10003185_10152362433649804_5792102683723688427_n 10155780_10152362646304804_550921434203711962_n 10167976_10152360776489804_5239939795523320670_n              In the wake of the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on 26th March 2014, the Catholic Church through its Mindanao bishops, heads of educational institutions and seminaries, peace centers and representatives of the media, as well as some invited guests from the Peace Panel representing the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and civil society groups and nongovernment organizations (NGOs), huddled together in a confab that tackled the challenges brought about by the historical signing of the CAB.  Using the round-table discussion format, the Conversations on Peacebuilding in Mindanao conducted on 9th-10th April 2014 at Finster Auditorium of Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) was sponsored by the Episcopal Commission on Interreligious Dialogue (ECID) of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) in Mindanao.

Role of the Catholic Church in Peacebuilding

            The two-day gathering was predicated on the need to take a long hard look at the newly signed CAB, its impact on the entire peace process, as well as on the coordinated peacebuilding efforts done by the Catholic Church through its various institutions that are working for a lasting peace in this region of the Philippines.  The confab also brandished finding new and creative ways in righting historical injustices through the creation of various modes of discourses that will usher in better platforms in support of pursuing justice and the common good for all Mindanawons, especially the Muslims, the Lumads, and people at the margins.

Historical Context

             The first day started off with a hearty welcome led by Bp. Angelito Lampon, DD of the Vicar Apostolic of Jolo and Abp. Romulo Valles, DD of the Archdiocese of Davao. This was followed by the rationale of the confab given by Abp. Antonio Ledesma, SJ, DD of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro, wherein he emphasized the role of the Catholic Church in the promotion of the peace process in Mindanao, highlighting various perspectives in pursuit of reconciled diversity, at the same time understanding the historical context of the conflict in Mindanao. Prof. Rudy Rodil, himself a veteran of many peacebuilding initiatives, gave the context of the peace process tackled by the GPH and the MILF through the many years of negotiation under different administrations.

Update on the CAB

            Following a fifteen-minute video on the peace process by the GPH and the MILF, created by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), the conversation kicked off with an overview of the recently signed CAB and the work of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) given by no less than Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, representing the government Peace Panel, joined by Mr. Haron Meling, representing MILF’s Mohagher Iqbal, and Datu Antonio Kinoc, representing the MILF Peace Panel.  Prof. Ferrer discussed the road map that the peace panelists went through in the course of the peace negotiation, which highlighted in the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) on 15th October 2012, the historic signing of the CAB in the later part of March this year, and the drafting of the four (4) annexes to the agreement such as the primer on the annex on Normalization, on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities, on Revenue Generation and Wealth Sharing, and on Power Sharing, including the addendum on the Primer on the Bangsamoro Waters and Zones of Joint Cooperation. Meling gave a short update regarding the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), while Datu Kinoc emphasized the different layers of consultation that the panel underwent, commenting on the goodwill of both the GPH and the MILF that are, in his words, “on the same side” in this peace endeavor.

 Pursuit of Reconciled Diversity

 The first round-table discussion (conversation-style format), moderated by Atty. Romeo Cabarde of ADDU, tackled the topic In Pursuit of a Reconciled Diversity, participated in by different discussants representing multiple voices in the wider arena of peacebuilding.

 Datu Mussolini Lidasan of the Al Qalam Institute of ADDU shared, as an Iranon, his dream of a new narrative to tell the story of how the Bangsamoro developed and evolved.  He also called on finding creative ways of understanding the Bangsamoro identity that goes above and beyond 15th century conception.

           Mucha Shim-Quiling of Lumah Ma Dilaut, representing the voice of a minority from among the Bangsamoro people, expressed concerns regarding the newly signed CAB, saying that its underlying principles carried the same values of hierarchy and colonialism.  In her disavowal of this government project, she expressed the need to find a reflexive understanding and appreciation of Bangsamoro history that is non-linear, something that is both simple and complex, and can be embraced by peoples even by those from the margins, underscoring not theories, nor political designs, but trust and intimate relationship in and among communities.

