Promoting Peace in Two Zamboanga City Communities

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Silsilah Dialogue Movement/23 June)  —  Some residents of two communities in Zamboanga City, Philippines are at the center of a breakdown in relationship which has generated violence to the point where a number have been killed and several more hurt. The series of violent incidents have been going on for several months and has impacted on the peace and order situation in these two communities and now has drawn in a third community. As the hostilities spread some of the victims were no longer members of the “feuding” family groups.

The threats to the life and safety of people who are not parties in the broken-down relations which triggered the violence, innocent people who are simply bystanders so to speak, are a matter of great concern to the city government and to the city’s officials.

The City Mayor has mediated more than once and his intervention steps have been in keeping with cultural practices of the groups concerned.  However, the violence continues in spite of the enhanced presence of the police and other peace-keeping government units. On Friday June 18, 2010 the City Mayor called a meeting to discuss the situation, one of a number of meetings that he has called for this purpose. Some members of the Inter-Faith Council of Leaders (IFCL), a group within the Silsilah Dialogue Movement, were among those who attended. Also in attendance were Arch. Romulo Valles of Zamboanga as well as religious leaders from the Catholic, Evangelical and Muslim faith groups.

A  great concern is not only  for the safety and well-being of the residents  of the concerned communities  but also that the situation will not be used by certain groups to foment mistrust and misunderstanding between and among members of the different faith and cultural groups in these communities which happen to be multi-cultural and multi-religious.

The Mayor underscored the crucial role that the religious leaders can and should play in “defusing” the tension.  One important aspect to look into is that the community residents be provided correct information about the background of the situation and the triggering incident that started the hostilities. Since this part of the Philippines has experienced the animosity generated by the secessionist movement and scores of violent incidents attributed to this or that group over the years, it is important that the present conflict within the two barangays be seen correctly by the residents. The religious leaders can be the medium for correct information through the homilies/sermons and preaching that they do in their role in their respective faith groups.

The IFCL will convene a meeting of its core group soon to discuss how it might help more actively in this situation.  The Silsilah Dialogue Movement looks at dialogue not simply as a strategy for promoting peace but more as a life orientation that makes people live a life of love, respect and solidarity with others. Community members who relate with each other with these attitudes cannot but make their communities peaceful. (Silsilah Dialogue Movement)