Honoring the Past, Navigating the Present, Shaping the Future

The birth of MINCODE came at a time when NGOs and POs were enjoying the highest respect, recognition and support from government. Those were the glorious days of the civil society. Those were days of the beginnings of NGO dynamism

Charlito “Kaloy” Z. Manlupig

Keynote Message on the Mindanao Civil Society Forum and Learning Exchange and MINCODE General Assembly
August 29, 2019, Davao City

I have been privileged to be part of the MINCODE journey from the very start as representative of PhilDHRRA Mindanao. And the beginnings were truly memorable.

MINCODE is not just a mere “chapter” or “branch” of CODE-NGO in Mindanao, MINCODE has a distinct, rich and colorful past of its own.

Its birth came at a time when political and ideological doors and windows were beginning to open. The coalition played a significant role in bridging ideological divides, bridging geographic distance, and became a real space for the tri-people to come together, trust each other and work together.

The PCJCHRD Program of the Canadian Embassy was instrumental in creating the space for politically diverse institutions, netwoks and individuals to come together. Imagine the passion and heat generated when persons with diverse political and ideological beliefs sit together. What started as formal meetings primarily to discuss projects eventually became happy fellowship dinners and drinking sessions that we looked forward too. Some among the original group have departed. We remember with fondess and prayers the pioneers – Guil Cua and Dory Avisado.

We also honor the contribution of the late Dina Abad who was the PCHRD National Coordinator at that time. Fortunately, her counterparts in Mindanao, Yoyon Badelles and Dolly Corro, are still with us today.

I also take this time to remember, honor and pray for the other departed Mindanao NGO leaders:

Rey Magno Teves, Ana Balayon, Luchie Salcedo, Cesar Ledesma, Sam Maulana, and others.

Since I mentioned Rey Teves and Cesar Ledesma, let me also share with you the story of MINCON. I was fortunate to be there during the first founding conference of MINCON organized by TACDRUP with then Congressman Rey Magno Teves as keynote speaker. MINCON was organized ahead of MINCODE, and it was envisioned to be the biggest network of NGOs and NGIs in Mindanao. When we were already discussing the formation of MINCODE, we sought the advice of Rey who had then returned to NGO work after a short stint in Congress, as TACDRUP ED and MINCON Chair. He insisted that MINCODE must be fully supported, and MINCON should show its support by becoming a member. Thus, MINCODE actually started with eleven and not ten members like CODE.

The birth of MINCODE came at a time when NGOs and POs were enjoying the highest respect, recognition and support from government. Those were the glorious days of the civil society. Those were days of the beginnings of NGO dynamism.

NGOs role and importance are enshrined in the 1987 Constitution. Article 1, Section 23 states that the “State shall encourage non-governmental, community-based, sectoral organizations that promote the welfare of the nation.”

This is further asserted in Article XIII, Sections 15 and 16 that the State shall respect the role and rights of independent people’s organizations in the pursuit of their collective interests and aspirations and ensure their effective and reasonable participation at all levels of social, political and economic decision-making.

This participation was institutionalized so that socio-economic and political structures may be moved by the efforts of people together with the government. And through people’s organizations those who have no wealth or political influence can empower themselves.

The most concrete expression of people’s participation in governance is the role played by the non-government organizations (NGOs) and people’s organizations (POs) in the local special bodies, such as the local development council (LDC), which according to the Local Government Code, should be constituted from the barangay level up to the regional level. The LDC has a crucial role: it formulates plans that would determine what development projects should be pursued and how these would be financed, among others.

Indeed, MINCODE and the NGO/PO community have contributed significantly to the empowerment and development of peoples and communities by creatively exploring the windows of opportunities offered by the gains of the People Power revolution and the 1987 Constitution.

MINCODE’s creation of various commitees or commissions, and assigning member networks to lead contributed significantly to the growth and strengthening of the coalition. By doing so, the coalition became truly membership driven, truly alive, dynamic, relevant and responsive to the socio-economic, political and cultural condition of Mindanao and the country. This was proven over and overt again everytime the coalition experiences difficult challenges.

MINCODE has had its own share of ups and downs, and today’s gathering is a testament of how meaningful and rich the journey has been.

MINCODE’s advocacy for federalism led to the formation of Lihuk Pideral Mindanaw that had become the leading federal movement even before the current administration declared it as a priority agenda. Unfortunately, there seems to be a confusion about what federalism really is.

MINCODE’s peace advocacy has contributed significantly to the gains of the Bangsamoro struggle for self-determination. The Bangsamoro has won a significant major but incomplete victory. The Moro leaders have repeatedly declared that failure is not an option for BARMM. We must continue journeying with them so that the gains of this victory reach each and every Bangsamoro community.

Let me talk briefly about NGO engagement in BARMM. There is a long menu of meaningful NGO work in BARMM – organizing for empowerment, camp transformation, peace education, social enterprise, and many more. There are also real prospects for resources to support these engagements. We must continually remind ourselves about respect for local initiatives and local knowledge. As local CSOs we must also insist on partnerships among equals. We must not allow ourselves to be treated as second class development and peace workers.

The GRP-NDF peace process remains in limbo. We thought that a just resolution and an end to the decades old conflict were already at hand, but the violence continues. Just the other day, another woman IP leader was gunned down in Bukidnon. When I saw her picture, I clearly remembered her as the one who passionately begged both the AFP and NPA to spare the IPs from the cruelty of their war during an IP Peace Summit that I facilitated.

So how are we today?

We are currently in an interesting and challenging situation, and navigating the present requires that we all agree about our future. Our current strategic plans, programs and projects are presumed to be our responses to our reading and understanding of the current situation.

Perhaps some questions can help us define our destination and our points of departure: Do we have a shared position on Martial Law, EJK, Federalism, Agrarian Reform, the situation of the Lumad, the persisting poverty of the many, and other key gut issues? Do we have a consensus on our position and role in the peace process and EO 70?

What binds us together as a network and as a coalition of networks? What are our non-negotiables?

The various political and ideological divides do not however diminish the many beautiful and inspiring victories of our partner communities that we have helped achieve. There are definitely many inspiring stories of local initiatives successfully implemented by local peoples and communities.

I love sharing this story about local initiatives:

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.

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.

But how are the many 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 development and peace work is not just putting out fires that may recur anytime.

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.

What we do today is an investment into the future.

Each one of us has stories of victories to share. Each one of our partner communities has experienced how it is to win. Our victories, big or small, have inspired many others to continue coming together and working together.

We need to look at structural violence straight in the eye, address the persisting inequity, underdevelopment and poverty thereby transforming the violent conflicts.

These challenges can be daunting but definitely not insurmountable because we are a rich resource for equity development and peace, especially when we work together.

Our journey has taught us that the best and most effective way to work for development and peace is collaboration not competition.

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