Training on Conflict Management for 6th Infantry Division Senior Military Commanders - Foundation Office Philippines
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KAS Partner, the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG), organized a training session on the peace process and conflict management for senior military commanders of the 6th Infantry Division based in Mindanao last June 4-5, 2007. The program of the seminar also included a dialogue with the MILF, a briefing on the historical background given by Prof. Rudy Rodil, and a discussion with Undersecretary Ernesto Carolina from the Department of National Defense.
Since 2006, KAS Partners Balay-Mindanaw Foundation (BMFI) and IAG offer courses for the military leadership to strengthen the security part of the peace process. Major-General Raymundo Ferrer, currently posted as the new Chief of the 6th Infantry Division in Cotabato City, considers this series as a major development in the Peace Process. It is also a new experience for KAS, who has been working with stakeholders of the Peace Process since 1996, but has only recently begun to include the military.
The meeting, held at the Marco Polo Hotel in Davao City, aimed to put military leaders on a broader state of mind preceding an important round of dialogue between the AFP and members of the MILF, as well as targeting “an exchange of ideas with resource persons, the introduction of peace-building concepts, and the exploration of the role of the military in the arena of peace”.
The event included a group discussion with members of the GRP-MILF, CCCH, AHJAG, and IMT: Committees on Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) Chair Brig. General Eduardo Gurrea (GRP), the GRP Chairman Major Gen. Ben Dolorfino from the AD-hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG). A panel discussion and a Mindanao Situationer was presided over by Atty Benedicto Bacani of IAG, Mr Ariel Hernandez of Balay-Mindanaw, Fr Jun Mercado of KUSOG-Mindanao, and later included inputs on the historical background on the peace and conflict situation within Mindanao given by Prof. Rudy Rodil, a presentation on rido by Dr Ofelia Durante of Ateneo de Zamboanga. At the end of the seminar, a training session on the individual soldier in the peace-process was given by Mrs Bebot Rodil.
The Mindanao issue continues to contribute towards a negative image for the country in general, especially within the international community. Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Country Representative Klaus Preschle comments in his opening remarks that the foundation is dedicated to helping the on-going peace process by encouraging political dialogue within the region as a path towards peace. Dialogue was indeed one of the main goals of the training session, as Atty. Benedicto Bacani mentions in his speech: the session was to encourage “active, free and open conversation between and among resource persons and participants on the Mindanao situation and peace processes”.
The seminar discussions pointed out the changing role and image of the armed forces in the context of the Mindanao situation. From having a traditional image of being invading forces, military forces need to move towards an image of being peace-builders, or the military as a ‘partner in peace’ as one of the stakeholders in the on-going peace process. Major-General Raymundo Ferrer, Commanding General of the 6th Infantry Division based in Shariff Kabunsuan, proposed a new vision for the role of the military: a role of “creating a peaceful and secure environment conducive to development”, and further stressed a need to ‘develop all members of the military into responsible fighters and effective peace-builders responsive to the security, peace, and development concerns of the stakeholders’. This, he further elaborated, can be done through reorientation via values-formation, conflict management seminars for members of the armed forces, as opposed to the traditional method of resolving issues by force, which, more often than not, creates more problems than it solves. There is a need for the improvement of its image, as this has been burdened in the past by violations of the ceasefire, as well as abuses committed by members of the armed forces. Senior commanders themselves shared unabashed experiences of encounters with both locals and rebels alike, the abuses they witnessed in the course of military operations within the region and agreed that indeed, there is a need for responsible leadership within the armed forces to promote the strict observance of ceasefire and the prevention of troop abuses to improve their image with the local community, as well as to foster trust with the locals in order to move forward towards peace.
There is a challenge not only to reduce the number of conflicts within the region, but as military leaders pointed out, there is a further challenge to sustain these gains, to prevent the resurgence of armed conflict, and finally, to attain an enduring peace. The seminar stressed that all sectors of society must work towards peace. The Mindanao issue cannot be solved by the military alone. As further pointed out, the Mindanao issue is not simply a conflict between Christian and Muslim populations within the region, but also includes a large network of smaller conflicts, such as those of rido, rivalries between prominent political clans in the region, rivalries between ethnic groups, as well as conflicts that arise between the local and the military. At the end, the emphasis was put on the involvement of all stakeholders; the conflict in Mindanao cannot be solved between the two parties alone, and can only be solved if all those in conflict would come to the table in dialogue towards a lasting peace agreement.