on the Mindanao Peace Process
September 24-27 1999
1992, I went to the United Nations to study the reasons that the
Persian Gulf Resolution passed in the Security Council. As a result,
I began a masters degree independent study through Lesley College
to explore the theory and practice of coexistence making
a minimum standard of a world safe for difference. I was also interested
in the maximum standard creating reconciling environments
where deep-rooted healing could take place. My masters thesis project
was conceived and implemented as a non-violent response to the Persian
Gulf resolution, Celebration of the Children of the World, to develop
political will to resolve protracted, historic, social intra-state
conflicts (Celebration of the Children of the World: A Model for
Building Global Community, 1993).
then, I've been developing the work and upgrading my skills toward
providing resources, tools and processes through a proposed Global
Mediation and Reconciliation Service for the International
Year (2000) and International Decade for
a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World
presented my work at the Hague Appeal for Peace in May 1999 and
had further training last summer at Eastern Mennonite University
in designing interventions in conflict transformation, skills for
the peacebuilder, ethnic identity and conflict transformation, and
reconciliation theory and practice.
instances where participants from neighboring countries were involved
in ethnic and tribal wars, it was an awakening to find so many peacemakers
at war within themselves and with each other, in the level of verbal
abuse,anger and fear people had toward each other, both in unresolved
inner conflict as well as unresolved political, cultural, religious
and ethnic issues. After meeting people from 50 countries, many
of them war-torn, I am committed my to help peacemakers make peace
within themselves. The invitation from the Philippines supported
1992, I have been working on pilot projects in local and international
settings with a focus on Rwanda, with refugees in Boston from the
former Yugoslavia, with religious conflicts at the Parliament of
the Worlds Religions, the UN Community in New York, The UN Earth
Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the UN Social and Economic Development
Summit in Copenhagen, the Hague Appeal in the Netherlands, in severely
conflicted organizations and individuals. The Very Reverend James
B. Manguramas, EDSP, Diocesan Bishop in the Episcopal Church in
the Philippines, and Dr. Grace J. Rebollos of the International
Organization for Migration (IOM) invited me to facilitate an exit
conference for peacemakers who had been working on a United Nations
project in the Christian-Muslim (MLNF) Government-Rebel Forces conflict
in the Southern Mindanao Province for 18 months from September 24-27,
Background on the Philippines and Mindanao
Philippines is an archipelago made up of three large island groups:
Mindanao is the second-largest island with 102,043 square kilometers
or 34% of the nation's total land area. Despite its huge resource
advantage, Mindanao's economy has been continually trapped in a
vicious cycle of underdevelopment. Mindanao's low economic performance
is exacerbated by high population growth that has resulted in low
employment, weak purchasing power of the populace, rising number
of the poor, and a sluggish economic growth. As such, Mindanao remained
economically behind the rest of the country. Before the UNDP IOM-MIRCAS
project, Mindanao had been unable to harness its huge resources
to address the continuing conflict between Muslims, Christians,
and indigenous cultural communities. A Peace Treaty was signed in
1996. The process I was invited into was closing after 18 months
of intense, practical, concrete work helping Muslim rebels integrate
back into society.
Grace J. Rebollos, a professor on leave from Eastern Mindanao University,
now working with the International Organization for Migration (IOM),
and I met at the Virginia peacemaking training last summer. The
exit conference for Muslim and Christian colleagues and peacemakers
who had been working on a United Nations project in the Government-Rebel
(MLNF) Forces conflict in the Southern Mindanao Province for 18
months from September 24-27, 1999. My orientation was to provide
a response to the invitation out of a process combined with my experience
in coexistence and reconciliation training.
Purpose of the UN Project
purpose of their 18-month initiative was to deepen the peace treaty
signed in 1996 in very practical ways by helping the MNLF rebels
to become integrated into Filipino culture in this southern province.
My task was to help the peacemakers deal with their feelings of
anger, hurt, bitterness, and loss over the ways they had been treated
"by the bureaucracy" of the United Nations and over the
peace process ending while so much was left unfinished. Many of
their hopes and dreams for what they had wanted to accomplish had
not as yet happened. They had to find other work as the funding
for the project had run dry, yet they wanted help with how they
could still pursue the peace process individually and collectively,
even as they were not actively involved in the UNDP process any
UN Operations and Problems
18-month UNDP IOM-MIRCAS process was the biggest UN operation in
the Philippines and was funded by nine countries: Australia, Canada,
New Zealand, Spain, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, and Turkey.
Mobil Information Referral and Community Assistance Service (MIRCAS)
was the information dissemination and confidence-building sub-contractor
to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
that the peacemakers reportedly had to deal with included: discrepancies
in the financial reporting systems, in coordinative processes, in
being left out in meetings, in being "pushed around as work
horses", in being treated like second-class citizens. They
felt that "UNDP was missing the point about peace". Its
people "get involved in too many
conferences, too much training, too much politics, underhandedness
and a lack of authenticity".
peacemakers related to the following statement:
was hungry and you formed a committee to investigate my hunger.
I was homeless and you filed a report on my plight. I was sick
and you held a seminar on the situation of the underprivileged.
You investigated all aspects of my plight and yet I am still hungry,
homeless and sick."
My Work Plan and Process
host, Dr. Grace Rebollos, had just come from a training-workshop
for peace and development advocates of the MNLF (a Muslim rebel
group). She was part of a team of Muslim-Christian trainors.
proceeded to provide a safe space for the peacemakers to share
their pain and suffering incurred during this project. Dr. Grace
Rebollos. had told me that the group needed healing and reconciliation.
