An activist deals with the military

By Charmaine Mae “Xx” Dagapioso-Baconga

[This is one of Xx’s journal entries that is part of the requirement of the course on Applied Conflict Transformation Studies (ACTS).  She read this journal entry during the Module Two residential seminar (March 19-30, 2007).  The ACTS course is implemented by Action Asia, ACT Cambodia, Pannasastra University (Phnom Pehn, Cambodia) and Responding to Conflict. Xx helped facilitate the “Operation Peace Course” for the 1st Infantry “Tabak” Division of the Philippine Army on Feb. 21-24 and Feb. 27 to march 2, 2007.]

Two batches of Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) from the Echo Company of the 5th Infantry Battalion of the 1st Infantry Division of the Philippine Army were gathered at the Balay Mindanaw Peace Center to attend a training on Conflict Management and Peace Building.

It is significant to note that the soldiers were dressed in civilians and dutifully left their guns and ammo in their barracks upon traveling from their post to Cagayan de Oro City. It is not only the 79 NCOs who were dressed like ordinary people but also the officials who attended the training as participants, observers, and resource persons. This is already an agreement among the officials of the 1st ID and Balay Mindanaw that they also have to observe the house rule that the center is a gun-free zone.

The training aims to support and reinforce the idea of transforming the military’s culture of war to that of conflict management, culture of peace and peace building. Especially so for the NCOs who are based in the barangays directly relating to the communities and tribes, who can make or unmake the peace or unpeace in the countryside.

Major General Raymundo B. Ferrer, Commanding General of the 1st ID, and Col. Casiano Monilla, S3, assistant operations officer of the 1st ID shared their experiences in Basilan on conflict management to the trainees. It is one way of also influencing the cadres that it is not impossible to build peace even if they are men in uniform.

Lt. Col Paul Lorenzo, the 5th IB Commander, gave input on the Role of the CAFGU Cadre in Peacebuilding.

One of the highlights of the training was when Kaloy Manlupig, President of Balay Mindanaw, and Atty. Franklin M. Quijano shared to the trainees the uniqueness of the peace process that they are very much involved at present. Maybe it helped that the trainees were coming from Lanao del Norte, the province where consultations on the GRP-RPMM peace process is taking place. A dialogue was opened up on how the peace process is being done, when the peace process shall end, and who are involved in this process as well.

The training ended with a ritual of tying colored threads together from one official to a cadre and to fellow cadres, symbolizing the unity of the military in upholding peace in their respective areas of assignment.

What has been interesting today?

“Sorry, I am late.” These were my first words this morning to the military men clad in civilian clothing and eating breakfast leisurely with my colleagues. I was panting as I was rushing to the Peace Center from my home, alternately taking the jeepney and walking. I woke up very early to catch a breakfast meeting at 6:30 in the morning but to no avail; I was late still due to some concerns at home. But I was able to catch up with the group as they chatted happily, and I took a cup of brewed coffee to perk me up.

What is the meeting for? Set at a very early time in the morning? It was a meeting with Col. Monilla and Lt. Col. Lorenzo, and of course together with Belle, Flong, Aili and Mammart about the next steps of the military peacebuilding courses that was just concluded the night before.

Interestingly, we chatted for a while about what happened and initially made some initial assessment. Col. Monilla shared that the topics were very good and the resource persons were also very good and engaging. However, he said that for the CAFGU, the training should be simpler and has to affect the “person”. Thus, not only theories and the knowledge, but should be more focused on the person, the soldier, and the roles he has to play in the community.

The image of the soldier is perceived to be that of conflict instigator … and this has to be changed. Soldiers are people too that play different role in the society.

What insights have I had?

I was struck when Col. Monilla said that the image of the soldier be tackled more and that it should not only be purely skills that should be addressed. The attitude must be shaken, the role must be challenged, and that relationship with the community should be enhanced.

He clearly said this before, during the designing stage for the capacity-building program for the 1st Division. But in this morning’s meeting, he reiterated this and he said this could help in changing the image of the soldiers, as well as their relationship with the community. He really advocates that the self should be “discussed” and that it be confronted toward a positive change.

Well, it brings me back to my childhood days in Marawi City, the only Islamic city in the Philippines. I grew up in this city for my parents were teachers in a mission school called Dansalan Jr. College. It is a school ran by American missionaries that espoused peace and unity of culture. The school, which caters to mostly Muslim school children, encourages the exchange of values of different religions. Anyway, I do remember that every time my parents would buy some goods and other needs in the nearby city of Iligan, we would take public transport. Every time we see soldiers taking the same vehicle, we would go down and wait for the next trip.

I grew up with it. I was handed this perception that every time there a soldier took the jeep, an ambush by the rebels would occur. Well, before, this happened quite often. Hence, I associated a soldier with fear, death, violence.

