Project CIRCLE launch 3

The Role of Civil Society in Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism

By Charlito “Kaloy” Z. Manlupig

Speech on the launching of Project CIRCLE (Communities of Inclusion and Resilience Through Collaborative Local Engagements)

Distinguished and Honorable Guests and Partners, Good Morning.

I was born in Cotabato City and grew up in one of the poorest sections of city, the old market site in the 50s and 60s. I am a product of Cotabato City Central Pilot Elementary School, Cotabato High School and Notre Dame University. I can say that I know the cruelty of violent conflicts even if I survived them.

I have been asked to talk about the Role of Civil Society in Countering and Preventing Violent Extremism.

I venture to say that Civil Society is a Resource for Peace. The bigger role therefore is not only to counter and prevent but to Transform Violent Extremism.

Let me begin by sharing with you A Case of A Community Refusing to be a Victim of Violence

In August 2008, the escalation of the armed conflict between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Philippine Government forces following the aborted MOA-AD signing caused the death of hundreds and the displacement of almost a million people (at that time, this was the biggest number of IDPs in the whole world). The fighting started in a village in Aleosan, North Cotabato province in early August and rapidly spread to ten other provinces in Mindanao.

In August 2010, Balay Mindanaw fielded its community-based peacebuilding team in Aleosan with the mission of “helping plant the seeds of peace” by living, working and journeying with the local people and communities.

In August 2011, the peace process between MILF and the Philippine Government was dangerously heading to an impasse, with both sides swapping accusations and counter-accusations against each other in public statements and media interviews. What the two sides did not realize was that they were pushing the situation to the brink of crisis similar to the 2008 war. The two opposing sides did not immediately realize that their rhetoric was causing panic especially among the residents of the villages traumatized by the 2008 violence.

However, the residents of Aleosan, now more organized after going through a process of local peace consultations, began mobilizing themselves and the other communities. They urged their local officials to join them in conducting a village-to-village information campaign aimed at clarifying the issues and convincing the people not to do or say things that would only aggravate the heated situation. They talked to the military and the police. Led by their Mayor, they sought dialogue with the MILF leadership right inside the latter’s main camp. Local, regional and national coalitions of civil society peace advocates held dialogues and issued calls for sobriety as they urged both sides to continue talking. “Talk to each other instead of talking about each other in the media”, “we do not want another war”, they asked the opposing camps.  

International civil society organizations represented by the International Contact Group (TAF, CR and CHD) also did an excellent job in bridging and facilitating backchannel negotiations.

The feared war was eventually averted. The big difference between 2008 and 2011?: In 2008, the people practically just waited helplessly for war to happen. In 2011, the people did not allow it to happen. The key: organized and concerted efforts of the stakeholders.

This experience shows the significant evolution of the peace constituency within and among the communities. This is an inspiring story of how people in war-torn and conflict-prone communities have effectively responded to their situation in courageous and creative ways out of their common desire for peace.

The Challenge

This Mindanao case demonstrates the key role of local government and civil society in managing conflicts and preventing the occurrence of violence. However, I have to quickly add that credit should and could not be attributed to a single player or sector.

As one practitioner noted: “Peace requires that many people work at many levels in different ways, and, with all this work, you cannot tell who is responsible for what.” Moreover, when the goal of just and sustainable peace is so grand, and progress toward it immeasurable in its multitude of small steps, then anything can qualify as peace practice. In the face of this complexity, practitioners often say, “I have to assume that, over time, all of our different activities will add up.” (CDA, Collaborative Learning Projects)

Some significant gains have been achieved by the communities, local government units and the organized civil society. However, the long-term impact, sustainability and irreversibility of these initial gains remain to be tested through time. 

Most of us here come from places that are considered vulnerable to the threat of violent extremism. This is the common concern that has brought us all together here today.

There are definitely many inspiring stories of local initiatives successfully implemented by local peoples and communities. We can also look at how Basilan is succeeding in confronting and solving the ASG threat. But how are these stories related to each other so that they become part of one bigger storybook? Are not these local victories mere isolated stories of “putting out small fires”? But peacebuilding or conflict transformation is not just putting out fires that may recur anytime.

In most Asian countries, basic economic resources such as land and water are also considered political and cultural resources. In many cases, the inequitable ownership and control of these resources have caused the marginalization and continuing powerlessness of the majority. These factors of continuing inequity, injustice and marginalization have consequently become the main or root causes of the continuing unpeace and violent conflicts. One key challenge, therefore, is bringing about peace by addressing the roots of these conflicts – the conditions of inequity, underdevelopment, poverty and marginalization.

We need to look at violent extremism straight in the eye, address the roots and transform the violent conflicts.

These challenges can be daunting but definitely not insurmountable. 

Because we are a rich resource for peace, especially when we work together.

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