We are resources for peace

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By Mags Z. Maglana

The Point Being

Friday, May 23, 2014


I HAD the good fortune of attending three activities related to peace one Saturday and they were compelling reminders of why we in the Philippines need to commit to processes and agenda for peace and development, rather than one that is focused only on development.

The first was the Public Forum organized by the Mindanao Peace Institute that had been conducting annual peace-building trainings in the past 14 years, which drew participants from around the world. The speakers, who were members of the governing body of MPI or were training facilitators, addressed the theme “15 Years and Beyond – Building Just Peace for All: Commemorating Peacebuilders Around the Globe”.

Two of the resource persons talked about the context and challenges, the shifts and their significance, as well as the contributions that MPI had made to peace work not only in the Philippines but also in countries like India and Cambodia. MPI’s stories in particular connected to the developments in the Bangsamoro peace process as the trainings were held in Mindanao.

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Two other speakers honored peacebuilders around the world, paying homage specifically to Nelson Mandela.

The messages of the speakers as well as the cultural performance of Kaliwat Performing Artists Collective and MPI participants from Africa were so powerful and beautiful that I was inspired to string together their sentiments in the following words:

“We are women and men who stand side by side with those who came and struggled before us, and in so doing enabled us to take our own place in the fight against otherness and exclusion.

“We are not just victims of conflict and oppression, although we might have initially found our footholds there. Now and in the future, we are resources for peace.

“We take risks and make beautiful trouble for peace. We speak to power with our own power and with dignity and humility.

“And look, just around the corner, are those who would come after us in this joyful struggle to help each other find in the other, a more human face.”

The second forum that Saturday was the Multi-Stakeholders Forum on the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) convened by the Ateneo de Davao University, Al Qalam Institute and Bantay Bayanihan-Davao. The keynote speakers were no less than the Chairperson of the Philippine Government Peace Panel, Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, while Vice-Chairman Ghadzali Jaafar represented the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The diverse perspectives in the forum included those of the police and the military, as well as civil society voices, the religious, and those of the academe.

Unfortunately I was not able to stay long enough to hear all the views. But what struck me was the marked difference in the perspectives of the representatives from the security sector. The speaker for the Philippine National Police (PNP) had a prepared speech and elaborated more on their nature and mandate but barely addressed the points of Prof. Ferrer and Vice-Chairman Jaafar. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) speaker talked more earnestly about the subject matter, even if briefly. I hope this is not telling of the capacity of the PNP to engage on the matter of peacebuilding and conflict resolution, which are fairly complex and highly nuanced.

If it is telling, this signals the importance of more work with the security sector. The PNP in particular is expected to play key roles in maintaining and sustaining stability. In areas that were declared “insurgency-free” by the AFP, responsibility is turned over to the local governments and the PNP.

However, stability or the prevention of violence as an aspect of peacebuilding will entail more than just security personnel presence and firepower. It will mean being able to help in developing “peace abilities” which includes promoting rights, addressing causes of conflicts, and helping people find ways of resolving them in a transformative manner. Is the PNP up to this challenge?

On a lighter but nevertheless potent side, Prof. Ferrer quickly recovered from her gaffe of naming the convenor as ‘Ateneo de Manila’ by referring to it as the branch of Ateneo de Davao, which drew appreciative laughter from the audience. Long forced to follow the practice of making Metro Manila and Luzon as THE reference, which reinforced notions of a central-periphery relationship as well as a hierarchy, it was affirming for the Mindanaoans in the audience to have a Mindanao institution referred to as the parent unit, no matter if said as an attempt at humor.

The last forum that Saturday was the one on "State Militarism, Human Rights Violations, and the People's Quest for a Just and Lasting Peace". The forum featured activists who are or had been partylist representatives in Congress such as Rep. Luz Ilagan, Satur Ocampo and Joel Virador. Highlighted in the forum were the results of a National Solidarity Mission that went to Talaingod, Davao del Norte and was organized by Defend Talaingod, Save Pantaron Range Alliance.

An area with high value as a biodiversity corridor as well as being the headwaters of vital water systems in Mindanao, the Pantaron Range had long been coveted for its resources, and thus has been a contested area for some time now. In the past, big loggers and agricultural plantation firms eyed Pantaron; it also has the most number of approved mining applications in the Davao region because of rich mineral deposits.

The Manobos of Talaingod played key roles in resisting and frustrating the designs of those who would take advantage of the Pantaron Range’s resources for profit. Datu Guibang Apoga, leader of the Salugpungan ’Ta Igkanugon (Pagkakaisa sa Pagtatanggol ng Lupang Ninuno), was one of those who fought against big business interest and their allied security forces from overrunning Talaingod and the Pantaron Range.

Datu Guibang interacted with the mission participants and was quoted as having said that “we need peace, respect for our right to the land we till, and protection for the environment, for our children and the future generation.” Echoing the call of Datu Guibang, the forum emphasized the need to resume the peace talks between the Government and the National Democratic Front (NDF).

If the peace process between the GPH and the MILF were to be made the yardstick, it is clear that there is much that needs to be done to get more institutions, groups and communities here and abroad aware of, involved in, and supportive of the agenda for the GPH and NDF to seek a political remedy to the armed conflict that had been raging in many areas in the Philippines since the late 1960s.

The signing of the CAB is truly a major milestone in our journey towards durable peace. And because the call is for just peace and lasting progress for all, it is imperative that we Filipinos expand our concern for peace beyond the CAB and its implementation, and also vigorously push for the resumption and success of the other peace process, the one between the GPH and the NDF.

There are many interests, foreign and local, whose agenda are that we totally “other and exclude” the NDF and its associated groups, and go all out with a mailed fist response. No matter how difficult, we must “help each other find in the other, a more human face”. We must by taking risks and making beautiful trouble, tap and develop to the force of a surge, motivations and resources that will support a political solution to armed revolution and the problems that underpin it.

We are resources for peace; we can do no less. Email feedback to magszmaglana@gmail.com

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on May 24, 2014.

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