THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: Civilian leadership in a time of peace

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/13 September) — The impending passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law should trigger initiatives even now to institute peaceable approaches and non-violent means for problem-solving in communities throughout Mindanao.

We must begin to consciously adopt habits that conduce to harmony, avoiding irritants or aggravations that foster negative attitudes.

For instance, the standard practice of calling in the armed forces whenever a problem arises should be reviewed. It does not serve the ends of peace-building that when trouble develops, the armed forces automatically weigh in while civilian authorities step aside. Often, civilian leaders are the last to be consulted, belittling their prime role in the community.

The role of the armed forces is important but it should be low-key and not overused. Military involvement often gives a wrong message; it is associated with warfare and weaponry and the violence entailed in deploying these.

Non-violent approaches to problem-solving in the community should be preferred. It’s humane. It requires intelligence rather than physical force. It doesn’t threaten or traumatize. And it conduces to peace and harmony.

In practical terms, this means civil authorities—governors, mayors, barangay chairmen—shouldn’t automatically cede their authority or defer to the armed forces when trouble erupts.

Upholding peace and order, forging harmony and cooperation, are integral to the mandate of political leadership. It is incumbent upon civilian leaders to promote the culture of peace.

Corollarily, strongman bluster, saber-rattling, or bullying behavior are unsuitable for civilian leaders in a democratic society.

Those who resort to measures of a violent nature such as vigilante action, death squads, arbitrary arrest, shoot-to-kill without due process, or public humiliation of mere suspects discredit the democratic way of life.

To a democratic leader, the perennial challenge is to evolve humane, non-violent, and peaceable ways of settling disputes in the community to complement to peacemaking or peace-building efforts.

It is especially challenging to do this in communities where hotheads and recalcitrant elements are known to create disorder. Leaders should reach out to them, exploring with them how to address plaints or issues that tend to inflame or disrupt community arrangements.

It will build public confidence, create a reassuring sense of communal security, and enhance the ability of constituents in dealing with threats, internal or external. If the need becomes unavoidable, the military option is still open and the community has but to make the call.

We in Mindanao would do well to heed the message of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) charter, which starts with the words: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.”

What defenses do we construct in the minds and hearts of our neighbors? How do we do moderate or temper the fury of those that use violence and armed action instead of reason and understanding for their advocacy?

Peace and order should be our paramount concern, and of our leaders. Since sovereignty resides in the people, our collective desire for peace and order should guide official acts and events in our community. This would be the case if leaders provide the community with opportunities to exchange ideas and perspectives periodically, to define or express their collective will.

Our leaders should facilitate the free and open processes of democracy to take place. Rather than leave the ideas of people suppressed or unexpressed, the same should be encouraged, ventilated, and exchanged so that consensus will develop around them and other important issues.

Such consensus on public affairs is essential for forging solidarity—which is the measure of the power of a community. It merely requires the dynamics of democratic processes and good governance. Forming such consensus and solidarity in our barangays, towns, and cities make them bulwarks of peace, freedom, and stability.

In America, when the community is confronted by threats or problems, they hold town hall meetings. They’ve been doing it since the United States was founded more than two hundred years ago. Their town hall meetings serve as their processor of ideas, builder of consensus, forger of solidarity, and megaphone for expressing the will of the community.

We can do likewise to promote harmony and peace—by congregating and exchanging ideas as a community. It’s what the Barangay Assembly is for. But too many of our neighbors ignore it, especially among the educated and professional sectors.

So it is no surprise that our communities are prone to disarray when assaulted, helpless in times of emergency, voiceless and without influence, not even over our own officials.
How can we build solidarity, lasting peace, or stability if this goes on? –30—

Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; member, Philippine Mission to the UN; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Govt’s Peace Panel; awardee, PPI-UNICEF outstanding columnist. He is president/national convenor, Gising Barangay Movement Inc.