We learned that the new Division Commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the highest military officer in the whole Greater Davao Region, is willing to have a dialogue with peacebuilding civil society organizational leaders. We, at PeaceBuilders Community, Inc. (PBCI) and Coffee for Peace (CFP) immediately prayed for, and planned, a course of action to pay him a courtesy call. We also invited our civil society partners – Mindanao PeaceWeavers, Initiatives for International Dialogue, All-Out Peace Network, and Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict – to join us. Last 29 August 2022, MajGen Nolasco A. Mempin, along with his staff and ground commanders under him, received our group into the headquarters of the 10th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army.
They listened to our perspectives on the conflict transformation processes and inclusive development initiatives on the ground. They also shared the philosophy behind their current anti-insurgency strategy. It was a very fruitful dialogue. The civil societies we represented and this regional military command have committed to continue in this talks. We pray that this would result to a mutual understanding and practice of justice-based peacebuilding and development.
A friendship with a military officer
This significant event was a result of an informal visit of my decade-long friend, Col. Gerry Besana and his wife, Mybel, at our Davao home last Saturday, 20 August 2022. Over cups of coffee, we engaged ourselves in lively conversations about the various field work in advancing justice-based peace and development. We specially focused on the issue of the AFP establishing a 100-hectare training camp within the Ancestral Domain of the Bagobo Tagabawa Indigenous People at the foot of Mt. Apo. Joji and I shared the sentiments of key IP representatives about this, but those tribal leaders chose to wait for the best time and opportunity to share their hearts and minds genuinely and courageously towards a harmonious resolution of this land-based issue.
We, at PBCI, do not presume to speak on behalf of the Bagobo Tagabawa Indigenous People’s Structure around Mt. Apo. However, we have been given permission by Bai Jerlina Owok, the local chieftain, to serve as a bridge for a possible dialogue between the Bagobo Tagabawa community and the official representatives of the AFP.
A warm welcome
Our group was so impressed with the military regional command’s warm welcome. We will always remember the delicious banana bread and avocado shake their office staff have served us. We will treasure the souvenir mugs they’ve given us, and we’ll make sure that each of those mugs would remind us to pray for them and their whole 10ID team – for the safety of their personnel and for the success of their justice-based mission – every time we drink our beverages from those mugs. We will always remember the generous time they have given us even with the general’s very busy schedule – especially the several picture-taking moments and a brief tour of their camp’s central buildings and spaces. Most of all, we’re grateful that the top military brass allowed us to present our agenda directly to MGen Mempin.
Purposes of the visit were accomplished
During our civil society debriefing, we felt that MGen Mempin and his infantry division have actively listened to our hearts and minds and that the purposes of our courtesy call were accomplished:
1. We were allowed to reintroduce our peacebuilding network – Mindanao PeaceWeavers, PeaceBuilders Community, Coffee for Peace, Initiatives for International Dialogue, All-Out Peace, Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict – to the 10th Infantry Division, Eastern Mindanao Command, Philippine Army. We hope that the military would not mistake us in the future as one of the enemies of the state.
2. They sincerely showed their willingness to explore with us the possibility of a dialogue between the Bagobo Tagabawa leadership and the AFP regarding the issue of the 100-hectare property in Kapatagan area being established as Philippine Army training camp.
3. The military welcomed the civil society networks we represented to explore with them the possibility of partnership in promoting peace efforts in the Bagobo Tagabawa communities, and perhaps throughout their area of responsibility, through sharing of best practices and through sustainable peace and reconciliation trainings and inclusive development programs.
A breath of fresh air
There seems to be a transformation happening in the AFP. I say this while fighting my own skepticism and as I determine to be volitionally hopeful. I have no single folder in the filing system within my heart and mind about these two categories: “Human Rights” and “AFP”. The two categories would not naturally fit based on past experiences with the military (many were traumatic) during the Martial Law Regime, especially during my days as a student political activist. I’m uncomfortable every time I’m around uniformed personnel, and particularly when I visit any AFP military camp.
But my faith-conviction as a peace and reconciliation field worker compels me to open my mind and my heart, beyond my psycho-social comfort zone. And I guess this is a part of my continuing psycho-spiritual transformation, even at age 65.
Joyful for the leadership development of Sihaya
Although I officially served as team leader of our civil society group, it was Sihaya who spoke for all of us. She did it with clarity, confidence, and passion. Jobelyn Palo Basas (Indigenous name, Sihaya Ansibod, one who is in the process of enlightenment) is a member of the Erumanen ne Menuvu Indigenous People. She speaks Erumanen (her indigenous language), Cebuano, Tagalog, and English. She’s a graduate of Southern Christian College, major in Community Development.
Please pray for her continuing leadership training process.