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May 25, 2020

Peace: A Lifelong Mission

Charmaine Dagapioso-Baconga is the first Balay Mindanaw SIADO, (Sustainable Integrated Area Development Organizers) and still considers herself one up to this day. She started as a young, single, passionate woman from the Church now she is a mother to her son and a mother, sister, friend and mentor to budding SIADOs of the organization.

The “charm” of Charmaine, starts with her explanation as to how she got her nickname “XX” (eks-eks). It is now known to everybody she met and will meet in the future. It is also known to everyone that along with the unassuming charm of XX that draws people in, comes an unmistakably very serious peace work that holds them together.

Herein is but a moment’s glance of Xx’s nearly three decades of peace work, in her own words.

1. How did you start your peace work?

“Peace is a revolutionary idea; peace by peaceful means defines revolution as nonviolent. That revolution is taking place all the time; our job is to expand its scope and domain, The tasks are endless; the question is whether we are up to them.” (xi) as said by Galtung in his book Peace by Peaceful means published in 2002. The image of a 13-year-old boy, holding an M-16 rifle, walking along the mountains of Sarangani province as we were preparing for a camp fire reflection session. He passed by along with other men and women and had a brief chat with the Pastor accompanying us. I was 20 years old Masters of Divinity student then having my summer community exposure with five other seminarians from different seminary schools and several nursing students. It broke my heart to see a young boy already an armed revolutionary. I asked myself, “why?” It disturbed me the whole time I was in the community, until I came back from the exposure. It never made me the same again. It led me to my peace work. I came back home, left my seminary life, and set forth to a mission work, and said to myself, I do not want to see children and young people holding guns, leaving their family for the sake of the struggle, and offering their lives to a fight that cannot be won for decades.

• How did you become involved?

I joined Balay Mindanaw and became a SIADO assigned in Claveria in 1996. It was an unexpected opportunity to join a newly established organization. It may have been a bit different from the ones I was exposed to, but yes it was the vehicle that led me to a more structured peacebuilding work, to which I have also been a worker and learner at the same time. Soon, I was joined by another colleague Maya. We lived with Nanay Edith and Tatay Pero’s family in Tunggol, Patrocinio. They are ARBs (Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries) and are active Co-op leaders. A one-fourth (1/4)-hectare of land is what they owned but was flourishing with rice, corn, vegetables, a patch of rubber trees, fruit trees, with lots chicken and pig and goats. Their children walk several kilometers to school to study. The same distance that we walked to reach the hi-way. Nanay and Tatay fought for their land, and so did many farmers in the municipality. They fought for the land they tilled and labored and finally making it productive for their family to live modestly with food and basic necessities at hand. Security of tenure was essential, and it kept them at peace. Legal battles over land at that time was common but our involvement was focused on ensuring the communities are equipped with basic knowledge of the law that shall protect them from being ejected from the land and to equip them as they develop the land they till. I consider it as a foundation in my peace work as most of the common issues people have been fighting for was the ownership over land. Negotiation skills were learned, practiced, and doing organizing work back then was a challenge. When we help communities analyze situations, and encouraging them to propose actions, it was already an act tagged as a “communist” action or that we are members of the NPA (New People’s Army). Many of the barangays we work with were “no man’s land” during the height of the armed struggle in the province in the 80s to 90s. Many fled to other areas, many died and some women experienced molestation. In general, violence brought about by armed conflict was a common experience by the people. Then, I go back to the image of the young armed combatant.

• What were your involvements?

After having been active in the field as SIADOrganizer (Sustainable, Integrated Area Development Organizer), I became involved in the peace process bringing the experience of community-based peacebuilding work. Start where the people are, community and participatory analysis and planning, community participation in project implementation, paralegal trainings with alternative lawyers’ groups and organizations, community conversations, and formal peace talks. Youth, elders, women were involved in the process, and issues and concerns were included in the planning. Furthermore, it led me to meet more stakeholders from revolutionary groups, to military officers and personnel, to many more, with whom I have not dealt with much. I have been involved in a formal peace talks as a member of the Independent Secretariat for the GRP-RPMM peace process and also in the peace education as a trainer and accompanier, and then with the campaign for the GRP-NDPF Peace process and GPH-MILF peace process.

All these has led me to participating in international forums, conferences, courses bringing the voices of Mindanaw.

• What is the most significant aspect of your peace work that you are still doing right now?

AT present, I am now based in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur. Community-based participatory process is still the key with peace lens as the guiding light, that framework still SIAD COCOBREAD. My journey began in Barangay Patrocinio, Claveria, Misamis Oriental, then Aleosan, North Cotabato with Maguindanao areas, accompanying areas in for the peace process, and now in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.

