One day, I heard one Moro woman say to her child, “Don’t fight with your playmate because she is Bisay; they are our friends.” Hearing this, I realized that the internal transformation experienced among the women is being transferred to their children. This is a concrete expression that the culture of peace is being sustained within the family.
Akrima Ante, Bual, Philippines
Decades of conflict in the southern Philippines—largely between government forces and Muslim separatists—has left a legacy of hostility and mistrust, primarily between enthoreligious groups of Muslims, Christians, and Indigenous Peoples. Weary of the violence, a number of local communities took the initiative to change these realities—one barangay (or village) at a time. In the late 1980’s, several communities began to initiate “Zones of Peace,” or geographic regions that were characterized by total or partial disarmament and non-violent means of conflict resolution (distinguished from a similar government-led initiative). Each community differed with respect to defining the provisions of their respective Zone of Peace (ZOP), or how its provisions would be monitored. Finding common ground on these details involved extensive consultation and was not always an easy process, but the ZOP’s were united by a belief in the importance of rebuilding divided relationships.
The ZOP’s took time to gain a foothold in the Philippines and have made the most progress over the past decade. But, today, there are nearly 80. While some ZOP’s still struggle with corruption or management problems, others have shown growing abilities to provide both security and sustainable livelihoods for their residents. The barangay of Bual is one such model. Formed in 2001, a main component of Bual’s success can be attributed to the trust built between formally antagonistic groups. This is reflected in a local governance structure that represents diverse sectoral and religious/cultural traditions. A people’s peace organization called Samakana works closely with the local development council to promote a “culture of peace” and community development. Among others, these bodies now act as a channel for any projects proposed by outside organizations. Although initially supported by Catholic Relief Services and the Kadtuntaya Foundation in the Philippines, the local work for peace and development is now driven by the community itself. As capacity has increased, funding has been sought and obtained from organizations like UNDP, but the work is also self-supported by shared capital investments and local income-generating projects through the Samakana cooperative.
The above-noted entities in Bual developed a five-year strategic development plan in 2005. Peace and development projects are overseen by a board of directors, which monitors and audits finances to ensure transparency. A farmers’ cooperative is a centerpiece of the development work in Bual. It manages the production, marketing, and financing of income-generating projects of both its Muslim and Christian members, with cultural sensitivity for both groups built into the process. Due to its progress in agriculture, the national government has designated it a Special Agrarian Reform area. Women’s groups too have been established that focus on addressing health issues at the community level, particularly in educating mothers, and a local health clinic provides basic services. Finally, financial assistance is offered for support of initiatives like house construction, small-scale business enterprises, and capability-building seminars.
Surveys have shown that community members have valued activities like multi-sectoral consultations, interreligious dialogues, and the joint celebrations of religious festivals, all of which have provided space for critical social interaction—and the building of trust—across former divides. The biggest outcome from the efforts in Bual, however, is that armed factions have respected the local declarations of peace and have withdrawn from the community. Community leaders are constantly engaged in dialogue and active negotiation with armed forces, but the latter have respected the ceasefire for many years. When asked how the ZOP has impacted their lives, community members answer that it has brought safety and security. Stronger relationships—particularly between Christians and Muslims—have allowed them to work collaboratively to address larger community needs. Besides spurring new development initiatives, the stable environment has allowed for a revival of Bual’s economic base. Today, Bual also has functioning schools, active churches, and the local government that is able to provide more basic services in an equitable way.
The active promotion of a “Culture of Peace,” has been an integral part of Bual’s success. Capacity-building trainings were critical for the role that they played in fostering “greater understanding of other people’s culture, beliefs and practices, reduction of prejudice, mislabeling and stereotypes, and enhancement of the values of openness, acceptance and recognition of identity of other people in the community” (see philjol link below). One of the most important barometers of success was that the community itself made its own decisions about becoming a ZOP. They had a collective operation and vision in terms of where they wanted to go as a community and core values (like trust, justice, respect, and unity) were emphasized throughout. As the leadership of this project in Bual is aging, a remaining challenge is to share the history and process with the youth to “keep the vision and alive.”
Interview Sources/Additional Links
Orson P. Sargado, Peacebuilding Program Manager, Catholic Relief Service (CRS)
Myla J. Leguro, Senior Program Manager, Peacebuilding, Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning, CRS.
 Christians are often called Bisaya, which actually refers to an ethnic group from the Central Philippines.