I consulted with Ben Errol D. Aspers (IOM-Mircas Project Coordinator)
before the meeting about what I proposed to do in my facilitation
and got his approval to go ahead with the reconciliation process
that had come from my prayers: acknowledging gifts, strengths
and limitations, concerns, historicizing, a letting go process,
making closing statements, and ending with a celebration.
Acknowledging Gifts, Strengths, Limitations and Concerns
invited participants to share with me one word about their particular
gift or strength that would allow them to reconnect with the vision
that originally led them to the peace process. Their words reflected
their core gifts and leadings many had experienced in coming to
the process: grace, hope, compassion, love, peacefulness, solitude,
glider, helpful, light and joy, peace, compassion, understanding,
I invited them to begin their own timeline of their experience
in the peace process in a historicizing process of reflection.
"Historicizing" started with a period of historical
reflection with sheets of newsprint and stringing them out along
a wall. Each participant
was invited to make her/his own timeline first on a sheet of 8
l/2 x ll paper that could be kept confidential. Then, after one
hour, a group timeline was made on newsprint with a horizontal
line drawn through the center. At the far right, an arrow with
the word "present" is printed on it. Then the participants
are invited to proceed backwards from the present recalling some
of the most important historical events in the life of the peace
process since the Peace Treaty, drawing on and building on their
own personal timelines.
began by talking about the most important critical incidents in
the past twelve months. That was a warm-up period. The group then
moved back to the previous three years since the Peace Treaty
was important to guide those present through the entire history
of the peace process Even though there may not be anyone in the
group who was alive during the formative years of the dispute,
there may have been stories to recollect and record. This step
took two hours. It provided a gold-mine of information. The chart
was hung where people could review it, debate over its contents,
and make changes.
second phase of this historicizing process invited the same group
to review the time-line to identify the tacit norms of the process.
Tacit norms are unwritten psychological rules governing behavior
in the process. Norms are hard to identify because "that's
the way things have always been done in the 18-month process."
f. Tacit Norms as Ongoing Concerns As They Left the Peace Process
it was time to invite them to reflect on the tacit norms as ongoing
concerns that still lingered within them that would prevent the
peacemakers from making closure for the process. Two of the peacemakers
were former MNLF rebels and their contributions were especially
poignant. Just as they had contributed to the uprising, so they
now were contributing to the peace process. They, incidentally,
were feeling most clear about how the process had gone and how
they could go forward, with very little concern.
of their ongoing concerns that were expressed:
efforts weren't acknowledged or valued"
will provide: there's life after MIRCAS"
not doing enough: anger, bitterness, bad thoughts, discontentedness"
of staff, unfinished work"
about MNLF access to service providers in future"
losing confidence with Peace Process, tension between IOM, UNDP
and within staff"
A Forgiveness Process
were asked if they felt comfortable with going through a ceremony
where they could experience a release from their concerns. They
were open and willing. I explained how fire is an ancient symbol
of transformation. Since they had feelings that couldn't be released
on their own, they could be brought to the fire and then be open
released from their pain. That which had held them back now could
propel them forward.
were helped by a gorgeous sunset. In the South Pacific, it is
dramatically beautiful. Just as everyone was telling the group
what they had written down, burned their papers, and joined together
to support one another through the letting go process, the sun
set on each participant.
participants made a statement of closure at the end of the conference.
Some of them include:
project made me live again"
grateful to be blessed with such experiences not many can have
in the peace process"
we meet again"
UN can only aspire for the best, but 'Que Sera Sera' "
(former MNLF rebel, turned peacemaker)
to lose hope in achieving peace in oneself and the world"
been tough and rewarding"
requires dedication and commitment"
road is not easy. Bon jour. The Challenge remains"
ourselves to be peacemakers!"
taken stock of my feelings of what should have happened."
had high hopes"
light a fire to my sufferings!"
it was time to celebrate. They had families waiting behind on
the beach and someone fetched the food. There was a dinner with
much laughter, reminiscences and hope expressed for the future
of the process. One little group began a new peace process by
beginning an Non-Governmental Organization to continue where the
UN left off. The celebration went on till the boat left to bring
people back to other islands and home.
Other Work While in the Philippines
host kept me busy after the closure process for the peacemakers
was over. I spoke to many Muslim, Christian and secular groups.
I attended a conference where participation of trust between sectors
was building. I spoke at a Carmelite Nuns and Tertiaries Catholic
Nunnery who were faithful to St. Theresa. I spoke at a coalition
of teachers, Ateneo de Zamboanga, with Private School Heads about
the International Year (2000) and International Decade for a Culture
of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010).
met with Pax and Salaam, the coalition of Moslem and Christian leaders
with Edward and Zeny Lim (Muslim Coordinators of Salaam) and Fr.
Angel Calvo, Pricilla Valmonte, and Grace Rebollos (Christian coordinators
of Paz.) to listen to their plans for The Week of Peace, the first
week of November and to introduce them to the International Year
(2000) and International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence
for the Children of the World (2001-2010).
My reflections and analysis
was a danger of my being kidnapped, so my hosts kept a close
watch over me. I stayed in a Muslim Hotel because rebels would
be less likely to kidnap someone from a Muslim Hotel.
an American with a sensitivity to the fact that US military
bases are in the Philippnes essentially against the will of
the people was a huge issue. The Filipinos were too polite to
bring it up with me, but when I opened the issue, they spoke
to me openly.
have received word from the participants and the coordinator
that my work provided healing and reconciliation to help the
peacemakers deal with their unresolved feelings while leaving
the UNDP IOM-MIRCAS Project and get on with their lives.
work is a pilot project of a proposed global mediation and reconciliation
service, dedicated to bring non violent resources to the international
and UN community for the International Year (2000) and International
Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children
of the World (2001-2010).