SHE TALKS PEACE: Greatness of Spirit in Mindanao

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 07 November) — The Ramon Magsaysay Awards, known as the Nobel Prize of Asia, has recognized 340 meritorious individuals and organizations over the last 60 years. Some are global icons  (the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, the late former President Corazon C. Aquino) but many, at the time they were honored, were little known outside their communities (Chinese environmentalist Fu Qiping, Thai farmer Prayong Ronnarong, Indonesian labor activist Dita Indah Sari).

The Trustees look for “greatness of spirit” – the spark exemplified by the selfless leadership of the late President Ramon Magsaysay.  Known as “the man of the masses,” Magsaysay was a simple, humble man who commanded the admiration, respect and affection of people because he cared for all and believed in the dignity and importance of each individual, poor or rich, powerful or marginalized.

This year, two Mindanao-based leaders were selected for this most prestigious award.  Roberto “Ka Dodoy” Ballon from Zamboanga Sibugay, with 30 other fishermen, started the Kapunungan sa Gamay ng Mangingisda sa Concepcion (KGMC) in 1986 in a highly successful mangrove reforestation initiative which increased their catch as well as protect their environment.   Steven Muncy, American but a Mindanaoan at heart, who started the Community and Family Services International (CFSI) over 40 years ago to provide humanitarian services to those who have been displaced by natural and manmade disasters.

My co-host Dina Zaman (co-founder of IMAN Research, Kuala Lumpur) and I were quite excited to catch up with Steve, who shared his experiences and thoughts on “She Talks Peace.” We had an animated conversation about the peace process, Afghanistan, the fight against discrimination, including the movement to protect the rights of the LGBTQ community, the state of democracy – particularly in the US, with Trump in control of the Republican Party.  And why, in the early days, he ate only Chippies for lunch.

Dina was very curious why he came to the Philippines and stayed.  Steve recounted how he wanted to help the Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees who were given sanctuary in Bataan by the Philippines. He never left, challenged by the dire need of victims of calamities, manmade and natural.  After working with the refugees in Bataan, he realized how ill-equipped aid workers were in dealing with the trauma experienced by the displaced.  He and his friends thus started CFSI.

Steve was troubled by armed conflicts in Mindanao, expanding CFSI’s work to help the IDPs.  CFSI has since become a major source of support for IDPs all over Mindanao, also helping train peacebuilders at the community level. He had also extended humanitarian aid in Afghanistan years ago.  Of the Taliban, he shared our concern that they may not honor their commitments to the peace agreement, that the situation – particularly of women and girls – will worsen.  In any area of conflict, he believes it is essential for civil society actors to be involved, based on his experience in Mindanao.  Will this happen in Afghanistan as it has in the Philippines, I wonder …

Steve, however, is optimistic.  He has high hopes for the future, with young people who are so comfortable with the digital world, who may  bridge one side with another.  He believes we are all part of the same family – humanity.  Some may be uncomfortable with that and against the unity of the community.  But we have to try.

“Sitting back and doing nothing is not an option,” he stressed.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Amina Rasul is the President of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy, an advocate for Mindanao and the Bangsamoro, peace, human rights and democracy)

Listen to Steve Muncy’s  experiences on “She Talks Peace” on Spotify:

Apple Podcasts and Anchor.