Conflict settlement was not all about ourselves, nor for few people but generally for the whole community.
Jun Lataza, Jr.
Bartolome “Jun” Lataza, Jr., is an alumnus of the 2011 and 2012 Annual Peacebuilding Training of the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute Foundation, Inc. (MPI). At the time of MPI’s Annual Peacebuilding Trainings of 2011 and 2012, Lataza was in the middle of his term (2010-2013) as the municipal mayor of Alamada, Cotabato Province, Mindanao, Philippines. With 17 years of experience in the military and five years as a police officer, he has extensive knowledge of the importance of merging the defense strategy, conflict management, society engagement and peace approaches.
Alamada has a population of approximately 56,000, mostly comprised of Cebuano, Ilonggo, Iranon (a Muslim Cultural Community), Karay-a, and Tagalog. Alamada has confronted several conflicts over the years. The challenges to peace and stability include animosity as a result of the history of fighting in Mindanao, territorial and ancestral land disputes, identity and cultural discrimination, environmental threats, criminality, and poverty.
To address the conflicts, former Mayor Lataza launched several peacebuilding programs that would aim to settle longtime issues effectively and promote best practices among the community. Alamada went from being a conflict-torn to a zone of peace municipality. Land conflict, rido(clan conflict), armed conflict, and environmental issues were some of the conflicts he had successfully resolved during his time as mayor.
Land was the major source of conflict in Alamada, but land disputes would spill over into rido and result in armed conflict. Rido is a Maranao term for feuds that are characterized by “sporadic outburst of retaliatory violence between families and kinship groups as well as between communities.”1 Together with the Municipal Peace & Order Council (MPOC), they observed that ridois the grassroots conflict about which they must be primarily concerned and which must be settled first in Alamada. Lataza and the MPOC utilized Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) to reconcile rido in Alamada. The MPOC proposed and took necessary actions to promote human rights in the community.
ADR is a reconciliation method encouraged by the Philippine Supreme Court. This method is even actively promoted in the Philippines throughRepublic Act (RA) 9285, the "Alternative Dispute Resolution Act of 2004." Lataza prioritized specific interventions and peace mechanisms, such as the creation of the Tri-People Consultative Service Desk and recognition of the Tri-People Local Governance and Processes. He applied these mechanisms in combination with the informal customary procedures of Moro people and Indigenous People in settling conflicts in their community. This was one way for him to be more engaged with communities in Alamada.
To strengthen the functioning of the MPOC, where the mayor is the chairperson, Lataza conducted consultations and interfaith dialogues, recognizing the importance of inclusion. This effort engendered respect from the religious and traditional institutions. A council of elders was created comprised of the traditional elders of various beliefs to make the reconciliation process more inclusive and systematic. As a result, 23 clan conflicts were settled using the ADR, including one of the oldest clan conflicts in the municipality that had been ongoing for 50 years.
The effective implementation of the reconciliation mechanism is what led to declaring Alamada a Zone of Peace. The government and its local partners gathered more than 10,000 signatures during various consultations and discussions in the municipality during which they were getting the input of the people regarding the declaration of Alamada as a Zone of Peace.
Alamada land has been identified to contain premium quality manganese. This potential motivated several mining companies to exploit its resources through “invisible means.” They attempted to gain the sympathy of the people by providing basic necessities, such as five kilos of rice per day. This attempt alerted the Lataza administration, and they sought a way to counter this strategy. Lataza recognized that the effective approach with the community had to be one that encouraged the people to defend and protect their own land.
Lataza’s way to counter the mining industry’s plan was to erect religious icons on the highest hill of the mining area. He worked together with people to design and build an icon that would imply the sacredness of the prospective mining site. He knew that the people would be passionate about and devoted to their religious beliefs. With this motivation, the people chose to protect their land. The solution resulted in double benefits. Aside from the shutting down of the mining operation, the location is now a tourism area. By addressing the root issue, the community has been able to enjoy the fruits of their efforts and their land.
Another example of the peacebuilding work of Lataza involves Asik Asik falls in an area of Alamada known for its breathtaking scenery. Prior to his intervention, Asik Asik was under the control of a Moro revolutionary group, making it off limits to the local communities and unreachable by the government. Lataza decided to conduct an inclusive dialogue with the leaders of the rebel force. Through his negotiation efforts, he was able to come up with a local peace agreement.
As a result of his efforts, Asik-Asik falls is now open to the public. The Department of Tourism allocated at least 500 million pesos for the tourism enhancement of the falls. The enchantment of the falls can now be freely enjoyed by all. This was a remarkable accomplishment of Lataza’s administration.
His accomplishments in peace management were based on thorough observations and in-depth consultations with local partners and local leaders in Alamada. Those actions enabled him to develop transformative programs. Conflict prevention and peace promotion included activities such as medical and dental services, agricultural support services, animal breeding, social services, and joint sessions of the Municipal Councilors with Barangay Councilors conducted in the barangay hall instead of the municipal hall. Restoring peace and preventing the possible eruption of conflict concerning resources also required proper enforcement through the justice system. Lataza was also able to execute an Integrating Peace Education in Basic and Teacher Education at all academic institutions in the Alamada municipality.
Lataza enrolled in MPI’s Working Towards Change: Peace and Justice Advocacy course in 2011 and Asian Faces of Justice: Restoring Harmony and Accountability in Asian Communities in 2012. He believes that his conflict management efforts would not have been possible without attending the MPI Annual Peacebuilding Training. During the MPI training, he learned how religion influences culture and culture influences religion. This learning was truly suitable to the community life in Alamada. It enabled him to produce transformative programs that met the needs of all parties. Restorative justice, inclusion and consultative approaches were the concepts he gained from the training and then he applied these in his community. He believes that peacebuilding should be integrated into public service to promote sensitive and hybrid initiatives and to address societal problems. He said that his knowledge was enhanced and concretized by the hybrid and effective tools introduced by the facilitators in the MPI’s Annual Peacebuilding Training.
Lataza firmly believes that if one thought can change the world, how much more a million thoughts. He encourages all peacebuilders to continue contributing their thoughts for peace and reconciliation in their respective peace work.
1Alaya-Ay, G., Jr., Cuizon, R., Branzuela, N., Romarez, C., Talaid, C. (2013). Rido Culture: Its Impact to the Maranaos’ Contemporary Educational Aspirations. International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications, Volume 3, Issue 11, p. 1.