 Prof. Roque Yusuf Morales of the National Commission for Muslim Filipinos, talked about how to reconcile different positions in peace agreements by understanding their specific contexts. He said that the responsibility to explain what the FAB lies in the public sector itself, as it is in a better position to institute changes.  

  Timuay Labi Alim Bandara of Timuay Peace and Governance noted the concerns/issues of the indigenous peoples (IPs) within the annexes, especially the issues of identity and ancestral domain, saying that the rights which the IPs can enjoy under the CAB (beyond the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act [IPRA]) should be made clear in the BBL.

  Fr. Albert Alejo, SJ of Ateneo de Zamboanga (ADZU), expressed concern on the lack of an additional annex pertaining to the IPs.  He reiterated that IPRA should not just be treated as a law but as an agreement and a document that corrects historical injustice. With IPRA being the minimum, it must now be integrated into the discussion of the BBL. “Give us some signs that the MILF can offer something better than the government,” he said, with regard to the issue on the IPs. He then reiterated the need for intrafaith dialogue that can eventually lead to apology and forgiveness, as well as in engaging the voice of the artist and the poet in finding creative metaphors for peacemaking.

  Fr. Eliseo Mercado, OMI of the Notre Dame University of Cotabato (NDUC), reminded everyone that the Bangsamoro is already a reality for many Muslims here in Mindanao.  “It is now water under the bridge, it is already a watershed,” he reiterated.  He called for the need to negotiate certain ambiguities that are found in the new agreement, and hoped that the CAB does not just create a hegemonic synthesis from another hegemonic synthesis.  He then challenged everyone in coming up with a new discourse in the effort to reconcile our diversity, even expanding the consciousness that goes beyond the Bangsamoro, such as the cultivation of an all-embracing “Malay” consciousness.  

 Bp. Angelito Lampon, DD of the Vicar Apostolic of Jolo, shared his experiences on the ground, including realities of kidnapping and other crimes, and the need for unity in the midst of so many conflicts.  

  The sharing of discussants elicited various responses from the participants, to wit: Issues pertaining to the need for a holistic understanding on the complex issue of the Bangsamoro identity; the concerns of the Lumads; the need for a narrative discourse that can embrace the whole Bangsamoro without it becoming simply a religious or nationalist discourse; the acknowledgement of divisiveness in and among the Muslim communities; the issues of rido, arms smuggling, and violence; the need for genuine peace education; the concerns of poverty and corruption linked to the concerns of peace; and the importance of strengthening intrafaith dialogue within and among religious groups, among others

 Launching of the Book on the Bangsamoro

                 The first day’s Conversations ended with a special launching of a book entitled Bangsamoro: Today We Begin a New History, a compilation (including annotations and critiques) of articles, opinions, editorials, and reflections on the issue of the Bangsamoro published in Mindanews. This compilation, published by ADDU’s University Publications Office (UPO), is a joint project of Mindanews and ADDU.  The launching was headed by Ms. Carolyn Arguillas, editor of Mindanews, and Fr. Joel E. Tabora, SJ, president of ADDU.

            The first day’s session capped with an animated and colourful cultural presentation by Davao City’s Kaliwat Theatre Collective, serenading the participants and guests at dinnertime.

  Peacebuilding in Mindanao

                The second day’s Plenary Session, moderated by ADDU’s Atty. Faye Risonar, offered a venue for sharing several peacebuilding efforts in Mindanao, following the first day’s sharing of institutional peacebuilding activities integrated during the plenary discussion. Dr. Ofelia Durante of the International Children Action Network talked about peace education and the culture of peace by discussing the paradigm/module used in her own organization and how such can be adapted in various contexts of peacebuilding. Abp. Emeritus Fernando Capalla, DD, representing the Bishops Ulama Conference (BUC) and Fr. Sebastian D’ambra of Silsilah shared their extraordinary efforts in pushing for interreligious and intrareligious dialogue in their own respective contexts.  A German NGO, forumZFD, represented by Wolfgang Doerner and Daniel Jaeger, gave an input on the work of their organization in supporting peacebuilding efforts of civil society groups in the area of social communications and peace advocacy. In the same manner, Mr. Orson Sargado, representing the Catholic Relief Service (CRS), shared his organization’s experience on the ground in the work of peacebuilding and peacemaking as a means of empowering communities who are engaged in the promotion of sustainable peace in many areas in the country, especially in Mindanao.

