Catholic Peacebuilding Network

Enhancing the study and practice of Catholic peacebuilding

Reconciliation in The Philippines

Fr. Bob Schreiter of Catholic Theological Union and Scott Abbleby of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at University of Notre Dame conducted a peacebuilding workshop in The Philippines in August 2010 (PDF File).

Reconciliation in Mindanao has been taught by example by religious leaders participating in the Bishops-Ulama Conference and at a more local level. People have become more knowledgeable about each others’ religion. One Catholic parish has invited both Muslims and Protestants to participate in sporting events of their “Basic Ecclesiastical Communities.”

According to Brenda Fitzpatrick:

Although the [Bishops-Ulama Conference] BUC has no official status in the formal peace process in the Philippines, members individually and collectively advise both negotiating parties, and its joint statements condemning violence and urging return to the negotiating table carry weight. For example, shortly before the second BUF Assembly in February 1997, an extremist group murdered the Catholic Bishop of Jolo. Though some participants feared this event would be detrimental to the continuation of the BUF, the second dialogue assembly was well attended, and the participation of both Muslims and Christians in creating a joint statement condemning the “brutal killing,” and “the formation of vigilante or fanatical groups,” as well as endorsing the peace process and local peace efforts, was an important confidence-building measure. More recently, when an Italian priest was kidnapped in July 2007, the Catholic Bishops Conference of The Philippines called on members of the BUC to use their influence to secure his release.

BUC members network at a high level, and individually and collectively have served as advisors to the Peace Process technical working groups or to the President or the MILF peace panel directly. The MILF last year indirectly (through civil society peace networks) asked the help of religious leaders to intervene and move forward when the peace talks were threatened. In response, the BUC convened an emergency gathering of Mindanao leaders from the right to the left of the political spectrum, the All-Mindanao Leaders’ Peace Consultation, which provided a forum to discuss and propose solutions to help break the impasse in the talks between the government and the MILF, in the presence of the peace panel chairs.

The BUC, with the backing of Mindanao’s many peace groups, seems to have sufficient clout to get the peace panel Chairs into the room. As one of the Convenors expresses it, the Philippine government and the MILF “have had to reckon with the BUC in a way they do not have to do with other groups or stakeholders.” Yet, though the BUC has several times requested observer/witness status, or a position as Adviser on Religious Issues, as an organization it plays no official role in the formal peace process.

As a Tripartite Commission member pointed out, the BUC also provides a “neutral forum for both sides to bring up their concerns,” which can then be presented to the government through the attendance of government officials at meetings. From time to time, the BUC releases statements with concrete and specific recommendations to the peace panels, such as including representatives of the indigenous people on the peace panel, providing “translators in the local dialects . . . for more accurate exchange of ideas,” observing “total (absolute) ceasefire, not as interpreted by each group,” and “in making demands, while setting them high, be open to reach an acceptable, reasonable and just compromise.”

From Brenda Fitzpatrick, The Mindanao Bishops-Ulama Conference, in Mark M. Rogers, Tom Bamat and Julie Ideh, eds. Pursuing Just Peace: An Overview and Case Studies for Faith-Based Peacebuilders (Baltimore: Catholic Relief Services, 2008): 117-131.

Note: Another resource is a presentation by Miriam Suacito, Executive Director of the Nagdilaab Foundation, on reconciliation work in Mindanao (Powerpoint).