IN ASIA

Weekly Insights and Analysis

Young Advocates Use Art to Promote Peace in Southern Philippines

February 17, 2016

By Nadine S. Ragonjan

Late last month, a group of young peace advocates sponsored “Piece of Peace,” or POP, an art contest at a public elementary school in the town of Patikul in Sulu, Southern Philippines.

The event attracted young artists from the area who showcased their talents in a variety of forms, including tire painting, above, to promote messages of peace and unity.

The event attracted young artists from the area who showcased their talents in a variety of forms, including tire painting, above, to promote messages of peace and unity.

The event attracted young artists from the area who showcased their talents in mural, soil, and tire painting, poster design, and photography to promote messages of peace and unity.

Photographs of Sulu scenery were showcased by the Sulu Photograpeace Club at the POP Art contest.

Photographs of Sulu scenery were showcased by the Sulu Photograpeace Club at the POP Art contest.

For Sulu residents – who have endured violent, bloody conflict and poverty for decades – the mood was exciting, but tense. The morning of the contest, just 300 meters from Mudjunon Elementary, two soldiers from the Philippine Army were shot at close range by suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). One soldier survived, while the other was killed on the spot. The perpetrator got away.

Due to ongoing violence and security risks, military presence has increased in Patikul, Sulu, where violent episodes between the military and the MNLF still remain.

Due to ongoing violence and security risks, military presence has increased in Patikul, Sulu, where violent episodes between the military and the MNLF still remain.

The incident is symptomatic of the security risks that envelope the whole town on a regular basis. Recent sources of conflict are directly attached to the fateful days of Feb. 7-8, 1974, when the nearby capital town of Jolo was razed by fire due to the continuous land, air, and sea bombardments by the Armed Forces of the Philippines who were fighting off the forces from the secessionist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF, which the ASG broke away from in the 1990s). This incident resulted in the displacement and death of thousands of Muslims and Christians, thereby altering the socio-political fabric of Sulu. Since then, the discontent of the MNLF has continued and violent episodes between the military and the MNLF still remain.

On Oct. 10, 1977, a high-ranking official of the Philippine Army, BGen Teodulfo Bautista, four Army colonels, and 29 other soldiers, were killed in Patikul’s public market. Now known as the “Patikul massacre,” it is reported that an MNLF commander, Usman Sali, lured Bautista into a “peace dialogue” in the town’s public market. The soldiers, who came unarmed, were greeted by about 150 MNLF troops who opened fire. More than three decades after this incident, the slain general’s son, LtGen Emmanuel Bautista, became the chief of staff of the Armed Forces in 2013. Driven by the tragic death of his father, he became an active peace advocate, supported the implementation of the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) known as the Oplan Bayanihan, which is led by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and focuses on peacebuilding through multi-stakeholder engagement and promotion of human rights.

In 1991, Sulu saw a different facet of conflict and violence as the ASG broke away from the MNLF. While it initially fought for an independent Islamic nation, it is now branded as a terrorist group with members resorting to banditry and criminality, especially kidnap-for-ransom. Today ASG members, especially the younger ones, have become bolder, planting IED bombs and targeting the military and police in Sulu. Their strongholds are reported to be located in Indanan and Patikul, whose open seas and mountainous terrain provide a safe haven. Although its armed strength fell after the capture of ASG members by the government in 2006, ASG has professed ties with other regional terror organizations such as Jemaah Islamiya and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIL). Military forces, through the Joint Task Group Sulu, have continued to increase their presence in the area and conduct focused military operations.

This insecurity is what the people, including the youth, have grown accustomed to in Patikul. The deafening sounds of helicopters and flaring mortar shells have become normal. While an event like POP Art, now in its fourth year, may seem like a soft approach to a hard issue that confronts Patikul, it is in fact a valuable, and until now missing, way for young artists to promote moderation and peace, show their dissent from injustices and violence, both physical and structural, and claim their quest for a just socio-political order. The transformative capacity of their arts may be difficult to gauge at this time, but what is important is that this new generation has set it in motion. The quest continues.

Nadine S. Ragonjan is a senior program coordinator for The Asia Foundation in the Philippines. She can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.

1 Comment

  1. This article just melted my heart and continue to inspire me in motivating young generation and inculcating on them the essence of peace and moderation.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

About our blog, In Asia

In Asia is a weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia's development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of over 70 renowned experts in over 20 countries, In Asia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

In Asia is posted and distributed every Wednesday evening, Pacific Time and is accessible via email and RSS. If you have any questions, please send an email to [email protected].
Subscribe

THE LATEST ACROSS ASIA

Afghanistan in 2016: A Survey of the Afghan People

The longest-running nationwide survey of Afghan attitudes and opinions

Read more