Community dialogues on peace slated for April-May

The consultation design was presented by the 18-member Design  Committee on Community Dialogue comprising an inter-faith representation  from Mindanao’s academic community, the Ulama League of the Philippines and representatives from the Lumad (Indigenous Peoples) Thursday (February 5) at the  36th General Assembly of the BUC at the Waterfront Insular Hotel.

The FGDs will be conducted in eight regional groupings – Zamboanga Peninsula, Davao, Caraga, Central Mindanao, Socsargen, Northeast Mindanao, Lanao del Norte and Outside Mindanao.

The FGDs will involve the following: from the “Christian sector,” the youth, grassroots/farmers/fisherfolk, professionals, business sector, women, religious, academe; from the “Muslim sector,” youth, grassroots/farmers/fisherfolk, professionals, businessmen, organized women, religious, madrasah, traditional leaders, Internally Displaced Persons/Bakwits, urban poor and academe; and from the “Lumad sector,”  farmers/fisherfolk, organized women, youth, tribal leaders and the urban poor.

Confidentiality will be observed during the conduct of the FGDs to allow participants to express their views freely, whether positive or negative. The research team will release the results of the regional consulations to the public at the appropriate time. “No indicivual identified atrribution will be made in the report without permission.”

FGDs will also be conducted in Cebu and Manila to represent Muslims residing outside Mindanao, and among other groups such as “Mindanao-wide artists’ groups, media group, other key informants.”

The BUC was tapped by President Arroyo to take a more active role in the peace process following the controversy over the government-Moro Islamic Liberation Front’ Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in August last year and the shift in government’s strategy from negotiating with armed rebels to “authentic community diaologues” and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR).

The BUC agreed to help and tapped the academe to craft the design of the community consultations.

The aim of the consultation is to ensure “greater participation of the greater number of stakeholders in the Mindanao peace process.”

Jesuit priest Albert Alejo, Konsult Mindanaw! project team leader, told BUC participants that the consultations will be “multi-regional and multi-sectoral,” that given what happened to the MOA-AD which the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional citing lack of consultation, among others, “we’d like to go back to all these voices trying and crying to be heard.”

Participants in the FGDs will be asked four questions: What is your vision of peace? What are your recommendations on the peace talks between the GRP and the MILF? What can you recommend on the broader peace process? What can you personally contribute – or even sacrifice – for peace in Mindanao?

The questions will be translated to the local languages in the eight regional divisions that the research team proposed.

Davao Archbishop Fernando Capalla, BUC co-convenor, said the Mindanao-wide community consultations and dialogue are “unprecedented.”

“The whole country will benefit from this historic project,” he said.

After the presentation of the design, the BUC broke into groups —  Catholic bishops, the Muslim ulama and the Protestant leaders – to comment on the design and to make recommendations, if any.

The Ulama group suggested, among others, that FGDs be conducted also in Cebu and Manila to allow for representation of Muslims who fled  Mindanao.

The Ulama also suggested that the questions be translated to Arabic also and that the question on vision for peace should include development, too.

Alejo told MindaNews that at least 6,000 persons will be involved in the FGDs, at 20 per FGD.

To the BUC, he explained that the Social Weather Stations (SWS) usually has 1,200 respondents across the nation, representing the country’s 80 million population.

Aside from the FGDs, Konsult Mindanaw! also involves a communication program, especially since surveys have shown that “many people are not aware of the issues.”

“For people to participate more actively, they need information, education, and a mechanism for expressing their views,” the Konsult Mindanaw! primer states.

A primer “to contain the information that people must know in order to answer the questions posed by the consultation,” will also be published; an interactive website will be set up and by December, a book on the process and results shall have been published.

Alejo told MindaNews they expect regional results would be available by June or July.

“We are making history,” Capalla said.

Capalla, who served as vice chair of the National Unification Commission in the early 1990s, said the method then was “not professionally done.”

“It was just viva voce or raise your hands,” he said.

Bishop Emeritus Hilario Gomez of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and BUC Co-Convenor and who also helped in the NUC consultations before said the consultations conducted then were “not scientific.”

Capalla told the body that The Asia Foundation and AusAid (Australian Agency for International Development), have “signified immediate support” for the project.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)