BEING involved in peacebuilding means asking the hard questions. It means looking through areas where we might have missed, or else looking at previous actions that may have contributed to conflict in a certain area. Hindsight is important, in that we must examine the parts of our communities that have changed as the conflict wears on.
We at the Al Qalam Institute have been trying to answer these questions for some time now. We have spent time looking at other sources such as information found online, visibility of other terrorist attacks, radical schools of thought present in the area, recruitment efforts by violent extremist organizations (VEOs), among others.
Of course, we cannot forget that, for many Moros, the factors that push them to join such organizations are out of their control. When a group is continually repressed and ignored, they will seek better opportunities elsewhere. Government deficiencies such as lack of basic services and discriminatory policy are a culprit, and must be addressed accordingly. Apart from that, ignorance and lack of cultural understanding can only worsen the situation.
The only cure to discriminatory policy is the amendment or issuance of new, people-oriented policy. The RA 11054, for example, tries to be as inclusive as possible in its definitions and scope. This includes (but is not limited to) the definition of the ‘Bangsamoro’, opportunities for education, livelihood, and development, and the prioritization of offices and services that are for and by the Bangsamoro people.
As much as we are viewing the political transition, the people on the ground are also undergoing a sort of transformation as well. It is the aim of the BARMM to not have things be “business as usual”, especially not in the lives of ordinary folk. The legislation needs to be in place first before any action can be done, but it is this process that will ensure that they will have these services for generations to come.
A more responsive government that communicates and executes programs effectively is one of the more powerful solutions that we have against violent extremism. The only question is in our delivery. On one hand, you cannot rush these programs unless you want to run the risk of badly-written and poorly-delivered policy. On the other hand, we must also be aware of the time we have left in covering all our bases.
With our team in Al Qalam, we make sure to go to the communities and ask these questions of ourselves and our participants. We engage in bitiala (dialogue) with them on the issues that are close to their heart -- their families, their homes, their livelihoods -- and use that information to create programs. The capacity to listen and act on problems as they arise is key to our work.
We do this through creating safe spaces, such as the Bitiala Center in Bubong, Cotabato City. We do this through our Salaam Movement activities, where we go to different regions in Mindanao to gauge the voice of the youth. We do this in our formation and instruction activities within and outside our organization. In fact, our office is made up of the people we serve -- Moros, Lumad, and Christians alike -- working towards peace.
It is in the creation of these communities, starting with ourselves, that has seen us continue to work in these communities. The work starts with us, in our own moral governance of ourselves, to creating counter-narratives that can beat the extremist perspective.