A Catholic prelate in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao called for what he described as “inclusive dialogue” to address the issues affecting communities in conflict areas.
Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro said “understanding the root causes of inequality” is one of the ways to achieve lasting peace in the troubled region.
The prelate reminded church and government leaders and representatives of civil society groups to reach out to the grassroots level and get people involved in peace dialogue.
He said “local peace conversations” and the delivery of basic services to communities can be a “key in putting an end to the insurgency in the countryside.”
In a forum on “sustainable peace and inclusive development” on Dec. 2, Archbishop Ledesma said the government and civil society groups can “harmonize” their peace initiatives through “convergence and dialogue” to be able to build “a society that is peaceful and developing for all.”
“We hope that with this gathering, the Church and other church leaders can continue our roles as facilitators and mediators of development,” said the prelate.
“It is important for government agencies to have this linkage so that we can bring to their attention the needs of the communities that see themselves as being left out in the development process,” he added.
Oscar Moreno, mayor of Cagayan de Oro, supported the church leader’s call for “solidarity.”
“Mindanao has lived divided and polarized for far too long already,” said the mayor.
“It’s about time that we leave bias and prejudice and conflict and division behind, and learn to live in peace and harmony in spite of our diversity,” said Moreno.
Ariel Hernandez of the government’s “joint normalization committee” said reconciliation and social healing are needed in attaining a just and lasting peace.
“While we talk about social conditions and how to end the root causes of insurgency, one of the most difficult parts of ending any conflict is how to close it,” he said.
“How do we bring the discussion of peace reconciliation and unity? How do we repair the emotions and relationships? The armed conflict may end but many will remain unhealed,” said Hernandez.
Maj. Gen. Franco Nemesio Gacal, commander of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division stationed in the region, said the “capability, competence, and commitment” of various groups “are vital in the pursuit of peace and sustainable development in the region.”
“To effectively address the challenges brought upon by the root causes of insurgency, it is evident that the approach to peace and nation-building should go beyond what the military is doing,” said the general.
“We cannot move forward without everyone’s help and support,” he said.
The meeting was organized by various groups in Mindanao to provide a venue for discussions on how various peace initiatives can come together.
For more than 50 years an insurgency war has been waged in Mindanao due to what residents in the region, mostly Muslim Filipinos, perceived as the marginalization of their communities.
The armed conflicts has killed thousands of innocent civilians and left many communities in dire economic situation for years.
In 2014, a peace deal has been signed by the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
The agreement calls for Muslim self-rule in parts of Mindanao in exchange for the “deactivation” of rebel forces. In 2017, affiliates of the so-called Islamic State tried to gain a foothold in Mindanao when the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Maute Group attacked the city of Marawi and withstood a five-month siege before being defeated by government troops. The siege killed more than 1,000 people.