As part of our inclusive approach in peacebuilding, I and one of my Field Operations staff members, Arafat ‘Toto’ Balono, participated in a military-organized conversation on counterinsurgency, peace, and development in Davao Region. It was held last 24 January 2023, 0830-1300PHT, at the headquarters of the 10th Infantry Division (10ID) of the Philippine Army, Datu Balunto Hall, Camp General Manuel T Yan Sr., Barangay Tuboran, Municipality of Mawab, Province of Davao de Oro. We listened to the military reports and conversation between civil society leaders and Philippine Army officers. When given the chance, I shared our perspective on justice-based peacebuilding beyond the box of the counterinsurgency campaign of the military.
Listening to the military’s perspective
Dubbed as the First Regular Meeting of the 10ID Multi-Sector Advisory and Action Group (10ID MSAAG), the activity aimed to achieve the following objectives:
- To assess the Army Transformation Roadmap (ATR), 10ID Transformation Roadmap implementation and other sustainment efforts of the Command;
- To review and assess the alignment of organizational objectives and synergy of efforts of the MSAAG members and the secretariat;
- To discuss the actionable items of the previous year’s meetings including the initiative of the MSAAG;
- To present and discuss the results of the Army Governance and Strategy Management Office (AGSMO) pre-validation for the Command’s bid for Recertification; and,
- To recognize the ATR efforts of offices thru awarding of the Localized 10ID Agila Governance Pathway.
The invitation came directly from my decade-long friend, Col. Gerry M. Besana, Chief, Governance and Strategy Management Office (GSMO) and Head Secretariat of the 10ID Multi-Sector Advisory and Action Group (10ID MSAAG). He assigned his GSMO Administrative Officer, Captain Norven Rey O. Belano, to assist us in our participation in this event. The whole experience of this event has been very pleasant and orderly.
Beyond the box of counterinsurgency, practice peacebuilding
During this event, we have been presented various slides informing us of the military activities, specifically their successes in the implementation of Executive Order 70: “Institutionalizing the Whole-of-Nation Approach in Attaining Inclusive and Sustainable Peace, Creating a National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, and Directing the Adoption of a National Peace Framework.”
We, at PeaceBuilders Community, Inc. (PBCI), have responded to this presidential executive order as soon as it was declared a few years ago under the Duterte Administration. We saw it as an integrated, long-term, nationwide counterinsurgency campaign. The Oxford English Dictionary defines counterinsurgency as any “military or political action taken against the activities of guerrillas or revolutionaries” and can be considered war by a state against a non-state adversary.
My question during the 24 January event was simple: “Is it possible to move beyond the military doctrines of counterinsurgency and practice justice-based peacebuilding?”
At PBCI, we understand peacebuilding as:
- A comprehensive strategy “that encompasses, generates, and sustains the full array of processes, approaches, and stages needed to transform conflict toward more sustainable, peaceful relationships.”
- A wide range of activities. Strategic peacebuilding involves a wide range of activities and functions that both precede and follow formal peace accords. Such activities include conflict transformation, military intervention and conversion, governance and policymaking, restorative and transitional justice, environmental protection, human rights, civilian and military peacekeeping, peace education, activism and advocacy, trauma healing, and social-economic development.
- Reconciliation is the central component of peacebuilding. The conflicting parties must be willing to go on a journey to deal with both the rebuilding of relationships and the resolution of issues. In each context, the peacebuilders must discern whether to build relationship first, or to resolve the issues involved – or vice versa.
A symbolic prayer for justice-based peacemaking
Part of the day’s event was the unveiling of the Peace Monument right by the main gate of the 10ID military base. This is to celebrate and to declare the Greater Davao Region to be “insurgency-free zone” based on the “score cards” or matrices indicating various military counterinsurgency successes.
The artist’s symbolism, however, transcends the military’s declared counterinsurgency victory. The base of the monument are figures of human beings from various sectors of 10ID’s area of responsibility. The human figures carry the map of the 5 provinces of the Davao Region: Davao de Oro, Davao del Sur, Davao del Norte, Davao Oriental, Davao Occidental, and Davao City. On top of the map are destroyed guns and rifles formed in the shape of the peace symbol. On top of the peace symbol is a giant white pigeon.
I participated in this unveiling ceremony with a prayer in my heart: “O Creator and Sustainer of this cosmos, may the people of this Region, of this country, of this planet genuinely experience peace and harmony — with you, with our being, with our neighbors, and with your whole creation. May those destroyed weapons represent not only the weapons of the rebels, but also the weapons of the official armed forces in a land when weapons of killings and destruction are needed no more. May our people be transformed by peace within them and around them. May our land be healed from all forms of violence and experience regeneration.”
A continuing dialogue
From our perspective at PeaceBuilders Community, this is a continuation of a dialogue between us and the 10ID, led by MajGen Nolasco Mempin, held last 29 August 2022. During that meeting, we felt that MajGen Mempin and his infantry division have actively listened to our hearts and minds and that the purposes of our dialogue were accomplished:
First, 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.
Second, 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.
Third, 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.
We will continue this dialogue with the military without compromising on our principles and ethical convictions on justice-based peace and reconciliation.
I hope and pray that the next Division Commander of Davao Region, probably MajGen Jose Eriel M. Niembra, would have an open heart and mind to the voices of the peacebuilding workers and to the justice-concerns of the Indigenous Peoples in the area of responsibility of the 10th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army.