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Interfaith Programs

The Mindanao Model: A Response to Religious and Ethnic Conflict

This report was written by the Youth Federation for World Peace

An innovative peace festival and service initiative is creating the framework for peace in war-torn Mindanao.

Mindanao, Philippines - The thirty-year-old conflict in Mindanao province in the Philippines has never commanded the world’s attention, despite the massive scale of violence and loss of life. Since 1969, when the fighting between Muslim separatists and the armed forces began under the Marcos regime, the Mindanao conflict has left 160,000 dead and displaced some two million people.

Militant Islamist groups, a Maoist insurgency, bloody ethnic strife, clan wars and banditry have disrupted life for millions on Mindanao, the eighth most populous island in the world with a land mass larger than 125 countries. In 2008, fighting again escalated after a decade-long peace process between the government and rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front collapsed. An average of 18 people are killed every day, and still the Mindanao war drags on.

Former Philippine Speaker of the House Jose de Venecia calls on all sides to embrace the opportunity for peace in Mindanao.For many innocents caught in the maelstrom of war, there is little room for hope. But hope sometimes comes unexpectedly. In 2008 an innovative peacemaking initiative—the Global Peace Festival (GPF)—arrived in the Philippines, inaugurated a year earlier by the Korean-born humanitarian and peace entrepreneur Dr. Hyun Jin Moon. In just two years the festival has gathered more than a million peace-minded people from Paraguay to Mongolia to the United Kingdom to affirm principles of peace and to sponsor service projects that take these principles into the streets and communities.

“The Global Peace Tour and the Global Peace Festivals are promoting a tri-fold platform of interfaith cooperation, strengthening the family, and a culture of service for the sake of renewing our communities and nations,” Moon says. “We are looking for nothing less than a moral and spiritual awakening rooted in the universal vision of one family under God. The family is the cornerstone of peace.”

Unlike many nongovernmental peace initiatives in conflict zones, the GPF works to draw stakeholders from every sector and builds grassroots support with the involvement of many local partnering organizations. The festival brings a celebratory atmosphere of music and cultural performance to the important task of reconciliation. Further, it employs service projects that enlist volunteers across religious and ethnic divides, a strategic interaction that has dramatically reversed entrenched hatreds and stereotypes in some of the most intractable conflict regions in the world.

Partners for peace

Not satisfied to declare the need for peace and reconciliation in Manila, the festival arrived in Mindanao in September 2008, despite the outbreak of violence and travel warnings from the provincial government. Building partnerships with Muslim, Christian, and indigenous communities, the festival won the fervent endorsement of some of the Philippines’ most prominent public figures.

Addressing the Global Peace Festival in Cagayan De Oro City, Mindanao, on September 21, 2008, former Speaker of the House of Representatives Jose de Venecia, urged Muslims and Christians to lay aside their grievances and embrace the promise of peace.

“This fratricidal war in Mindanao—brother Filipinos killing each other—has already exacted heavy costs,” de Venecia declared. “And our nation cannot afford to lose any more in blood and treasure. But this peace cannot be won through the force of arms; nor can it be imposed through violence or the subjugation of our ethnic and religious minority. . . . It is this peace that in my public life I have labored to help create. I join you today to help change the face of Mindanao, to help transform its heart, to banish hate and discrimination, and to bring about an era of peace and solidarity between Christians and Muslims and Lumads [indigenous people of the southern Philippines].”

At the festival, some 8,000 members of different ethnic groups, including the Subanens, Higa-onons, Balangas, performed traditional dances in colorful costumes during the parade and at the Capitol Grounds. The lively performances brought joy and festivity to a people wearied by violence, poverty, and dislocation, and defined the under-appreciated role of celebration as a strategic tool to create space for forgiveness and reconciliation.

The festival later enlisted volunteers in tree planting and beach cleaning projects, tangible and symbolic works that inspired Muslims, Christians, and indigenous peoples to find common ground, work together, and germinate hope through the gesture of caring for their environment.

Mindanao Peace Initiative

he Global Peace Festival featured colorful performances that honored Mindanao’s rich folk culture Building on the foundation of the Global Peace Festivals in Manila and Mindanao, a coalition of partners launched the Mindanao Peace Initiative at a gathering in the Philippine House of Representatives, a rally at the Araneta Coliseum, and in cities across Mindanao in late February and early March 2009.

The initiative is chaired by Dr. Estrella Abid Babano, Director for the Department of Education in Region 10, and co-chaired by Father Benjamin Beltran, Director of the Sandiwaan Foundation in Lanao Del Norte in Mindanao. The Mindanao Peace coalition also includes representatives of Muslim, Christian, and indigenous communities, the Armed Forces, business, academia, and youth organizations.

Plans are underway to leverage the trust and good will secured across conflict lines to bring warring factions to negotiated settlements. “The key to the success of the Global Peace Festival is simple,” says David Caprara, chairman of the GPF-USA who supported the Mindanao festival and is now director of the newly announced Global Peace Service Alliance. “Peace is not a political objective but a spiritual objective. Everyone is swept up into conflict and war, and everyone is a stakeholder in achieving peace.

“The GPF creates the conditions for peace not through the measured compromises of diplomats but in the hearts of the people,” Caprara says. “It is a unique interfaith peace approach, coupling service with the vision of one family under God. It is a revolutionary paradigm for peace, and we see that it works. And Mindanao will be a model.”

service projects that enlisted volunteers from all sides of the conflict“In becoming peace builders, there is a need to shift perspective, traversing the terrain of consensus-building, and priming the ground for tolerance and understanding,” says Nabil Tan, Undersecretary in the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process in the Philippines and GPF supporter. “All of us must participate in this noble effort. From whatever origin, calling, or social station, we are all peacemakers. We bear the responsibility to practice and promote the values of peace — respect for human dignity, justice, equity, freedom, social responsibility, tolerance, and solidarity.”

The Global Peace Festival and Global Peace Service Alliance provide the framework for the meaningful peace building, but reconciling enemies, embittered by violence, is not easy. “It requires work,” says Yeqing Li, secretary general of Youth Federation for World Peace, who traveled to Mindanao to support the festival. “But the dream of peace, of one human family, is in the hearts of all people. When people taste peace they find it is sweeter than the enmity they are holding. This is what the GPF can offer.”

“Finally, I have found a strong ally [with the coming of the Global Peace Festival] to Mindanao,” Babano told Peace Initiative leaders in Cagayan De Oro City on March 5. “We are now in a renaissance period; this is a dawning and an awakening of a new era.”

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