DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/24 September) — Prof. Rudy Buhay Rodil suggests that the term captures the defining attribute of resilience as a human trait, and so I bannered it to introduce my report on the Mindanao Resilient Communities Project that I recently completed for Alternate Forum for Research in Mindanao. The project was funded by the Public Affairs Section of the United States Embassy Manila as a kind of ten-year commemoration of the 9/11 tragedy. Through community narratives, we aimed to elicit and celebrate community-based efforts at post-disaster recovery and turn up grassroots concepts of resilience that could be replicated by communities grappling with similar circumstances.

We had invited Western Mindanao Command chief Lieutenant General Raymundo B. Ferrer to the research dissemination forum last 12 September 2011, but he was not able to come. I had saved him a copy of the report, which I finally had the opportunity to give him ten days later when he finally came over for the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines national convention.

Two years back when he was Eastern Mindanao Command chief, Ferrer had helped me with my dissertation, where I tried to explore resilience as a factor that moderates the impact of combat and operational stress among his foot soldiers. Yes, I used narratives also.

The amiable general does not at all find quirky my obsession with resilience and narratives. He would have sat down for an interview on this latest exploratory study I did if I had the money to go see him, but as it was, all I had was a courtesy copy of the terminal report.

He’ll read it, too. Sometimes, I get the surprise of my life when someone quizzes me about what I wrote on a courtesy copy of something I had sent the general. Once he told me that a third party evaluation of military policy is always good, which is why he probably forwards what I write to those he thinks should read it.

Ferrer was smiling at seeing the title on the cover, so I kind of knew I would be getting his ten cents’ worth. He did not disappoint.

Resilience, according to him, is not only tibay ng loob. He says – and I quote:

“Tibay ng loob, lakas ng dibdib, at ‘wag kalimutan ang kapal ng mukha.”

He punctuates each concept with solemn clench of a fist, a solid thump on his chest and a playful swat at his cheek. Rats. I really should have interviewed him before putting this paper to bed.

But CEAP was a great time to hear him speak on peacebuilding efforts in the security sector. He was after all the one who started it all, back in Basilan in 2004. Never mind if he did not have a power point presentation or a prepared speech for the CEAP. Tibay ng loob, lakas ng dibdib, and kapal ng mukha, he said. Ding Ferrer can hold his own in any crowd. He knows what he’s talking about, and he’d rather see first who he’s talking to so as to better calibrate what he’s going to say and how to say it most effectively.

It doesn’t really matter how many people turn up to hear him. There may just be one of you or a roomful of you, but you’ll get the sense that he’s talking directly to you.

Malou Banag Dizon, principal at Saint Joseph College in Olongapo, went up to mike and told us that when she was six her father was killed by the soldiers. He was, according to her, the late Kumander Banag, an enemy of the state. Dizon went on to narrate that the Columban fathers put her on a scholarship and how her education made a difference in the choices she made when it was time to do so. She could, she said, have taken up arms, as the choice was always there. Instead, we see her today taking the mike at a polite forum and discussing her traumatic childhood without rancor for the ears of people who wear the same uniform as those who had caused her irrevocable loss.

She asked instead for the Armed Forces of the Philippines to rethink the conduct of the Reserve Officers Training Course (ROTC) that some schools are still running under the National Service Training Program (NSTP) and use it as a venue to make the professional thrusts of the security sector something that the youth would come to appreciate.

Major General Emmanuel T. Bautista, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division based in Jamindan, Capiz, graciously affirmed Dizon’s narrative of loss and informed decision to cut her losses and start on a different road. He quietly shared that he, too, had lost his parent to the long-running insurgency wars. His father was killed by the rebels.

Orphans of war, both dedicating their adult lives to help the next generation break from the bitter past and rethink the wisdom of making their fathers’ choices. Dizon, with her passion to educate the youth so they would have other roads to take, and Bautista, with his efforts at crafting the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) so that the next generation of Filipino soldiers would see that protecting the people is just as important as protecting the state.

Oh, Marcosian martial law. It is so over. At least, for Dizon and Bautista.

I have been and continue to be critical of the IPSP, but I could not fault Bautista and Ateneo de Manila University political science professor Apple Oreta for their good intentions at bringing the document to fruition. To their credit, the IPSP is proving to be more than just lip service crafted by higher headquarters. Implemented before the AFP was ready for it, efforts continue to be made even at this stage to capacitate the military establishment to be up to the task. The AFP now acknowledges that it has to enhance its capability not only for mission-oriented operations, but also for engaging community stakeholders and peacebuilding. For the humility at acknowledging the gaps and trying to correct the error, I am prepared to pull my punches again and give the IPSP a chance.

A Catholic clergy from Holy Child in Tondo asked how the academe can help the security sector in its efforts at peacebuilding. Bautista said that the school can extend its sphere of influence to get the civilians to express a preference for peace. Ferrer said continued engagement with soldiers through the schools’ social action centers or peace centers to undertake dialogue and convergence so that soldiers truly become functional members of the community.

Of course, Ferrer can’t let that pass without reference to funny moments we could expect when people don’t talk the same language. Soldiers, he said, do not talk like academics. They shout. So if he shouts at you, he’s actually talking. You don’t have to shout back.

When you say “engage” and you mean converse, a soldier may start firing because that is what “to engage” means in military terms. And when he says “special operations”, you might be thinking of salvaging and extra-judicial killing when he means Special Forces, Scout Rangers, or some such elite combat units.

Lord in Heaven. This promises to be quite an experience.

A lay educator from Saint Mary’s Tagum could not contain herself. She stood up to share that her school had been suspicious of soldiers until the new ROTC commander made patient “ligaw” and proved his sincerity to the school authorities. She said this colonel brought another colonel and engaged them until they were able to see that soldiers were actually gentlemanly, peace-loving, and service-to-the-people people who really were sincere when they said “This is your camp” about their camps.

I kind of know this story. She was talking about Kris Mortela and Lysander Suerte, both alumni and sometime instructors of the Operation Peace Kors (OP Kors!) for soldiers that Ferrer designed with Ariel Hernandez and Balay Mindanaw. It’s no secret that Mortela and Suerte are up there among the people I consider my personal friends.

True enough. The lady went on to talk about the peacebuk forum that Saint Mary’s Tagum held last summer. Co-sponsored by Mortela and Suerte, the forum got representatives from the academe, youth groups, local government units, civil society groups, and other sectors to reflect on our collective aspirations for peace, how we work for it, and how to commit to it. She looks forward to their school holding another one sometime soon, this time with members of those “galing sa labas,” if they could be persuaded to come, sit down, smile, be friendly.

Maybe not. But it’s worth a try.

Ferrer, the vanguard of the future AFP, retires in January next year. It would be safe to say that his efforts at steering the AFP to be more responsive to the needs of the Filipino community will live on after he hangs out his stars for the last time. We may never attain peace, but at least now it’s something that is a work in progress. (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, theopinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, FamilySociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo deDavao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to [email protected] “Send at the risk of areply,” she says.)