BUILDING A CULTURE OF PEACE AMIDST DIVERSITY

by ROMULO B. HALABASO
Chief, Peace Education Unit
Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process

Introduction

     First of all, on the behalf of the Office of the Presidential Adviser of the Peace Process (OPAPP), I would like to thank the organizers of this Forum for giving us the privilege to speak on a very relevant topic, Building a Culture of Peace Amidst Diversity.

     Philippines society is a highly diversified society, where serious conflicts arise out of unresolved differences among the people’s needs, interests and beliefs. Certain conflicts have in fact escalated into full-blown and protracted armed violence which threaten our national security and development while making life extremely difficult and miserable to countless civilians in the affected communities. At the start of the decade, we were facing three fronts of insurgency, namely: the communist movement, the separate forces in the south and the military rebel groups. Today, as the decade comes to its close, the country continues to be battled by violent unrests and terrorism.

     The critical presence of internal armed conflicts has prompted the government – particularly under the Ramos administration – to adopt and implement a comprehensive peace process aimed at attainting a just and lasting peace in the country. This was formulated in the basis of the results of the nationwide grassroots consultations conducted by the National Unification Commission (NUC) in 71 provinces in 1992. Currently being pursued in partnership with both the civil society and the private sector, the comprehensive peace process is the government’s main endeavor to consciously build and nurture peace for all Filipinos.

Three guiding principles

The comprehensive peace process is governed by the following underlying principles:

1. A comprehensive peace process should be community-based, reflecting the sentiment, values and principles important to all Filipinos. Thus, it shall be defined not by government alone, nor by the different contending groups only, but by all Filipinos as one community.

2. A comprehensive peace process aims to forge a new social compact for a just, equitable, humane and pluralistic society. It seeks to establish a genuinely pluralistic political society, where all individual and groups are free to engage in peaceful competition for predominance of their political programs without fear, through the exercise of rights and liberties guaranteed by the constitution, and where they may compete for political power through an electoral system that is free, fair and honest.

3. A comprehensive peace process seeks a principled and peaceful resolution of the internal armed conflicts, with neither blame nor surrender, but with dignify for all concerned.

The six paths to peace

The comprehensive peace process consists of (6) components, namely:

One, the pursuit of social, economic and political reforms to address the roots of armed conflict;

Two, consensus-building and empowerment for peace;

Three, the negotiated settlement of armed conflict;

Four, programs for reconciliation, reintegration and rehabilitation;

Five, conflict management and the protection of civilians caught in armed conflict; and

Six, building and nurturing a climate for lasting peace.

Let me now dwell briefly on each of these paths.

     The first path calls for the pursuit of social, economic, and political reforms to address the root causes of armed conflicts in the country. Based on the NUC report, armed rebellion arose primarily due to widespread poverty and economic inequity; poor governance; abuse and control by a few of political power; and marginalization of the cultural communities.

     In a response to these, government put a place in 1994 the Social Reform Agenda (SRA), aimed at advancing social equity, the just sharing of the benefits of growth, and the effective participation of all sectors, especially the poor and marginalized, in the mainstream of our economic and political life. The initiatives under the SRA have been institutionalized under the Estrada administration through the creation and operationalization of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC).

     To ensure people’s participation in the formulation and implementation of reform policies, programs and other peace agenda, continuing consultations and consensus-building processes are being pursued at the national and local levels, especially among the affected communities. This is the second path to peace.

     Along this lane, we have formed, strengthened as expanded a nationwide network of a local peace partners with whom we have conducted regional, community-based and multi-sectoral dialogues and for a with the end in view of drawing up area-based peace and development agenda as well as facilitating the resolution of conflicts. Our partners include the Cordillera People’s Forum, Paghiliusa Sa Paghidaet-Negros in the Visayas, and Kalinaw Mindanaw, among others.

     A critical intervention under the second path is the empowerment of the indigenous peoples through consensus-building, in the light of issues arising from the implementation of development projects within their respective areas and domains.

     The third path to peace refers to peace negotiations with various rebel groups. To date, government has already forged a peace accord with the military rebel groups and with the MNLF. Peace agreements with the military rebel groups and with the MNLF. Peace agreements with the military rebels were reached in 1995. Consequently, three amnesty proclamations covering the military rebels have been issued since 1994 and more than 4,000 applicants have been granted amnesty under these proclamations. In addition, one hundred fourteen (114) officers have been reinstated in the military service, along with about 2,000 enlisted personnel.
     The peace agreement with the MNLF, on the other hand, was signed on September 2, 1996. Significantly, most of the various reforms covered under the first phase of the peace accord have already been accomplished. The political reforms, particularly the creation of the Southern Philippines Council for Peace And Development (SPCPD) and other structures, have created an encouraging landscape where Muslims, especially former MNLF combatants, are clearly active participants in political and development processes.

     The successful and smooth integration of the MNLF forces into the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) unequivocally demonstrates the sincerity of both sides in waging peace after three decades of conflict. The integration program is considered to be unparalleled anywhere in the world.

