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Fostering Unity and Resilience: Community Experiences in Peace Building

by Ma. Luisa Bautista

MedNet held an e-Learning Forum on community experiences in peacebuilding and conflict resolution in pursuit of its objective to facilitate the sharing of experiences and perceptions from different groups. We had the privilege of gaining insights from the presentations of three remarkable organizations: Kaisahan Tungo sa Kaunlaran ng Kanayunan at Repormang Pansakahan, Inc. (KAISAHAN), Samdhana Institute, and the Shari’ah Center at Mindanao State University.

KAISAHAN is an NGO assisting farmers resolve their land rights issues. It provides legal support, capacity building and organizational development to agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) for them to claim and avail of their rights, primarily under agrarian reform laws.

The Samdhana Institute is a Southeast Asia-wide network of activists and practitioners working with indigenous peoples and communities to achieve social and environmental justice in the region. One of the thematic strategies of Samdhana Institute is conflict resolution to help ensure cultural security and sustainable development for indigenous peoples and local communities, particularly focusing on land tenure and resource governance.

The Shari’ah Center was established by the Mindanao State University as a research institution to help intensify knowledge and understanding of Islamic Law and Jurisprudence and to serve as support institution to the Shari’ah courts in the better understanding and implementation of the code of Muslim Personal Laws, among others.

Their presentations emphasized the need to put in place or strengthening traditional systems of appropriate and empowering dispute resolution at all levels of governance. The following summarizes the discussions in the said event.

Community Experiences
Photo by Ma. Luisa Bautista

KAISAHAN, Inc.: Solidarity towards agrarian reform and rural development Gil Portillo

At the core of KAISAHAN’s work lies the recognition of farmers as the very foundation of agricultural production and the local economy. Nearly half (47%) of the country’s 30 million land area is used for agriculture, underlining the critical role of farming in the nation’s development.

However, the road to agrarian reform is fraught with challenges.

The Philippines recognizes the importance of agrarian reform in achieving social justice and reducing rural insurgency. The Constitution mandates the state to undertake agrarian reform, ensuring that landless farmers gain ownership of the land they cultivate. This program aims to redistribute all agricultural lands, ensuring a fair distribution of wealth and resources.

Farmers often face erroneous notices of coverage, resistance from landowners, delayed case resolutions, illegal land conversions, post-land acquisition conflicts, and circumvention of agrarian reform laws. KAISAHAN acts as mediator in attempts to address these issues.

KAISAHAN shared the case of the ILCO Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Farmers and Fisherfolks Association (ILARFFA), which find themselves at risk of demolition and forced displacement from their homes and farmlands obtained through the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). Their struggle is to protect their land and human rights amidst an expropriation case initiated by the Provincial Government aimed at converting precious agricultural lands into industrial zones. There are approximately 1,500 individuals, belonging to more than 200 households, who have been residing in the area for two to five decades. Their livelihoods are deeply entwined with farming on CARPcovered land and fishing in the nearby sea. The distress they endure extends beyond physical challenges, encompassing mental and emotional anguish due to the continuing threat of displacement.

The Provincial Government had informed them about construction and development plans, indicating intentions to initiate demolition as early as October 2016, with construction slated to commence in January 2017.

The affected community sought support from various advocacy groups and lodged complaints and petitions with relevant agencies. The Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs) managed to intervene in the expropriation case, highlighting their rightful ownership of the contested land, backed by their Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA). However, conflicts persist due to divergent positions between the LGU and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) regarding property ownership and utilization.

While the LGU envisions transforming ILCO’s area into a ship recycling yard and other economic and industrial ventures, the DAR has allocated the land for the ARBs. The community, particularly ILARFFA members, refused offers of job opportunities and benefits tied to the proposed ship recycling project. The affected community relies on the bountiful sea. The proposal to declare their coastal area a Marine Protected Area has not been approved by the LGU purportedly to accommodate industrial plans. Despite unresolved concerns and ongoing protests, the LGU proceeded with road widening and concreting activities, further infringing upon CLOA areas, thus, aggravating the dispute. The affected families were hesitant to accept compensation, fearing it might force them into relocation, prompting the ARBs to file another complaint.

Currently, the cases remain pending, and while the proposed ship recycling project has stalled, the concerned LGU persist in the expropriation process. The municipality’s new legal officer stated during mediation that the community will inevitably face displacement or relocation, and the property will be expropriated, emphasizing the LGU’s unwavering stance. Additionally, distribution of more CLOAs has been delayed due to the expropriation case.

Samdhana Institute: Fostering harmony and collaboration through effective engagement with IP communities Edtami Mansayagan

The Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) is considered a peace agreement between the national government and indigenous peoples as it states the collective rights of indigenous peoples to exercise their own governance systems and their rights to ancestral domain. The authors of IPRA acknowledge that, aside from historical injustices, numerous conflicts affect indigenous peoples. This is the primary reason why the NCIP is endowed with quasijudicial powers. Unfortunately, resolving these issues is a long and arduous journey. IPs need to assert their traditional Indigenous Political Structure or governance structure to collaborate with the State in resolving these problems.

More than two decades from its enactment, the Samdhana Institute is hopeful for a turnaround in the implementation of the WQW IPRA. The struggle to pass the law differs significantly from the efforts required for its implementation. The government bureaucracy is posing challenges for IPs. For one, the need to communicate in English, a language so foreign to them, poses big hurdles to documenting their worldview.

When claiming ancestral domains, certain documents must be secured, and the inclusion of elders in tribal matters is not easy. However, their vision of being recognized as a distinct people is crucial to restoring their collective dignity.

Traditional peace courts, which still exist, have been helpful in delineating ancestral domain boundaries. Boundaries represent people. They represent points of cooperation among neighbors. These boundaries are products of agreements between indigenous cultural communities forged through the peace courts. There is need to document these agreements. When documented, these agreements inform the delineation of ancestral domains and the formulation of Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Plans.

The challenge to indigenous peoples is to strengthen their traditional governance systems and maintain continuous engagement with the State for the effective implementation of the IPRA.

Shari’ah Center, Mindanao State University: Islamic Concept for Peace Building Dr. Anwar Radiamoda

Allah Almighty emphasized humanity, cooperation, mutual consultation, unity, and diversity as essential principles embedded in the creation of humankind. Islam is a comprehensive way of life intended for all of creation governing every facet of human existence with the ideals of peace, harmony, and compassion at its core. To facilitate peacebuilding, he presented a multidimensional approach, encompassing the intellectual, spiritual, physical, social, and economic aspects.

The Shari’ah plays a critical role in resolving conflicts. Rooted in the Qur’an and Sunnah, Shari’ah serves as a legal code that not only safeguards humanity but also upholds human rights. Its foundations are deeply rooted in customary practices and the principles of conflict resolution (Sulh).

Importantly, Shari’ah prescribes penal laws that adapt to specific situations, and radicalism has no legitimacy in Shari’ah. He also introduced the concept of Maqasid Shar’iyyah, which encompasses core universal interests such as honor, family, life, wealth, religion, and reason.

To further peacebuilding efforts, the following were proposed: constant training in peacebuilding and Conflict Resolution/ ADR for the communities, strengthening the Agama Arbitration and Mediation in every municipality in BARMM, to comprehend Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines as first step towards ending conflict in BARMM and its neighboring areas, training in Islamic Finance as springboard for eradicating discrimination and poverty.

Through these initiatives, the principles of Islam could play a pivotal role in fostering peace and harmony in society. Islam is a religion that stands for peace, order, justice, harmony, tolerance, compassion and moderation. It governs all aspects of life and beyond.

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