Community policing: A community’s involvement in keeping the peace

THE past months have shown how tenuous the peace is in conflict areas being negotiated to be the Bangsamoro under the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law. The past months have also shown how narrow the understanding are of many who hold key positions and even the masses, such that the masses themselves outside Mindanao are easily prodded toward ill feelings bordering on Islamophobia.

Peace it seems is elusive, if we focus on what is being said. But that does not mean that the people themselves cannot do something to strive for peace within their communities.

One of the actions being pushed now is community policing; a concept introduced by the United Kingdom (UK) as member of the International Contact Group (ICG) formed in 2009 to “accompany and mobilize international support for the peace process” and to “exert proper leverage and sustain the interest of the parties as well as maintain a level of comfort that restores mutual trust” in the ongoing peace negotiation between the Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Aside from UK, the ICG was composed of three other states -- Japan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia; and four international non-governmental
organizations (INGO) – Conciliation Resources, Muhammadiyah, The Asia
Foundation (TAF), and the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD).
The concept of community policing is even in the draft BBL.

What is it?

Article XI on Public Order and Safety, Section 11 of the proposed BBL, states: "Community Police. - The Bangsamoro Police shall adopt community policing as an essential mechanism in maintaining peace and order."

In the Introduction to Community Policing Handout distributed by the British Council during a training for trainors from different communities in the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (Armm) held at the Crown Regency Hotel in Davao City, it defined community policing as “a philosophy and an organizational strategy that promotes a new partnership between communities and their police.”

“All too often, it’s less about community and more about policing,” said Phillip Thomson, team leader of British Council’s The Golden Thread Community Policing Project, to Sun.Star Davao during the signing of agreement between the British Council and the Security Reform Initiative (SRI) for the implementation of the project.

In community policing, the community and the police work together to identify problems and resolve them.

Thomson likened it to age-old practice of communities resolving internal conflicts and is thus applicable to Mindanao, that still have strong community ties and indigenous practices like those where a Council of Elders is held in high regard to resolve conflicts and concerns of community members.

Spreading the Word

As it is, however, community policing is still an unknown concept, this, SRI convenor Kathline Anne S. Tolosa said, the immediate work now is still bridging the gap between the community and the police and making both sides understand why is it important to cooperate.

SRI is coming in as a group of civil society organizations (CSOs), spread in areas of the country where the military are in active engagement, working together under Bantay Bayanihan. The civil society-led Bantay Bayanihan aims to institutionalize the participation of civil society and relevant agencies in the implementation of the Internal Peace and Security Plant (IPSP) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines better known as Oplan Bayanihan.

Using the BB network, SRI is bringing in CP, this time working closely with communities and the police.

“The role of the CSOs in this project is hearing what the community has to say and make sure that there is the mechanism that brings that on the policy and implementing level,” Tolosa said. The output gathered will be the bases for the implementation strategy of community policing, which again will be brought down to the communities for feedback.

In last week’s training of trainors, participants were from North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Basilan, and Sulu.

Why UK?

What is in community policing that UK believes can bring greater cooperation within communities? The lessons learned from their own long-drawn out and equally volatile peace process in the Northern Irelands that saw the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, where it was acknowledged that police reform was one of the most difficult challenges of the peace process there.

Asked to cite parallels with the GRP-MILF peace negotiation, British Council country director Nick Thomas can only say, “At no point in the peace negotiations in Northern Irelands was it easy.”

“Me growing up as a child, it felt like it was a permanent fixture, like something that cannot be resolved,” he said. Thomas was in town last week along with other officials of the BC for the signing of a partnership with SRI represented by Tolosa for The Golden Thread Community Policing Project.

But through sheer persistence and a good number of people who believed in the peace process, the Good Friday Agreement was signed and reforms were set in place to nurture the peace, including police reforms and bridging the trust between the community and law enforcers.

Building Trust

Elizabeth Mauricio of Balay Mindanao working in Aleosan, North Cotabato, can attest to improved peace in a community when trust is bridged between the uniformed and the civilian sectors in her work in the communities as part of Bantay Bayanihan. Mauricio is among those trained in community policing.

“Makikita mo talaga ang cooperation, pati ang reception ng mayor naiba. Dati kasi, alam mo naman pag unipormado, medyo iba ang tingin ng sibilyan,” she said. “Noong pumasok ang Bantay Bayanihan, multi-stakeholders and approach, it was made clear sa lahat ng state and non-state groups kung ano ang roles ng isa’t isa; makikita mo na talaga ang cooperation di tulad ng dati.”

Now, the new work will be with the police and Mauricio remains positive about the outcome. After all, a strong community is built on trust of the people and institutions.

As starters, BC and SRI gathered a group who have had experience as community-based third party oversight monitors of Oplan Bayanihan, to train them in the concept of community policing for the group to cascade the idea to their respective communities.

The end-result will be to bring the voice of the community to improve the police because, while the police as an organization have a clear idea on the peace and order they have to maintain, which most of the time involves tanks, forces, and checkpoints, the community’s concept of peace is much more closer to home.

As Tolosa said in her speech after the signing, during the focus group discussions they held before to gather the idea of the people’s concept of peace in conflict areas, the answers were far simple and yet denied. Peace for the people who have lived for so long in conflict means being able to attend a kumpare’s birthday party and go home safe or that the little food they have will not be taken away by armed men.

Stronger Community

But what if the BBL will not be passed and the negotiations will once again fall apart?

“The British Council has no place to comment on what has happened except to say that we hope the peace process continues. It is still something worth taking forward,” Thomas said.

“Even without BBL, this can be done. But for that to happen the community has to know what community policing is,” Tolosa said.

Rightly so because community policing is just bringing back the role of the community to keep the peace in their own communities with the police as their partners in implementing the laws.

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