Dec 2, 2010

Article about AAI's Peace Caravans in Manila Bulletin

When the youth gather for peace

By Nesreen Cadar Abdul Rauf, Contributor
December 2, 2010, 8:46am
STANDING PROUD – Young lumads get together to embrace their cultures and promote equality and peace. (Photo from
STANDING PROUD – Young lumads get together to embrace their cultures and promote equality and peace. (Photo from

MANILA, Philippines — Muslim, Moro, Manobo, Igorot, Christians.

Utter these words and stereotypes, biases, prejudice, and discriminatory impressions are sure to follow.

We are all guilty. Many of us have been either victims or perpetrators of labeling according to ethnicity and religion.

“Behave or a Moro will take you away and sell you off,’’ parents would tell their misbehaving children. “You’re like a Badjao,” is often told to kids who like to play with dirt.

Even in schools, bullies ridicule their Igorot or Manobo classmates, even cruelly calling them “unggoy na walang buntot (monkeys without tails),” or their Muslim classmates for not eating pork, or associating them with groups such as the Abu Sayyaf.

As a result, children learn to harbor hatred and generalize members of a group. Some even defend themselves with physical violence.

Psychology proves time and time again that childhood is a crucial time for the formation of life-long values and characters.

This is the guiding principle of the non-government organization called Asia America Initiative (AAI), as they started their peace caravan last year.

AAI aimed to make young people understand and appreciate diversity through interaction and sharing when it gathered 40 young Muslims, Christians, and Indigenous People (IP) last October in Benguet State University (BSU), La Trinidad, Benguet. Facilitating were the young professionals and student volunteers of AAI Catalysts for Peace, in partnership with the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

Struggles of the minorities
The majority rules in a democratic country. But in a true democracy, the minority has the same rights as the other citizens.

Jason Roy Sibug is the president of Tuklas-Katutubo, a national organization of young indigenous leaders in the Philippines.

He reveals that some indigenous people or acceptably called “lumad,” do not assert their identity because of the wrong perception about them. “They are either referred as backward, or supporters of the National People’s Army (NPA), ever discriminated in social opportunities such as employment, and subject for humiliation in media,’’ Jason remarked.

Common street terms used to describe them are wild tribes, pagan, primitive, uncivilized, ignorant, beggar, and tagabundok, Jason added.

“We are beyond our gongs and attire. We’re not just performers,” lamented Jason, who is a Manobo. He added that lumads number to 13 million, or 10 to 15 percent of the total Philippine population, not including those who write Christian or Muslim as their religion.

He related that some young Manobo students are discouraged to go to school. “They are called Manobo instead of their names.”

But for Jason who founded Tuklas-Katutubo at the age of 17, being an IP is a solution itself. For instance, the organization believes in Balik Tribo programs, hence, it opened an IP-led school in North Cotabato. It is an alternative education for day-care and elementary IP children and is being handled by IP teachers. It is accredited by the Department of Education.

Moreover, Jason divulged that for the lumads, peace is neither about silence nor the absence of bullets. “There can only be peace when we have our own land, basic needs, and absence of discrimination and exploitation.”

Meanwhile, Alnasser L. Kasim, the chairman of the Young Moro Professionals Network (YMPN) and the speaker on Islam faith, said that the situation of the IPs is not far from the Muslims who only form five percent of the country’s population.

“We thought we Muslims are the most marginalized sector in the country.”

A Muslim participant, Alrashid H. Abdulmunat, 24, disclosed, “I just knew about IPs now. I thought Christians hate Muslims but I found out they’re kind and they don’t have bad intentions to Muslims and IPS. Every religion is important and their unity. In the Holy Quran, Almighty Allah mentioned the tribes or ‘qabail’. Peace cannot be achieved if the other tribes are not included.”

Volunteers as social doctors
For Arjie Aguas, 23, a registered nurse, a simple smile and a thank you wash all his sacrifices away as a volunteer.

Sweetheart Peralta, 18, a student in University of Caloocan City, said that volunteering is also a venue to learn and develop skills.

“If my parents were still alive, I am sure they’ll be proud of me for helping in an NGO,’’ said Mercy Gaddi Villarba, 19.

Moreover, working in an NGO is like being a social doctor, or a culture broker. “It entails greater responsibility because everything that you do will stay in the minds and hearts of the people for a lifetime,” said AAI Programs and Resource Mobilization associate Marlon T. Jinon, 23.“Our problems related to peace, he said, are way beyond what the government can handle. All of us in the civil society must do our responsibilities.

Don't be afraid of soldiers
The Peace Caravan link and mobilize various organizations. Aurelio Ravancho Jr. Ujebon, 36, of the 7th Civil Relations Group of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said that people must not be afraid of soldiers who help in maintaining peace. “Nakikidigma kami sa pagtulong. Hindi iyong pakikidigma na may namamatay.”

The Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Assistant Chief of Staff for Civil Military Operations Jose Demar A. Pauly put in that no organization is complete. Human resource is the best resource that organizations must share.

As for Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman, 27, the AAI Philippine country director, creating positive change that leads to peace requires not just teamwork but collaboration and an inter-generational approach.

Peace is indeed a shared responsibility.

Let us plant it in our own yards.