News Release

Pockets of Peace

Reprinted with permission from Dr. Antonio Montalvan II, columnist of Philippine Daily Inquirer

They are as newsworthy as the Bangsamoro framework agreement, but unlikely to make headline news. That’s because the participants are no political stalwarts but ordinary Mindanao folks. And even if they are given the hype, the skeptics will be there thinking that the goal of these undertakings is simply impossible.

I am referring to the “pockets of peace,” an alternative but not a novel way of achieving peace in Mindanao. The initiative has been there for quite some time. Notre Dame University (NDU) of Cotabato City, for instance, has long developed and offers a culture of peace program. It is, however, anything but academic, simply because it has been tested and has in fact gained adherents. And more importantly, it is applied on the ground, perhaps not with dazzling results, but it is holding its ground quietly.

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There’s a long list of similarly silent efforts at establishing pockets of peace, targeting Mindanao’s diverse religious and cultural groups. Their objective is not only peaceful coexistence, although they may begin with it. But they are deeply rooted in respect for differences borne out of the participants’ first-hand knowledge that cultural convergences are possible.

I am writing about this after having been invited to a pocket-of-peace project initiated in a highly urbanized setting. I had known of other such efforts among rural folks in Mindanao, but haven’t heard of one undertaken in urban Mindanao—until then. Cities are too self-absorbed and ensconced in fast life. And the initiators happened to be friends of mine.

One may think of it as an unlikely initiator for it does its work rather quietly. I am referring to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A friend from past academe goes to church here. Quivs Origines has also undergone NDU’s culture of peace program. Among his mentors was the Mindanao peace guru Fr. Eliseo Mercado, OMI. The NDU program had long formulated, based on the cultural realities on the ground, an approach to achieve Mindanao peace, premised on what it calls the Seven Paradigms of Peace.

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The Paradigm of Peace’s  first point is dismantling the culture of war. Surprisingly for our Manila planners, that includes even militarization which time and again has not proved to be a game changer. In fact, it has only spawned a cycle of wars.

The next points may sound like redundant ideals, but these are what these advocates have seen to be the need-based realities on the ground. These are: living with justice and compassion; active harmony among cultures; caring for the seventh generation; renewing the roots of inner peace (and here one can see that the solution can never be solely systemic); next is addressing structural violence (and this one makes no distinction between Muslims and Christians because the manifestation is societal); and the seventh point is commitment to a holistic vision.

Going back to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the congregation, more commonly known as the Mormon Church, began its pocket-of-peace drive by entering into an interfaith dialogue with a Turkey-based group. The Risale-I Nur of Turkey has established a presence in the Philippines, in Mindanao, to help engender a cultural understanding of Islam as a generator of peace.  Its programs may surprise reactionaries out there who think that Islam is anything but moderate. At its helm is a personal friend whose time is devoted almost entirely to interfaith dialogue. His name also raises the eyebrows of not a few Filipinos—Rizal. Mehmet Rizal Derindag is a very smart and engaging man from Turkey, whose children have learned to speak the local language. “I hardly understand all their talk at home,” he says. So apart from the name, he now has a Filipinized family.

Rizal and Quivs eventually met on the same pathway, one a Turkish Muslim, the other a Christian Mindanao native. The program the two have started is now being supported by Quivs’ church. The Stake he belongs to—a Stake is composed of Wards (small churches)—is largely composed of middle-class urbanites and professionals. The Stake’s head, Maximo Saavedra, is a medical doctor whose specialization is pathology.

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True to form, the dialogues have focused on convergences instead of differences. Together, they have discovered that the two cultural groups have a marked focus on the solidarity of the family under one god and a very strong emphasis on family values. Together they saw how today’s societal innovations have the tendency to attack the unity of the family. The “shared knowledge” is certainly a very auspicious starting step toward cultural understanding. City-bred folks in the Christian cities of Mindanao hardly care about how their Islamic brethren live out their family values. So far, the interfaith dialogue has established their commonalities in the religious practice of fasting. Rizal and Quivs are working on formulating a common vision of the role of religion in achieving peace.

The pockets of peace hardly make headline news. They do not need to. Ordinary folks do not have star syndromes. The better. As I write this, Rizal is off to Batangas to start new such pockets. I can imagine skeptics raising their eyebrows and saying Rizal might just turn out to be your next terrorist. But that exactly proves the point that sometimes it takes only sincere interfaith dialogues to stamp out stereotype thinking. As for Quivs, he has truly found his niche in peace building.

I get more excited about this kind of developments because as a native of Mindanao, I know that the solution can never be found solely in agreements that address only the systemic and not the particular realities on the ground. Here there are no “glittering generalities.”

Style Guide Note:When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.