Mitigating Conflict in Mindanao
April 29, 2009
In February, over 200 people from Muslim and Christian communities gathered in Barangay Bulucaon in Mindanao to celebrate a newly-restored peace between their communities. Peace came after a series of consultations and talks to mitigate internal conflicts and avert a potential massacre of Muslim Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Only two months before, separatist violence nearly shattered community relationships, as the fighting near the area created animosity between Muslims and Christians.
On December 24, 2008, clashes between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) led to the displacement of 47 families – predominantly Muslims. The families were evacuated from the village of Sitio Marques to Prado Elementary School at the barangay (district) proper, three kilometers away from the village, in a predominantly Christian community. Because of the intermittent shelling, animosities grew between the Muslim displaced families and the host Christian community. Further, Muslim families at the evacuation centers in Bulacaon proper felt threatened by an inflammatory rumor that if somebody was hit by mortars from the position of the MILF, Christians would retaliate by staging a massacre of Muslim evacuees in Prado Elementary School. Feeling threatened and recalling memories of such atrocities from the past, the Muslim IDPs moved farther away from the evacuation center, becoming more isolated from government services and exacerbating tensions.
With support from USAID and The Asia Foundation, the United Youth for Peace and Development (UNYPAD) organized a response team of Barangay officials. The team conducted a series of dialogues between the Christian and Muslim civilians and their leaders to control inflammatory rumors and prevent the escalation of violence. The dialogues also explored establishing protocols for both IDPs and host communities in the event that future hostilities and displacements were to occur.
Separate consultations were held with Muslim IDPs and the host Christian community with more than 100 individuals from both groups attending. In this way, different viewpoints were heard, both Muslims and Christians offered their respective positions.
On January 27, a joint dialogue was held in Mindanao with representatives of Muslim IDPs and the host Christian community. Both sides explained their positions and then began to search for a peaceful solution to their problem. Mr. Alvaro Senturias, chairman of the Mindanao Peoples Peace Movement (MPPM), presented Bangsamoro history and prior co-existence of Muslims and Christians in Mindanao. He also talked about the peace process, especially the Memorandum of Agreement between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines that consists of consensus between the peace panels of both parties including the Ancestral Domain of the Bangsamoro. Mr. Eliseo “Jun” Garcesa, the former mayor of Pigcawayan, gave an inspirational message to the participants related to his work as a politician and community leader, including a personal anecdote about his own family’s positive experience. Also included in the program were testimonies from both Muslims and Christians relating the history of their ancestors and the Muslim-Christian relationship.
After considering this input, a workshop was conducted for both Muslims and Christians in order to finalize their respective positions. Both parties devised a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to be presented to their constituents and for signing during a peace forum. After the dialogue, members of the responding teams, barangay officers, and UNYPAD staff conducted a meeting for the finalization of the MoU and preparation for the Community Peace Forum. The final output of the MoU from the joint peace dialogue was reviewed by the responding teams and the representatives from both Muslim and the Christian groups. There was a lengthy discussion before the MoU was finally approved.
The entire process finally culminated in a ceremony in February. More than 200 individuals attended from both Muslim and Christian communities. Congresswoman Emmylou Talino Mendoza of the first district of Cotabato, as well as representatives from the offices of the mayor, Sangguniang Bayan, Municipal Social Worker Development Officer (MSWDO), and DILG’s Municipal Local Government Operations Officer (MLGOO), were all there to mark the occasion.
Messages of solidarity and support were given by the guests, local government officials, and representatives from The Asia Foundation. Many of the guest speakers praised the MoU. According to MSWDO Mariam Joy Quilban, “if all follow the MoU, there will be no more wars, and peace will be achieved.” Municipal Kagawad Kassan Sinarimbo also added that the community peace forum conducted in the area was the first of its kind in the history of the barangay. Former Mayor Jun Garcesa also inspired the participants with his message. In an evaluation, Municipal Councilor Ebrahim Rahman said that that the initiative of UNYPAD with support from TAF and USAID was very inspiring. He said that if the people of Bulucaon follow the agreements, they will be a model to other barangays.
The most important part of the program was the reading and signing of the finalized MoU between the Muslims and Christians in Barangay Bulucaon. The MoU was signed by all 15 members of the responding team, 20 representatives from Muslim and Christian communities, four UNYPAD staff as secretariat, and two witnesses – the Municipal Local Government Operations Officer of Pigcawayan and former Mayor Garcesa. The IDP’s present during the signing individually declared to return gradually to their place of origin since the community leaders and representatives signed already a binding document to restore the nearly broken relationship of the community.
Wilfredo M. Torres is The Asia Foundation’s Program Officer in the Philippines. He edited the definitive reference book on clan violence and conflict resolution in the Philippines, “Rido: Clan Feuding and Conflict Management in Mindanao.” He can be reached at email@example.com.
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