Civilian peacebuilders in the southern Philippines are strategically engaging the military as an important stakeholder in the peace process. An increasing number of former military officials are now directly involved in the Mindanao peace negotiations between the government and the Moro liberation groups.
Civil society organizations in Mindanao are reaching out to develop ‘peace champions’ within the military. A key military official who has come to embody this change is General Raymundo Ferrer — the first military graduate of the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute. After learning the principles of conflict transformation and peacebuilding, Ferrer authorized peacebuilding training programs for other military officers within his area of jurisdiction. To date about 36 officers have completed such training courses.
FROM COMBAT TO COLLABORATION
This reshaping of the military role from combat to peace process engagement has opened the door to civil-military interaction among other key players within the society. For example, military officers and religious leaders through the Bishops-Ulama Conference – an interreligious forum comprised of Catholic and Protestant bishops and Muslim legal scholars – have begun to dialogue and collaborate to build a strong constituency for peace. Religious leaders have used these exchanges to bring the problems of local communities to the attention of the military.
Other civil society networks have also engaged with the military and conducted workshops and roundtable discussions in military camps. These dialogues have helped bring together civil society groups and grassroots peace actors (community groups, local religious leaders, youth, and people’s organizations) who don’t often interact with one another. It was through these efforts that the military first met and discussed peace process concerns with their counterparts in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
This reshaping of the military role from combat to peace process engagement has opened the door to civil-military interaction among other key players within the society.
At the grassroots level, communities have worked with the military to establish ‘zones of peace’ to protect community members from armed conflict. The relationships created through contacts established at Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute workshops have been used to ensure military support for these local-level peace efforts. Some military ‘peace champions’ have joined regional peace networks to expand connections and contacts with various groups in their areas. Civil-military cooperation has expanded to address a range of concerns: creating a culture of peace, connecting economic development efforts with reconstruction work in areas affected by armed conflict, and supporting local conflict resolution.
Several important lessons stand out from the civil-military experiences in Mindanao. First, the process of change occurs not just within the military but also among civilian peacebuilders. Second, the ‘peace champions’ within the military need to be supported and accompanied, especially during periods when violence recurs, since it is so easy for them to go back to the old ways.
It is important to keep in mind that the new relationships between civil society and the military are still embedded in a political context of human rights violations by the military and the excessive influence of the military in the politics and governance of the Philippines. The reality of armed conflict in the country will continue to pose a challenge for the military in weighing the new role of ‘peace champion’ versus the traditional role of combat against armed groups.
Myla Leguro has worked for Catholic Relief Services since 1991 on peace and development projects in Mindanao and East Timor.