I also remember growing up with activist people around me. Thus, I also viewed the military as people who fight and shoot their guns indiscriminately. They have the guts and guns to terrorize people because of the power they wield. They would check our neighborhood if there were illegal activities going on inside the house. They probably suspected there were rebels staying in our house taking a rest from battle or getting medications. They were also checking on my sister who was a member of a cause oriented group, my activist photojournalist brother-in-law, and my parents who were actively involved with the Alliance for Concerned Teachers.

What has been difficult?

Now, I am dealing with the military, planning with them on the aspect of peacebuilding. At first, I had difficulty reconciling with myself. I associated the military with terror, abuses, injustice, and deceit. I know these are strong words but this was how I thought of them before, because of my direct and indirect experiences with the military in the past. I grew up during martial law, and people were disappearing, maybe abducted or “salvaged” by the military. I didn’t have much freedom when I was growing up. When I started to work in an NGO, our military friends tagged us as communists. Painfully, the team in one of our focus areas had to pull out due to threats. And even now, we are already in the process of having a ceasefire between the GRP-RPMM but still last year the community experienced abuse, as they shared it during the workshop for the mini action research.

Now, we are working in close partnership with the military…

What has been difficult for me at first was the process of accepting that there are people in the military who are sincere in their duty. The military is part of the system of government that is created to protect the country from harm.

Col. Lorenzo, in his session on the role of the cadre as a peace builder, has enlightened me as to the role of the CAFGU. That as a person, he is a part-time soldier. That being a family man, he is father to his children, husband to his wife, breadwinner to his family. That he is a neighbor and a friend. That he is a member of the community. That he is a Filipino citizen. Col. Lorenzo’s words, of course, also speaks of the full-time soldier.

Also, Gen. Ferrer has done something great and challenging in one of the most terrorized islands of Mindanao, Basilan. He shared his experience with us before and during the training he shared to the Cadres, too. It was a sharing that aimed at telling his constituency that they were not trained to kill but to protect, to be allies not enemies of the people. Was I convinced? Yes. But, I am in the process of journeying with them …

How have I behaved in the group? How have they behaved towards me? Why?

I was one of the trainers and I handled the session on conflict resolution skills and managed the whole training as well. I was dialoguing with myself, and at the same time dialoguing with them, exchanging stories and insights. Of course, perceptions have to be made clear and into articulated images of people who are soldiers who also envision peace.

When they were asked to draw an image of peace, they drew images of …

a family — mother, father, child holding hands together
water, farm, people holding hands together
happy faces, hearts, love
Philippine flag…

Now, we tried our very best to make them comfortable with us and we also tried to learn their language.

The officials are very respectable. They are doing all they can to pursue their vision of soldiers becoming peacemakers … and peacebuilders too in their own accord. We usually chat with them about the next steps and the concepts that should be emphasized in the inputs. They were very critical and analytical too, being on top of their respective classes at the Philippine Military Academy.

I appreciate their sincerity in this endeavor. I also appreciate their ingenuity in looking for ways to have this type of program integrated into their system, deemed by many as a rotten system.

I treat them with respect — for I consider them as people who are humans who feel pain, who enjoy happiness, who envision peace. I was also treated in the same manner. If we treat each other like human beings who have dignity, who would treat the other with violence and respite?

What have my feelings been during the day?

Today, I feel that I am happy with the feat that we have done — engaging the military and the military engaging us, too. I am challenged of the fact that we will be misconstrued by our activist friends as counter-revolutionary, as we have been already. This was what I felt the first time I joined the team in conducting trainings for the military on community organizing, with a bit of peace building, at first. The first involved the officials, and the next, with combatants. They were all males; I was the only woman there. But today, I felt relieved that there are those in the military who are sincere, and true to what they say that they are part of the solution, too.

The chat with the two respected officials was light and in a jovial manner. Of course, it would have been different had these meetings been held in the military camps. But at least I am assured we have engaged each other well and are working together to even improve things.

How am I feeling now?

As the song goes that we sang in one of the closing rituals that we had with them …

Walang Hanggang Paalam
By Joey Ayala

Di ba tayo’y narito
upang maging malaya
at upang palayain ang iba
ako’y walang hinihiling
Ika’y tila ganoon din
sadya’y bigyang-laya ang isa’t-isa

Ang pagibig natin ay
walang hanggang paalam
at habang magkalayo
papalapit pa rin ang puso
kahit na magkahiwalay
tayo ay magkasama
sa magkabilang dulo ng mundo

Ang bawat simula ay
siya ring katapusan
may patutunguhan ba
ang ating pagsinta
sa biglang tingin
kita’y walang kinabukasan
subalit di-malupig ang pag-asa

Ang pagibig natin ay
walang hanggang paalam
at habang magkalayo
papalapit pa rin ang puso
kahit na magkahiwalay
tayo ay magkasama
sa magkabilang dulo ng mundo

ang pagibig natin ay
walang hanggang paalam
at habang magkalayo
papalapit pa rin ang puso
kahit na magkahiwalay
tayo ay magkasama
sa magkabilang dulo ng mundo
sa magkabilang dulo ng mundo

I am hopeful …. That in spite of us living in the different side of the world, we are together in this work.