                Following the morning’s Plenary Session, the participants were divided into three (3) breakout groups for three afternoon workshops, facilitated by three faculty members of ADDU, namely M. Isabel S. Actub, Dr. Tender Ferolin and Ms. Lilibeth Arcena, assisted by the staff of CRS and three documentors. The workshops tackled three separate areas: Peace Education (for School and Communities), Interreligious and Intrareligious Dialogue, and Social Communications for Peacebuilding.  The output of the three groups were presented and reported in the plenary discussion, moderated by Ms. Myrna Siose of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro.  The collective output formed the summary of the confab’s intent in seeking for a shared responsibility to push for sustainable and lasting peace in Mindanao, especially in the context of the signing of the CAB and the ongoing drafting of the BBL.  The afternoon’s discussion concluded with further comment from Fr. Mercado who insisted in calling for a new discourse that will hopefully provide a new direction in charting the course of peace as regard the issue of the Bangsamoro.

 Commitment in Support of the Peace Process

               Fr. Tabora thanked the participants and discussants for their active sharing and participation during the Conversations.  He also thanked the working committees of ADDU, headed by the Office of the President, and partner organizations who were responsible for putting together this important gathering–conducted at the heel of the historic signing of the CAB just fourteen (14) days before.  He then announced to the plenary that CEAP will tackle the issue on the Bangsamoro and the environment in its national convention this year.  As a fitting ending to the two-day gathering, Abp. Ledesma read what is proposed as the Conversations’ final statement (Working towards a Reconciled Diversity) which includes action points that were culled from the many discussions that ensued in the last two days.  It is hoped that these points will form the basis for concrete actions which the church will commit herself to, through her various institutions and linkages.

 Diverse Participation and Representation

  The peace advocates who attended the Conversations represented the various (arch)dioceses of Mindanao, such as Abp. Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro, Abp. Valles of Davao, and Emeritus Abp. Capalla; and Bp. Lampon of the Vicar Apostolic of Jolo, Bp. Dinualdo Gutierrez, DD of Marbel, Bp. Romulo dela Cruz, DD of Zamboanga, Auxiliary Bp. George Rimando, DD of Davao, Bp. Edwin dela Peña, DD of the Prelature of Marawi, and Bp. Elenito Galido, DD of Lanao. The following dioceses were also represented, namely the dioceses of Tagum, Iligan, Dipolog, Digos, and Kidapawan.

 ADDU president Fr. Tabora and NDUC president Fr. Mercado represented the Catholic schools in Mindanao, together with representatives from Pillar College of Zamboanga, Xavier University (XU), Stella Maris Academy of Davao, Stella Maris of Oroquieta, La Salle University of Ozamis, University of Immaculate Conception (UIC), Mindanao State University (MSU), Notre Dame Siena of Tacurong, Notre Dame of Kidapawan, Notre of Dadiangas University (NDU), Notre Dame of Marbel University (NDMU), Notre Dame College of Cotabato, St. Peter’s College, and Holy Cross of Calinan, Our Lady of Fatima, and Christ the King, among others.

 From the media, Mindanews and DXDB of Malaybalay were in attendance.  The rest of the participants represented various organizations that are at the forefront of peacebuilding efforts, such as the CRS, IID, AQI, ACD, OLP, CEAP, SAC, St. John Vianney Seminary, Lumah Mah Dilaut, CKCM, Silsilah, ACC, forumZFD, Assissi Development Foundation, TCCI, Balay Mindanaw, BTC, Al Qalam Institute, NCMF, and IRD of Malaybalay, among others.  Mattias Regis, formerly of Catholic Herald, and now a volunteer of Al Qalam, emceed the event.  (by M. Isabel S. Actub, Arrupe Communications & Advocacy, for the Office of the President)