Nanjing, China – Attending the 4th Summer Peacebuilding Training of the Northeast Asia Regional Peacebuilding Institute (NARPI) was both an insightful and exciting experience for me, someone who was actively involved in organizing the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI) 2014 Annual Peacebuilding Training. I was afforded a rare opportunity to be a participant, not the organizer of the training or a member of the Secretariat. It was hoped that I would be able to bring home new ideas and perspectives that would help in MPI's 2015 Annual Peacebuilding Training. The experience, however, proved to be not only advantageous to my current position in the institute, but also to my professional development as I become more engaged in peacebuilding.
NARPI is a partner institute of MPI and similarly, is a training institute that provides peace education and conflict transformation training to peacebuilders with a focus on Northeast Asia. It was established to create space to build networks and relationships, share stories and experiences and bridge differences among Northeast Asian countries. This year's training, which ran from the 8th to the 22nd of August, was hosted by one of the most prominent and oldest universities in China, Nanjing University, in a city that had once been the capital of the country and a place rich in history and culture—the city of Nanjing.
The 2014 Summer Peacebuilding Training of NARPI brought together 52 participants, most of whom were from Japan, Korea and China, as well as Canada. I found it remarkable to be the only Filipino—in fact the sole Southeast Asian—in the group. I was amazed how similar Northeast Asians are, especially their language, the use of characters and even eating with chopsticks (I had to learn to eat with them for the two weeks, but they were kind enough to teach me how to use them). At times I felt like an outsider, but more often I felt like a long lost relative at a warm family reunion.
NARPI offered six courses with three different courses concurrently held each week for two weeks. I took the Restorative Approach to Historical Conflict in the first week and Peacebuilding Skills: Transformative Mediation in the second week for two reasons. The first is that these courses are not offered at MPI's Annual Peacebuilding Training. The second, and more importantly, I saw both as relevant to what is happening now in my country, particularly in Mindanao. I believed that they would certainly contribute to deepening my understanding of issues that surround the peace process.
Mindanao is a place fraught with armed conflict and haunted by a history of injustices, violence and grave human rights violations. The recent peace agreement between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) seems to signal a new beginning and a new life for all Mindanawons. In the Annex on Normalization of the peace agreement, one provision provides for the setting up of a Commission on Transitional Justice System in the proposed Bangsamoro State with the hope of "addressing the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro people, correct historical injustices, and address human rights violations."
As a Mindanawon myself, I feel tied in to what is happening to this place I call home. More than that, I feel I have to contribute towards the peace efforts being undertaken by my fellow Mindanawon and other peacebuilders with their vision of a peaceful Mindanao. Being part of the Restorative Justice class gave me a greater understanding about history and how it remarkably shaped our realities and our perspectives within and outside of us. It made me reflect on how much of the history of Mindanao is a "chosen" history and how this has played into the decades-long conflict that persists to this day. We also explored different avenues where justice was delivered and achieved outside of the confines of the contemporary justice system; how traditional/indigenous ways play a critical role in augmenting the former, particularly in cases of massive crimes that involve thousands of victims; and in an arrangement where victims and violators are the direct players totally involved in the process, with the state coming in as a supporter. As we were going through the course, I was convinced of the possibility that this may fit into the transitional justice system that the new Bangsamoro entity is proposing.
Taking the Transformative Mediation class for the second week appeared to be a good transition from concepts and framework to practical skills. In mediation, the class was introduced to alternative ways of settling disputes and conflicts. Similar to my class in the first week, mediation seeks to transform relationships, if not through reconciliation, then to a win-win agreement by both parties. But I found out how difficult doing mediation can be during role-play exercises. How your facial expression, tone of voice, your posture, the way you frame questions could make or unmake a mediation process. Being in this class has dramatically altered how I look at mediation and mediators. Now, I look at mediators with awe and respect.
I never had a chance to participate in any of the classes offered by MPI, but now I can imagine that it must have been as intense and enlightening as the ones I attended, maybe even more so. I never thought that being a participant is as equally tiring as being in the Secretariat, though in a different way. Instead of worrying about logistics, the negative feedback about the food and room accommodation, I had to keep up with all of the information flooding my brain, how to take in new ideas and undergo the process of learning and unlearning yet again. At the same time, I did not want to be too hard on myself when I could not be as articulate as I wanted. Coming back, I have pockets full of sympathy for our participants in 2015.
Another kind of learning took place when we participated in field trips organized by NARPI during the weekend. We went to Nanjing's Museum, the Presidential Palace and the Nanjing Massacre Museum. We also visited non-governmental organizations involved in peacebuilding and development works. What struck me most was the impression that we were visiting the past. We were reliving the grandeur of the city, of China, and allured by the richness of its culture. More so, we witnessed the appalling and painful truth of history and the legacies of war. I came to recognize that we all share one truth: we were all born out of a dark and painful past—mass murder, extra-judicial killings, rape and other monstrous atrocities—although some may feel the real wounds more than others. I came to the realization that it is the responsibility of every generation to remember history, not to use it as a weapon for vengeance and slander, but as a guidepost for the future that these incidents will never happen again. Hearing the testimony of one of the survivors of the Nanjing Massacre in 1937 made this all the more relevant.
My time with NARPI helped me understand just how MPI became a venue where different kinds of people come together, meet and become friends. I came to feel how invigorating and refreshing it is to be surrounded by a group of people who shares the same passion and believes the same dream or dares you to believe it. I came to experience the real meaning behind the words I only read in evaluation forms: breaking of boundaries, bridging differences, interconnectivity. It's the recognition that, regardless of race, gender, religion, country, ethnicity, we are all human beings. We all laugh and smile. We bleed. We are all capable of understanding one another. We are all capable of becoming friends.