same as need. If you stayed in interest, this will be negotiated in terms of land-which will then require judicial determination."
Although I disagreed, I found her arguments compelling for out-of-court mediation. She cited the Ambuklao-Binga case where conflicts over rights "persisted for over 60 years." In their process, they delved deeper. We asked them their need. This helped them reflect about the meaning of land to them.
Their mediators' group found out it was not the physical possession of land, but what land will provide them: "Respect for their cultural identity, opportunity, and security. This understanding opened a huge slew of opportunities to negotiate-from return of the graves of their ancestors, documentation of their arts, dances and culture to livelihood, infrastructure and tourism activities. It was a laundry list, which eventually they eventually prioritized."
"When you are working with many stakeholders representing thousands of many other stakeholders, interests are only the tip of the iceberg," she advised me. Before Belle passed away, she joined Professor John Ruggie, the former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Business and Human Rights, and Professor Philip Alston, (Australia) Professor of Law and co-Chair of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice on the Board of Directors of CSRwire that promotes a more economically-just and environmentally-sustainable society, away from single bottom line capitalism.
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Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on October 22, 2012.