Soldiers identify peaceful ways of ‘defeating’ the enemy in OPKors! recall session

In reviewing the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) Strategy for Internal Peace and Security (IPSP) objectives, Balay Mindanaw (BM) staff were stumped at how to create criteria for the success of the objective “Defeat ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group), JI (Jemaa Islamiyah) and their allied armed threat groups.” It seemed strange for a peacebuilding organization to suggest what the military should do to achieve such a goal.

“Taking advantage of any opportunities for dialogue is still the best approach,” said BM Executive Director Rochelle “Bibing” Mordeno. However, this option would be dependent on whether the other side would be open for dialogue.

“The word ‘defeat’ sounds very militaristic,” mused BM’s officer for networking and governance, Eileen “Ii” Ipulan-Bautista, as the group of four racked their brains for suggestions.

Thomas Boehlke of the German navy, BM’s long-time partner and the facilitator of this workshop, only smiled as he revealed the military’s answers to the same question.

Just the day before, on January 11, 2013, Balay Mindanaw conducted a recall session with some of its Operation Peace Course (OP Kors!) graduates from the military. A total of 15 soldiers from the Eastern Mindanao Command arrived that morning from as far as Surigao del Sur to attend the session.

With the help of Boehlke and Balay Mindanaw’s Charmaine “Xx” Dagapioso-Baconga, they reviewed the objectives of Op Kors! and IPSP. They then identified the aforementioned criteria for IPSP’s success as well as the competencies they thought were essential to a military peace builder.

“This workshop was very helpful,” said 1Lt Romulo Valente “Val” Palomino, of the 58th Infantry (Dimalulupig) Battalion. “We realized that in every level of command, there is a difference in how we see and understand the objective. And individually, there is a difference on how we can achieve it. Even though we are all different, it doesn’t matter as long as we are going to the same goal,” he added.

“As to competencies,” he continued, “even in school we are taught different army core values but then it was not clearly defined. Of course, we know the dictionary definition but not in the broader sense, in the application. Discipline doesn’t only mean hand salute, standing straight, or have a clean uniform, etc.,” Palomino said.

His parting words: “Thank you for inviting us. We hope there will be more (recall sessions) next time.”

Despite knowing the military men present were trained peace builders, BM staff were still a little surprised to note their perspective on the objective involving “defeating” a certain enemy. Combat was not the primary means they identified to this end. In fact, the most aggressive answer was simply to “contain these groups and bar their access to arms.” The military men present agreed that the best criterion for the defeat of these groups was the ongoing delivery of basic services to people, as well as the entry of local and foreign investors.

Or, perhaps, to sum up: “We should study the root cause of the problems in the barangay. If there aren’t any issues, there is no insurgency, ” according to Sgt. Antonio “Baggy” Bagalonon Jr., of the 8th Infantry (Dependable) Battalion who is assigned in Maramag, Bukidnon.

Everyone present agreed that this was a positive sign in the military’s paradigm shift not towards winning the war but, instead, “winning the peace”. While many soldiers still recognize peacebuilding as “easier said than done” in a complex battleground infused with conflicting interests and politics, Balay Mindanaw hopes that more military peace builders will continue to surprise us with innovative steps towards our common goal of peace in Mindanao. (Hazel Aspera)