WHEN they were as young as 12 years old, many combatants of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) were already holding firearms, wielding knives, and lobbing bombs out in the battle field, fighting against the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
But in 1996, they laid these down and left their war-torn communities to begin another struggle: to win peace and promote development in Mindanao. This new chapter began after the signing of the Final Peace Agreement between the government and MNLF, which mandated the peace and development efforts in Mindanao.
In 2000, former MNLF commanders and combatants established the Kadtabanga Foundation for Peace and Development Advocates Inc. (KFPDAI) with the aim of transforming conflict-affected areas into Peace and Development Communities (PDCs).
Founders were trained to become Peace and Development Advocates (PDAs), together with other MNLF members in other parts of Mindanao and Palawan.
Former MNLF territories serve as sites of projects of the United Nations Multi-Donor Programme (UNMDP) and the Philippine Government. Fifty-three PDCs in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) became the nucleus of peace-building efforts at various levels.
“It is about shifting paradigms of the combatants. It is also about changing the perspectives of the communities that peace can be attained through helping each other. This transition period involves all the stakeholders, not only Muslim communities,” said KFPDAI Executive Director Hadja Giobay Diacolano.
“Kadtabanga” in Maguindanaon means “helping one another.” The organization is a leading civil society organization in the province in the area of peace-building. It serves 36 municipalities in Maguindanao, focusing on peace and development activities like emergency assistance, relief and rehabilitation, livelihood development, capacity-building, infrastructure, and delivery of basic social services.
The 15-year-old foundation has transformed 57 former MNLF combatants into PDAs.
Full-time MNLF volunteers in the 28 PDCs underwent extensive training to become “facilitators, linkers, information agents, translators, educators, mobilizers, coordinators, managers and mediators.”
With its unique identity as combatants-turned-peace-advocates, KFPDAI earned the support of several international organizations like the United Nations Development Programme and Oxford Committee for Famine Relief in kick-starting their operation.
Partnership-building is the organization’s forte. Over the years, KFPDAI has established strong partnerships with numerous barangay, municipal, and provincial planning bodies. It is also part of the Regional Assessment Team, Regional Economic Planning Board, and the National Anti-Poverty Council.
Observable changes brought about by KFPDAI’s interventions include an increase in community participation of former combatants in peace and development programs, and the breaking of the culture of silence among Muslims and non-Muslims.
KFPDAI also works closely with women and the youth in its programs. Through their programs, Muslim women have taken a more active role in their communities and have joined economic and social activities.
In 2003, KFPDAI facilitated only five PDCs, but as its community organizing approach proved successful, the number steadily grew and has now reached 28.
“We have not separated from the community. We are still here to help our brothers and sisters who have been most affected by the situation in Mindanao,” one staff member said.
PDCs are post-conflict barangays or clusters of barangays that have been marginalized but have expressed desire for peace and development. The PDCs undergo a comprehensive, six-stage development framework facilitated by Kadtabanga. To date, majority of the PDCs are in stage 4 (currently implementing projects) while three are in stage 6 (self-sustaining).
The transformation is concretely manifested from residents’ testimonies that the PDCs have become refugee centers in past conflicts around the area.
With funding support from local and foreign partners, KFPDAI has constructed water systems, health centers, resource centers and classrooms in PDCs. The water systems, in particular, have made life easier for families who previously had to walk two to three hours to get potable water.
“One of the challenges is how to develop the spirit of volunteerism, especially among the second-liners. We need to capacitate the children of our MNLF members, too, even if they won’t be receiving salary,” Diacolano said.
Although it has dedicated volunteers, it does not have regularly paid staff, the executive director included. The organization relies on volunteerism and does not have sustainable sources of funds and income-generating projects.
“But with or without salary, PDAs continue functioning because they consider it their personal duty and moral obligation to their communities,” one staff member said.
As the organization grew, so did the recognitions it received. Its highest commendation to date is its recognition for “Organizational Transformation and Strengthening of PDCs” awarded by the Mindanao Development Authority and the UNDP in 2010.
“We hope to be seen as community organizers and not just MNLF. We hope to be seen as partners in bringing peace and development in Maguindanao,” Diacolano said. (RAFI)
(The Kadtabanga Foundation for Peace and Development Advocates Inc. is one of five finalists in the institution category of the 6th RAFI Triennial Awards. The winner will be revealed on Friday, Aug. 14.)