Significant at present is my homecoming to Marawi as this is my birth place and where I grew up. It was the first place where I encountered the dialogue of faith and culture. My parents then decided to leave Dansalan College, and moved to Cagayan de Oro as violence was increasing in Marawi City.  And now, I am here again because of violence, as Marawi Siege occurred in 2017 where the place where I grew up was totally devastated. 

 2. Why did you choose to continue?

So why did I accept the challenge of going back to Marawi? Well, I consider this as my lifelong mission and commitment to be a channel for peace and transformation in the community. It is also a self-fulfillment of my childhood dream of being a missionary. Hence, I continued. It prompted me more when I learned that there were young men or still boys who were involved in the atrocities in Marawi City. Images again of that teen ager I met in 1996 appeared to my mind. Not again!

• What are the challenges?

Peacebuilding work lead you to many places, to many cultures, to many histories that you need to understand, to uncover, and to live with. You take risks. You take chances. You learn. You study. You also unlearn. It is in the unlearning that makes the work a big challenge.

In my experience, a challenge is faced when you have to deal with the community structures where the assertion of women to participate in community leadership and decision making is taboo or uncommon. In most areas, there is still that notion women do the dirty work while men hold the most critical positions, especially in decision-making.

As a woman, it is also a challenge to encourage more women to propose alternatives, as there is a strong reluctant to do so due to the a strong societal resistance. 

As a woman of faith, it is also a challenge for me to fully understand the differences and the commonalities of our faith as I journey with people of different religion and faith.

As a woman, spending more time in the field and away with your immediate family and fulfilling the duties of being a mother, a partner, a wife, a sister is a challenge..

The challenge of affirming that peace work is a revolutionary work is sometimes frustrating, when peacebuilding work is regarded as soft and negligible and is not a concrete “Work”.

3. Why do you think women/youth should be involved in peace work?

Everyone has this innate nature of being a peacebuilder, it is neither labeled for men or for women, for the young or for the old, for those learned in the university or for those who struggle in the streets. I consider anyone can be involved or should involved in the peace work. It is every person’s mission, bringing her or his capacity, strengths, and even his own ideals.

• What can women/youth offer?

For women, the audacity coupled with gentleness and nurturing nature help many communities, the endurance to continue, no matter what enables to get the task done. I may be biased but that is what I felt and also observed in the process.

For the youth, it offers its boldness, its creativity, and its zest and energy that powers up the peacework.

• In what aspect of peace work should women and youth be more involved in?

in many instances, in the areas I have journeyed with, women are effective in bringing people together and setting up a calm mood in times of conflict. Firm yet gentle. Focused yet creative.

Women can contribute fully in formal government structures, either as leaders and lawmakers. A well informed laws is beneficial to the community.

In peace processes, women can be negotiators, mediators, peace educators and key peace movers.

• What should other stakeholders do to guarantee that women/youth are part of the efforts for peace?

Protection, safety, and continued support for learning and self development in order to be more engaged, proactive, in community leadership and in supporting more women and children. Programming that equip women and youth.

4. What issues of peace do you think should be addressed?

• Issues that should be addressed right now

Displacements makes women vulnerable; pandemics makes women vulnerable. We cannot deny these situations make women vulnerable. Hopefully, when there are atrocities, pandemics, war, women be given safe spaces for refuge, and be given the voices to speak for what they know, they can offer, they can do.

Violence at home is also an occurrence. However, it is not easy to let women speak up when they feel they are at a disadvantaged and they are not safe either way. Sometimes what make them hold back are the children, a strong support system to abused families. Sometimes what makes them hold back are the children, and the lack of strong support to abused families.

In some communities, teen age marriage is an issue and the lack of opportunities for formal or informal education. These are issues that lead to teen age parenting and health issues amongs young women.

Tolerance of faith and culture is also an issue. When some groups insist the differences in faith and culture divides the people, we should pursue looking at the commonalities and that the differences encourage more understanding of humanity and diversity.

• Issues that should be addressed in the future/strategically addressed

Women’s representation in peace processes, key decision-making positions, and in developing programs be provided. A safe space for nurturing the next generation needs to be provided.

For me, I am already 45 years old, and I am already getting old, and yet injustice, violence, are still in existence in many forms. I have a teenager son, and I do not want him to live a live deprived of freedom to choose what he wants to be. I want him to fight the violence in different way, not in firing a gun to the enemy who is also fighting an enemy that oppresses humanity, but in a manner that nurtures equity, justice, peace and love.  This is still the revolution that I strongly advocate – peace by peaceful means.

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