     As for the socio-economic aspect of the peace agreement, the government has provided in SZOPAD areas an estimated 8.9 billion peso worth of development projects from government line agencies, P845 million worth of projects from specialized government bodies, and P194.43 million from the SZOPAD Social Fund as of September this year. 14.6 million pesos have also been provided through the UNDP-NEDA-SPCPD multi-donor program for livelihood projects and relief assistance.

     Meanwhile, peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) formally opened last October 25, 1999 in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. However, as we have read and heard from the news, armed encounters between the AFP and MILF forces have escalated after the MILF withdrew from peace talks last April 30. While MILF administration remains committed to peace negotiations and is hopeful that MILF would return to the negotiations table.

     On the peace process with the communist rebels, a major accomplishment was the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law in March 1998. Following the collapse of the talks, however, the government has decided to take an alternative course. On June 21, 1999, President Joseph Estrada issued Executive Order No. 115 establishing the National Peace Forum to ensure the continuity of the peace process with the communist insurgents at the community level. The Executive Order also provides for the creation of local peace for a in areas where multisectoral efforts can be effectively harnessed for the purpose. It is our hope that such localized peace processes shall strengthen our democratic institutions, enlarge our peace constituents and lead to meaningful socio-economic reforms.


     The fourth path to peace provides hope to a new life to combatants who are willing to surface and be reintegrated into the mainstream society and be reconciled with their perspective communities and families. It includes programs to address the legal status and security of former rebels, as well as addressing the economic, social and psychological rehabilitation needs of demobilized combatants and civilian victims of armed conflicts. Two agencies are primarily responsible for the implementation of this path, namely: the National Amnesty Commission (NAC) and the National Program for Unification and Development (NPUD) Council.

     Since the creation of the NAC in 1994, a total of 7,291 former combatants have been granted amnesty. This number represents 60% of the total amnesty applications received. Last September, President Estrada issued a proclamation further extending the period for amnesty applications for another year.

     On the other hand, the NPUD has provided more than 6 million pesos for emergency assistance to 3,600 former rebels and 153 million pesos for livelihood assistance to 9,300 rebel returnees.

     The fifth path to peace seeks to ensure the welfare and protection of civilians in areas where hostilities continue to erupt even as peace negotiations and other peace-building initiatives are being pursued.

     In this regard, our office has continued to provide support to several peace zones, which constitute a people-initiated, community-based response to mitigate armed conflict. In particular, we have engaged a partnership with seven peace zones located in Mountain Province, Negros Occidental, North Cotabato and Abra towards the implementation of their respective community-based peace and development agenda.

     Finally, the sixth path to peace seeks to build and nurture a positive climate for peace or, more broadly, a culture of peace. Along this line, we have been vigorously pursuing peace education and advocacy both within and outside the schools, in order to instill in the minds and hearts of children, youth, women and other sectors the values, knowledge and skills essential to peace building and peace making.

     In this regard, we have established partnership with The Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) as well as with private schools for the eventual integration of peace education into the formal school curricula. The partnership has mainly involved the development of pilot peace education modules for use in classroom teaching, peace education orientation and capability-building for teachers and school administrators and, for some schools, the establishment for peace centers as venues for peace research, extension and advocacy.

     At the same time, we supported and facilitated the development and implementation of nonformal community-based and institution-based peace education programs, notably: the tri-people culture of peace program for Mindanao, for which a manual titled Panagtagbo Sa Kalinaw was produced and printed; and the community-bassed peace education program for the Cordillera Administrative Region.

     We also co-convened pilot peace education and training activities for certain key sectors such as the urban poor and the local government units. Just recently, we reached out to the military sector by integrating a culture of peace training component into the internalization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) which was intended for the AFP regulars and the MNLF integrees. This partnerships with the military took off with the conduct of the Speakers’ Bureacu Trainers’ Training on AFP Professionalism and Peace advocacy held last November at Camp Aguinaldo. We have just finished another trainors’ training held in Jolo, Sulu last April 14-18 and we are now preparing for another activity scheduled this month in Cotabato City. Through this partnership with the joint AFP-MNLF Secretariat Office (JAMSO), we expect a new rank of peace advocated to be formed from the sector that really matters in the entire peace process which is the military.

     Recognizing the role of the religious sector in peace-building, we have promoted and supported the conduct of interfaith or interreligious dialogue in Mindanao as a building block for a culture of peace. This is in recognition of the common spiritual bases of peace found among the different religious leaders in promoting social peace and cultural solidarity. A significant development along this line is the instutionalization of the Bishop-Ulama Forum (BUF) which was initiated in 1996.

Conclusion

     In conclusion, let me say that we have gone a long way in advancing the peace process. But the peace that we have achieved so far remains fragile especially as new situations of unpeace continue to emerge which tend to erode many people’s sense of nationalism and solidarity as well as confidence in the peace process. The achievement of genuine and lasting peace in the country therefore calls for a more intensive and more effective pursuit of our multi-track peace process through new and innovative approaches.