concepts, facing the challenges
Posted 8 March 2010
Some 30 junior military
officers and a handful of police personnel came to the recall
session for graduates of the Operation Peace Course (Op Kors), a
peace building program of the Eastern Mindanao Command and Balay
Mindanaw Foundation Inc., at the 6th Infantry Division camp in
Barangay Awang, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao. But in what seemed
to be a macabre twist of fate, the venue inside the camp carries the
name Datu Zaldy Uy Ampatuan Peace Center.
Two months before the recall
session, some 60 people, including 32 journalists and media workers,
were massacred in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao, the bloodiest case of
political violence in the country’s history. The alleged
masterminds are Datu Zaldy himself, governor of the Autonomous
Region in Muslim Mindanao, and his father and brother. For the
military the incident, which was then still fresh and vivid in the
public psyche, was a big blow to their image as protectors of the
people and could have caused a big dip in troop morale. In fact, in
their sharing of experiences some of the participants cited the
carnage as one of the saddest things that happened after attending
the Op Kors training.
Yet whatever psychological
burden the participants may have brought with them, the resource
persons and their senior officers tried to ease with bright
prospects for the Philippine military’s emerging role in the peace
building front. They echoed the growing clamor for a “paradigm
shift” in handling armed conflicts given the failure of purely
militaristic means the huge amount of resources for which was better
spent on basic services and development programs.
Col. Ariel Bernardo,
assistant division commander, set the complexion of the gathering by
narrating an anecdote about a military official who complained to
his general that some soldiers would not want to fight on Fridays,
Saturdays and Sundays for religious reasons. The general, so the
story goes, told his subordinate he would be happy if he could find
soldiers who would not fight the rest of the days so that the war
Bernardo, citing well
researched data, stressed the need to know the nature of each
conflict and examine approaches. Incidentally, this piece of wisdom
is among the basic lessons the officers have learned in Op Kors.
Soldiers can engage in
conflict prevention even if they are meant for combat operations and
it will not make them look like cowards, he said, adding they may
choose to become part of civil society as individuals.
Anak Mindanaw Party-list Rep.
Ariel Hernandez further underscored the urgency of undertaking
non-military approaches in resolving conflicts with the proposal to
include a soldier’s community peace and development initiatives as
a basis for his/her promotion. Moreover, he announced the launching
this year of the Soldier for Peace Award (Gawad Kapayapaan) which
carries cash incentives for two awardees.
Hernandez, however, noted
that peace education is yet to be institutionalized in the military.
He said this will cover International Humanitarian Law, human rights
and peace building courses.
But the bigger inspiration
came from the participants themselves who in their sharing of
experiences reflected on the personal changes that have unfolded
after attending Op Kors. They enthused how [the training] has
improved personal traits, relationship with fellow soldiers and
family, and skills in communication. Some said they appreciated
having learned things not usually thought within the armed, e.g.
Nonetheless, there were also
stories on the downside aside from the Ampatuan Massacre. Some
lamented that other soldiers did not understand the peace work being
done by Op Kors graduates and that not all communities were
supportive of peace initiatives. A company commander rued that some
sectors were wary of his unit’s real motives in peace building
work. “We have a reputation of being a ‘warrior’ unit,” he
explained. Others said some local officials were uncooperative, that
is, they approved requests [from the military] but did not actually
In reality, the questions and
challenges have come not only from fellow soldiers and other sectors
but also from the participants’ own discernment on the real place
of peace building in their career as military people. “How do we
apply peace building concepts without compromising the mission of
the division or battalion?” one of them asked. It was however more
of a point of reflection than a question. The same officer lamented
that some soldiers are in fact skeptical about peace building and
would argue that conflicts are neither their fault nor
responsibility to settle. It was a thinly veiled assertion that the
soldier’s only job is to fight. Another one said they would always
face dilemma in coordinating with local governments since they might
be construed as being partisan.
Fortunately, the presence of
senior officers – aside from Col. Bernardo, in attendance were
Col. Julieto Ando (U7 of the Eastern Mindanao Command) and Lt. Col.
Benjamin Hao (G7 of the 6ID) – somehow bolstered hopes that
despite internal and external obstacles peace building has a future
in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, an institution that has only
known the business of war. The three colonels did not simply sat and
listened but also shared insights and helped in polishing the peace
building plans of each brigade. More importantly, they reminded the
participants that peace building is a long, continuous process and
that one should not expect the outright conversion of fellow
soldiers as happened to Paul on the way to Damascus.