It has been almost two years since the Marawi siege when Philippine government forces first began their military assault on the city to root out the Dawlah Islamiya, popularly known as the Maute Group, who believed that promoting their vision of Islam required the use of violence. It took almost five months for the government to defeat the Maute Group and their allies. During the war, many civilians were kidnapped, injured and killed, and thousands were displaced.
Throughout the siege and for the many months that followed, MPI alumni with skills in peacebuilding and conflict transformation responded to those most in need, working to restore just relationships and dealing with those traumatized by the war. Little did they know that many of those with whom they were working or connected were also MPI alumni, that is until 12 March 2019.
On that day, MPI alumni gathered for their first reunion in Northern Mindanao. Twenty peacebuilders, a mix of practitioners and the academe from Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Misamis Oriental and Agusan del Norte, came together at the Institute for Peace and Development in Mindanao (IPDM), Mindanao State University (MSU) in Iligan City, Lanao del Norte.
Many were surprised at the connections, saying: “Hey, I didn’t know you also attended MPI.” These MPI alumni work together on different peacebuilding issues in that region, especially on issues related to the Marawi siege and the impact it still has on peace and development and the life of the people in Marawi and beyond. Only at this MPI alumni reunion in Iligan did they realize their common roots of knowledge on peacebuilding, conflict transformation or active nonviolence. No wonder that after looking around and seeing so many MPI alumni engaged in Marawi, one alumna said: “It would be good to find out what the relevance of MPI is in Marawi.” This is certainly a research project that MPI could consider.
Asked about their motivation to attend the MPI alumni gathering, beside the interest of re-connecting and seeing friends, there were different reasons like: “I want to be refreshed with the MPI fever”; “There is so much to do, I need re-inspiration”; “I want to know how we can better work together”; and “How can we support each other in our work?” Some also mentioned that they were looking forward to have the space to re-enrich one’s self or that they hoped to be able to tap other alumni for advice and as a resource.
Unfortunately, there was not enough time for in-depth sharing of the different stories and experiences of these very skilled, committed, professional and versatile peacebuilders who attended the reunion in Iligan. Instead, after the brief individual updates and introduction, the alumni were very eager to look into “Ways Forward.” The very fruitful and engaged discussion that followed focused mainly on two aspects:
- What recommendations do we want to give to MPI?
- What can we as MPI alumni do and offer to MPI?
Among the many ideas that came up and were discussed, one of the recommendations to MPI was to offer advanced/refresher courses, especially in Conflict Transformation, Active Nonviolence and Peace Education. Another suggestion was to assess how MPI alumni have used what they learned in Conflict Transformation and how they adapted or transformed it to fit their own contexts. Those getting involved in research should then be invited to participate in an advanced Conflict Transformation Course with someone like John Paul Lederach in Davao. Wishful thinking or a real option for MPI 2021? Let us look into that together…
Some of the MPI alumni offered to design and implement a field-based course in Lanao del Sur and/or Lanao del Norte for coming MPI annual trainings .
We all left the meeting with a feeling of togetherness, re-connection and re-inspiration. Informal talks during breaks gave us a chance to exchange contact details and offer each other support. Hopefully the motivation and inspiration will stay for a while as the peacebuilding work in which the alumni are involved is very strenuous and sometimes frustrating. It is always good to know that you are not alone but belong to a growing MPI peacebuilding family!