BUTUAN City, PH — Member agencies and organizations of Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) and Regional Development Council (RDC) of Caraga gathered here on February 28 to learn from the actual experiences of others working on peace and development in specific areas in Northern Mindanao.
DILG-13 Regional Director Lilibeth A. Famacion said that lessons learned from others’ peace and development work experiences will help in cascading the Caraga Roadmap for Peace (CRMP) in the different Peace and Development Zones (PDZs) that the RPOC-RDC jointly identified as impact areas in Caraga.
NEDA-13 Regional Director Mylah Faye Aurora B. Cariño encouraged RDC-13 members to allocate portions of their respective budgets on areas where PDZs are located: Agusan del Sur municipalities of Prosperidad, Bayugan and Sibagat.
GIZ-COSERAM Chief Adviser Dr. Herwig Mayer said the transformation of conflict-affected areas (CAAs) into PDZs cannot be done by government agencies and local government units alone. It has to be conducted within the framework of effective cooperation between the governing structures and those that are being governed. Thus, he emphasized the importance of nurturing inclusive inter-local (inter-regional) cooperation among all the members of the RPOC-RDC.
Value of Humility:
Mayer urged everyone to also listen to the people and asked themselves the questions “what have we learned from the communities we serve? Have these learnings found their ways into our ways of doing things? How to do our work better?”
And to best learn from the sharing of others’ peace and development work, he urged everyone to nurture the value of humility and “(1) unlearn our academic and professional backgrounds, and allow ourselves to be taken out of our ‘comfort zones’ as this might enable us to absorb as much learning there is from the sharers; (2) enter the domain of reflective and critical thinking by seeking the answers to all the ‘whys?’…rather than jumping to conclusions based on our pre-conceived ideas and assumption; and (3) deliberate how to form sustainable inter- and intra-local cooperation, not focused on institutions but on people.”
DILG City Director Charissa Guerta urged everyone, especially government agencies who have been doing their work for a long time but still have not felt the impact of their work in their areas to learn from the sharers and ask themselves “how to do it better or differently?”
Highlights of the Sharing:
The sharers were from the local government unit of Cagayan de Oro City, Mediatrix Foundation, PAGTUKUSAN, PASAKK, and Balay Mindanaw Foundation, Inc. (BMF).
The Lantad Experience. Teddy Sabuga-a, Cagayan de Oro City’s social welfare and development officer (CSWDO) and acting city administrator, shared how the Provincial Peace, Development and Security Council (PPDSC) of Misamis Oriental during the administration of then Gov. (now City Mayor) Oscar Moreno transformed the bastion of insurgency in the province, Sitio Lantad, Barangay Kibanban in Balingasag town into a “Land of Hope” from a “No Man’s Land” by “bringing the government to the people”. His sharing centered on four major points: (1) Lantad Peacebuilding Experience; (2) Strategic Innovations on MisOr’s PPDSC; (3) Insights…LGU’s Role in Peacebuilding; and (4) Challenges and Opportunities.
Culture Sensitivity on Community Entry. Lesley M. Garcia, executive director of the Bayugan, Agusan del Sur-based Mediatrix Foundation, shared her organization’s experiences on community entry and focused much on understanding the context before doing anything in the community and with the people. One key highlight in her sharing is that community’s readiness should be the key determinant in doing development initiatives, which she said is more important than the agencies’ targets and time-frame. She cautioned everyone not to be shackled by the menu-driven services of different agencies and institutions (both government and non-government) as these cause problems and feed into the conflict dynamics in the community.
Indigenous Political Structures (IPS) as Key Elements. “Gusto lang mi magpuyong malinawon, dili mi gusto og samok. Gusto namo palig-onon ang among mga estruktura ug tradisyon…Dili mi AFP, dili mi NPA. Tribu lang mi nga gusto og kalinaw (We just want to live peacefully, we do not want chaos. We want to strengthen our structures and traditions…We are not AFP, we are not NPA. We are just a tribe who want peace),” said Bae Lucy Rico of PAGTUKUSAN, who shared how insurgency polarized the tribe. She said the armed conflict between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the communist insurgents New People’s Army (NPA) are seriously affecting the lives of the indigenous peoples (IP) communities and bogged down their traditional ways and means of conflict resolution. She said the IP communities especially the Manobos have a long history of violent conflicts featured by attacks and revenge instigated by both sides. The violence is further compounded when external forces or outsiders organize IP structures which later become instruments of violent escalation. She shared the very important lesson that peace and development work (in the context of IP communities) cannot be sustained in a community polarized by violent conflicts. Structures of dialogues like the Bayuy nu Bayandugan (House of Peace) of the Manobo should be strengthened or empowered first. This is one IPS that we believe is one of the determinants for sustainable peace and development.
