Philippines: Country overview
The Philippines has experienced internal conflict for over four decades. This includes violence related to two main causes: a communist-inspired insurgency and a separatist struggle in the southern Bangsamoro region.
In early 2014, the Government of the Philippines and one of the main separatist groups, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, signed the Bangsamoro Peace agreement, a milestone in efforts to bring peace to the region. New President Duterte has formulated a new Road Map for Peace process in Mindanao although it remains to be seen how it will be implemented.
At the local level small armed groups are emerging, affecting economic activity and displacing communities. The Maute group were alleged to be members of ISIS and attract young men and women. Other armed groups, the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) continue their armed struggle against the government.
Other obstacles to peace remain including the activity of armed groups, clan feuds and conflicts over land and resources, as well as deep-seated animosity between Christian and Muslim populations.
Breaking down mistrust
In the Philippines we work with the first and only Muslim volunteer programmme: Kapamagogopa Incorporated (KI). Using trained Muslim volunteers, KI breaks down mistrust and barriers between Muslim and Christian communities in Mindanao that have been divided by conflict for decades.
KI places Muslim volunteers into Christian communities and with Christian organisations, breaking a cycle of mistrust and suspicision. By empowering Muslim volunteers to apply their talents in other communities, Kapamagogopa bridge the deep-rooted religious divides between them.
Volunteers help facilitate community discussions on engaging the security sector in the ceasefire, help build the capacity of women and former combatants through training workshops and strengthen local youth organisations.
KI provide training on peacebuilding, reconciliation and human rights, which volunteers share with the communities they work in.
KI are increasing their work with ex-combatants, preventing them returning to militias in order to make communities safer and more prosperous. In coordination wth other groups, KI provide skills training for ex-combatants and are looking to expand this work to support more groups.
In their words: Amal's Story
Amal is a current KI volunteer. She is 23 and from Ramain, in the province of Lanao del Sur. One day, she aspires to become a teacher.
Amal has been organising a community of women in one of the poorest areas of the country that has been affected by conflict for many years. Amal has helped the women form their own organisation and to capacity build them. At their last meeting, the women were moved to tears as they were so grateful to help given to them by Amal and the other KI volunteers.
As well as developing our volunteers to become leaders, one of our project aims, is for them to inspire others to work for peace from the grassroots. It is vital for a successful peace process that more women are involved. Recently, Amal was requested by Jesuit Relief Services, an international Catholic organisation, to talk to 35 women from both Christian and Muslim conflict-affected communities in Lanao del Norte.
Amal’s talk was on the ‘importance of the role of women in the peace process and community peacebuilding initiatives’. She shared her experiences of growing up with conflict, especially how she was affected by a clan feud and how she became involved in peacebuilding, first as a student involving herself in interfaith dialogue and then with KI.
She was able to connect with the women because she has gone through the same difficulties and could communicate with the women in their local language. At first, Amal felt very apprehensive to give a talk but after the event she also felt inspired by the women as they also had similar experience. She observed: “The women became emotional because the one who is inspiring them is a very young lady and they felt ashamed because they are older but do not have the confidence or enthusiasm to become involved.”
Amal believes that peace really starts through education especially for women and young people and plans to continue with this work after KI.