BMFI leads Mindanao
generals engage in peace building
Text and photos by Bobby
Posted 26 August 2006
Ferrer shares his Basilan experience as SouthCom DepCom
Dolorfino listens. More
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY -- Early
last Thursday (Aug. 25), the offices of Balay Mindanao Foundation,
Inc. teemed with combat camouflage uniforms, some of them with stars
on their collars, as if war erupted anew in Mindanao and the BMFI’s
“peace center” converted into a war room.
What was surprising, though,
was that the generals, and some colonels, obliged to BMFI’s polite
request not to bring firearms inside. There was no need to bring
those instruments of war, because for the rest of the day, Mindanao’s
highest ranking soldiers -- along with representatives from civil
society, local governments, the church, the academe and others --
were attending a roundtable discussion on how to equip the Armed
Forces’ Southern Command (SouthCom) with skills on conflict
management and peace building.
Almost a week earlier, a
similar gathering was held in Zamboanga City, where their
counterparts in Mindanao’s western half tackled the same issue.
At the end of the day,
civilian peace advocates were surprised that the military, although
trained to wage war, could also help make peace.
“I thought soldiers can’t
be instruments of peace,” said Deng Giguiento, a known peace
advocate of the Catholic Relief Services’ Mindanao office. “Pwede
pala (It’s possible)!” She was almost in tears as she
recapped the days’ discussions.
“Admittedly, we have become
part of the problem in the conflict in Mindanao,” said Brig. Gen.
Raymundo Ferrer, commanding officer of the Army’s 103rd Infantry
Brigade based in Basilan, referring to stories of abuses by
soldiers, thus earning the ire of the civilians.
He narrated how some lowly
paid soldiers go into the battle field, in villages abandoned by
residents because of the war. Then a soldier finds a chicken roaming
around and, believing the animal must have no owner, butchers it for
dinner. “But for the residents going back to their homes after the
war, ‘Ninakaw ng mga sundalo ang mga manok namin!’ (The
soldiers stole our chickens!)” Ferrer said.
remember these stories,” he pointed out.
“But we also couldn’t be
part of the solution if we weren’t part of the problem,” added
the general from the land of the Abu Sayyaf.
For Ferrer, being part of the
solution means actively reaching out to the people of Basilan,
engaging them in discussions on how to help bring about peace in the
“paradise island” with an image as a “haven of terrorists.”
A graduate of the Mindanao
Peace Institute initiated by Giguiento’s group, as well as a
fellow of the Asian Institute of Management’s (AIM) “bridging
leadership” program, Ferrer used everything he learned in school
to get the people’s support.
He also trained his soldiers
how to handle conflicts, and conducted values formation seminars to
members of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU).
Hernandez explains BMFI's plan to help SouthCom go into peace
Ferrer said that Basilan
residents, who feared the military not long ago, now respect and
trust the soldiers. “Our image has now become of protector instead
of oppressor, of peace builders instead of plain warriors,” he
“You might have wondered
why you can’t read Basilan in the news these days,” he joked.
Across the sea, in the
islands of Sulu, SouthCom Deputy Commander Ben Dolorfino, an Ilonggo
who embraced Islam when he married his Tausug wife more than 20
years ago, is working along parallel lines.
“In Sulu, we have all forms
of violence. From insurgency to terrorism to ridos and ethnic
violence,” he said. “Maybe when one thinks of a place in the
Philippines that is the most violent, I’m sure it would be Sulu,”
Dolorfino, who also attended
a seminar on bridging leadership, organized the various sectors of
Sulu and formed an informal group that calls itself “Lambitungha
Lupah Sug,” which translates to “The Fireflies of Sulu.”
“We maybe small, but we can
provide the light to transform Sulu,” he said.
The examples of Ferrer and
Dolorfino are what BMFI and its friends want to replicate all over
Ariel Hernandez, BMFI’s
executive director, said they want to help transform the military
from a “war machinery” to become proponents of the “culture of
peace.” This BMFI -- with the help of the Office of the
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, the Department of
National Defense, SouthCom and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAF)
-- intends to do with a series of trainings on conflict management
and peace building involving the brigade and battalion commanders,
who will in turn reecho the training to their fellow soldiers, and
implement peace building efforts in their respective communities.
The program, too, will
involve other stakeholders in the area -- among them local
government officials, national line agencies, civil society groups
and the media -- in joint workshops with the military so they could
work on strategies from the military and civilian perspective.
Kaloy Manlupig, BMFI
president, said that the group’s experience helping build peace in
the communities where they operate in Misamis Oriental, including
settling long-time feuds among the Higaonon tribal communities, will
contribute a lot in promoting the culture of peace.
BMFI has developed a two-week
course dubbed “OP Kors” (for “Operation Peace Course), and has
already finished six of such seminars with about 40 participants
each. The group’s experiences in this series of peace building
workshops resulted in a resource book for peace builders titled “Panday
Klause Preschle, KAF country
representative, has committed to fund the program through BMFI, all
the way through a semestral recall where officers and their civilian
counterparts will meet again to assess progress of the project, as
well as the publication of a manual that could be used to train more
Klause Preschle pledges continuing support to peace efforts in
Fortunately for BMFI and its
partners, the generals are responding positively. At the roundtable
discussion here, the military officers were one in saying that the
AFP needs a transformation, and that they should be helping in peace
The Defense Department, too,
is backing the program. “Let us seize the opportunity to work
together for peace and make a difference,” said Antonio Santos,
undersecratary for operations, during last Thursday’s meeting.
There were some disagreements
among the generals, though, specifically on the methods, like if
they have to include junior officers or not.
Maj. Gen. Rodolfo Obaniana,
commander of the 6th Infantry Division based in Maguindanao, said
that subordinates might question their superior before carrying out
an order if the latter is in line with the military’s peace
But Ferrer was quick to reply
that in his Basilan experience, including even the lowly CAFGUs in
the trainings led to benefits. He noted, for instance, that since
the CAFGUs are from the communities, they have a big role to play
because they know the locals as against the regular troops who are