Challenges in doing Alternatives in Conflict-Affected Areas. Becky Barrios of the Panaghiusa Alang Sa Kaugalingnan Ug Kalingkawasan, Inc. (PASAKK), based in Bunawan, Agusan del Sur, shared her organization’s experiences in providing alternatives and basic education to the IP communities in conflict-affected areas in the interiors of La Paz, Loreto and Bunawan where no government agencies deliver basic social services. With the help of other NGOs, they set up the education program which was later on turned over to Department of Education. Just to reach these far-flung communities on foot is already a challenge. Handling multi-grade (Grades 1 to 6) in a single classroom with very scarce resources to support the literacy workers and para-teachers are challenges that are compounded by the peace and order situation (insurgency problem) of the polarized community, whose members are forced to take sides of either combatants (NPA or AFP). Violent confrontations between and among the community members often caused the suspension (or even shut down) of operation of the IP school. But the most challenging and problematic issue that PASAKK faced was when the IP school was branded as the front and training ground of NPAs by pro-government while pro-NPA accused the IP school operators as AFP Intelligence operatives.
Capacitating Social Structures for Community-based Peacebuilding. “We refuse to be victims! We choose to be resources!” is the motto of the Cagayan de Oro City-based Balay Mindanaw Foundation, Inc. (BMFI), whose Surigao del Sur Area Manager Leonardo Bautista shared that peace and development workers should ensure to transform all stakeholders become resources for peace. Bautista enumerated the Forces of Peace as (1) Governance as one of the leverages of strengthening community-based initiatives; (2) the interplay of vertical and horizontal [barangay, municipal] alliances to the province; (3) the importance of leadership and social capital — trust and ownership of affected communities of the process; (4) the role of key people, bridging leaders, champions and more people – co-ownership and co-creation; and (5) the importance of peace hardwares and softwares. He also enumerated the challenges: (1) Building relations with political leaders despite the transitions; (2) continuing armed confrontations; (3) sustaining support to the peace constituency in areas affected by violent conflict; (4) continuing call for the resumption of peace process and as a CSO observer; (5) sustaining community participation in the process; and (6) upholding inclusivity vs. exclusivity.
RPOC-RDC Members’ Insights:
To draw out their insights on the sharings, participants were asked three questions to answer: (1) What struck you most during the sharing? (2) What can be done by the respective agencies/organizations? and (3) Challenges, constraints and limitations?
Among the most striking elements from the sharing the participants gathered were:
- Lantad experience as an example of collective effort of government officials, personnel and community (bringing the government closer to the people).
- Innovation in the organizational structure (Misamis Oriental experience). Living up with the basic community organizing “form follows function” where the need for innovation has to happen in order to facilitate the works on the ground. Going beyond the bounds of EO 773, the Provincial Peace and Order Council was further enhanced into the Provincial Peace, Development and Security Council. The key feature in this innovation is the shared leadership with civil society organizations represented by the Balay Mindanaw Foundation, Inc. as vice chairman. PPDSC members have undergone the Operation Peace Course (OP Kors!) of BMFI.
- Culture-sensitivity, IP Issues and Balay Kalinaw or the Bayuy nu Bayandugan of the Manobo (from the sharing of Bae Lucy). This underscores that even in situations where escalation of violent conflict is high, there is always this option of tapping into the traditional mechanisms for peaceful and non-violent resolution and transformation of conflicts.
- Commitment and dedication of teachers (PASAKK). The participants were so amazed on the teachers’ level of commitment. When the drive to help people is very high, then everything is very possible.
- Unified objective to attain and sustain peace. This is when the problem (undesirable condition) becomes our connector. It brings people from different sides to work together for solutions.
How can they be applied/done by the respective agencies? Among the highlights of the participants’ responses were the following:
- Support to peacebuilding initiatives (dialogues, traditional mechanisms, conflict-sensitive approach, conversations and constant communication with stakeholders, etc.)
- Replicate the Lantad experience to the conflict-affected areas of Caraga
- Build on the human capacities in the conflict-affected areas
- Adequate social preparation and leverage partnership
- Inclusive participatory approach for convergence (develop on the ability to enjoin other stakeholders)
Among the challenges faced by member-agencies are time element, policy restrictions and budget limitations, ningas-kugon (cogon grass fire), attitude of implementers, politics and coordination protocols, lack of sensitivity, and questionable commitment of some agencies.
In his closing remarks, DILG Caraga Assistant Regional Director Donald A. Seronay expressed gratitude to all who attended in this first of its kind activity where different stakeholders come together for sharing and learning. He commended the working group members who are behind this activity and its preparation.
Seronay also gave special thanks to the GIZ-COSERAM for the continuing support to the peace and development works in the region, most especially to capacitating peace and development workers for the implementation and cascading of the CRMP.
The author, Arthur Casino is the Senior Advisor for Conflict Transformation-Governance of the GIZ-COSERAM.
All photos used in this article are by the DILG-13 Staff. Used with permission.