After a long history of colonialism in the Philippines imposed by Spain and then the United States, the policies of the Filipino government about martial law and authoritarianism became vehicles for the proliferation of violations of human rights by security forces. Given that the military had become part of the security problem, the Filipino civil society group Balay Mindanaw realised the need for and supported the incorporation of military forces into the peacebuilding efforts. They took it upon themselves to build the capacity of military officials, staff, and civilian reserve forces in terms of peacebuilding values, skills and processes. Given that soldiers are trained for fighting, they needed to additionally strengthen their communication skills in order to deescalate and ease conflicts. In order to do this, Filipino civil society provided training and advice on conflict assessment, facilitation, mediation, negotiation, building a culture of peace and other conflict transformation strategies making the security forces more effective in their peacebuilding participation.
Though at the beginning it seemed like an odd pairing, the following entry points allowed Balay Mindanaw to engage with the military forces:
- Training - Although the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI) was initially created for civil society, through a partnership between Balay Mindanaw and then Colonel Ramyundo B. Ferrer, military personnel began to apply to its courses. The Institute established strict rules for them in order to integrate them with the rest of the student population which comprised of civil society. Military personnel were not allowed to have guns, wear uniforms, have bodyguards or provide their ranks. These interactions were significantly valuable for both groups given that they normally would not have the chance to work together and it facilitated the formation of relationships, as well as the breakdown of stereotypes.
- Support – Various Filipino civil society groups, along with Balay Mindanaw, the MPI faculty and Catholic Relief Services followed up with the trained military officials ensuring they would have both formal and informal support mechanisms, ranging from phone calls and texts to visits to military camps and hosting regular meetings. Military personnel were also invited to participate in province-based networks of peacebuilders, where local leaders, military commanders and the rest of the community worked together to bring peace to the area by creating local zones of peace, facilitating and encouraging local dialogue between conflicting parties, and creating community development projects for the benefit of the population.
- Policy Advocacy - Balay Mindanaw’s peacebuilding efforts also turned into policy advocacy. For example, they promoted the institutionalisation of peacebuilding and conflict management skills courses in all of the formal academic institutions of the Department of National Defence and the Armed Forces. Moreover, they advocated for a different way to encourage the promotion of soldiers, one in which they would be honoured for their peace leadership and not simply based on the amount of enemies defeated or weapons captured.
Through the successful collaboration between the two groups, leaders in civil society networks began to perceive the military as a supporting partner in the peace process instead of another part of the warring parties. Additionally, soldiers under Brigadier General Ferrer’s command began building closer relationships with the citizens they protected and worked by their side in building houses and water supply systems. This resulted in citizens actively going to them with their security concerns instead of fearing them. Especially since security forces began mediating small and large conflicts in the communities, including land disputes.
Working together proved successful in many ways and most importantly in breaking down the barriers between each other. A strategy that proved useful for easing the relationship between military personnel and civil society, was the ability to listen closely to each participant without interrupting and demonstrating respect through all interactions. Also, giving security forces the perspective of the civil society allowed them to approach their work in a different manner that often times proved more constructive. Brigadier General Ferrer, for example, encouraged his troops to smile and greet people with respect when they would be in a town, instead of being fierce and acting tough. This in turn made soldiers more approachable and added a human dimension to them. By collaborating with each other, the two groups were able to identify and work through local tensions together before those turned into violent conflict, as well as increase the military forces’ accountability through the relationships built with the different actors of society.