Mothers leading peace in Paquibato

ALICE Thomas Ellis, a prolific British essayist and author, has a famous quote about men, women, and war: “Men were made for war. Without it they wondered greyly about, getting under the feet of women, who were trying to organize the really important things of life.” This quote rings true in Davao City this Mother’s Day as women and mothers led by Davao City Mayor Sara Z. Duterte-Carpio sounded the siren call symbolizing the city government’s integrated and comprehensive response to the state of emergency that is Paquibato last Thursday, May 10, 2018. Dubbed Davao Peace 911, it will serve as the “gatekeeper” of all programs, projects and activities related to peace and development in Paquibato. It will make sure that any intervention done in the communities there are reflective of the articulated needs of the people and efforts of all agencies are integrated and effectively coordinated rather than implemented in silos. This idea is borne out of a woman’s impatience of seeing Paquibato unchanged for many years and of a mother’s exasperation with senseless violence that continues to claim innocent lives.   “What is happening in Paquibato is an emergency and it is unacceptable to me that this goes on without resolution, without an integrated response,” declares Mayor Duterte-Carpio.   Paquibato, the largest district in Davao City at 66,242 hectares representing more than 27 percent of the city’s total land area, has been a war zone for decades and its more than 40,000 residents in the13 barangays have been perennially caught in the crossfire between government troops and the Communist New People’s Army (NPA). The mayor, who was speaking from her heart as a frustrated yet determined mother of three young children, appealed to the people gathered at the Paquibato Elementary School gym last Thursday to help her stop the physical violence that turns women into widows and children into orphans. “As the city’s mayor, I am the one who takes responsibility when we fail to protect lives and properties in Davao even if it is not directly my fault. I am the one who comforts the widows and provides support to the orphaned children. It is not enough to just say sorry, I have to do something. I must solve the problem,” she explains. She has offered to talk peace, to find a mutually acceptable solution to the conflict with the communist rebels. She has offered them jobs and livelihood, even jobs that would still allow them to use their guns. She has tried to build roads and bridges and bring technology, but contractors and investors are too afraid to go into the conflict zone and risk having their equipment burned and their safety compromised. Exasperated, the mayor turns the table around and tells the people of Paquibato: “Wala sa ako ang tubag, nasa inyo.” (The answer does not lie with me, but with you.) She added that, perhaps, her perceived bias against the communists and her stubborn streak of having things done her way does not make her an effective messenger for peace in Paquibato. Thus, she created the Davao City Local Peace Committee (DC Peace) during the peace month of September last year to give it one more try. Through the DC Peace, a committee composed of government and civil society leaders appointed by the mayor to help her find creative solutions to the root cause of conflict in Paquibato, the city government now has a mechanism where people can participate in local peace and development efforts. DC Peace came up with Panag-AMBIT Paquibato or Panagsabot Alang sa Malampusong Bago-ong Inisyatibo para sa Taga-Paquibato, which is essentially an agreement and collaboration among different sectors and barangays on peace and development initiatives for the benefit of the people of Paquibato. It is peacebuilding from the grassroots that ensures people’s participation and ownership of the peace and development process. Davao City Mayor’s Peace Adviser Irene Morada Santiago helped develop the framework for Peace 911 and she laid out its three principles during her speech at last Thursday’s launch. First, it must address inequality, which Santiago considers the root cause of violence. The people of Paquibato have not had equal access and opportunities to the growth and development Davao City has achieved because of their remote location and the armed conflict. Peace 911 will make sure Paquibato residents get all the extra help they need from the government to get them to the same level as other Davaoeños in the city. Second, it must have the broadest possible participation of all the people in Paquibato from the conceptualization of plans and programs to their full implementation. Women, who are half of the population, are brought into the peace process as full and equal partners. Women’s invisibility and marginalization in the process is the voice of history talking, according to Santiago. She added that “the voice of history is not the true voice of the people.” Through Peace 911, the people of Paquibato will be able to change the narrative from women as mere victims of violence and underdevelopment to agents of change and leaders of peace. Third, Peace 911 is “big and fast, not small and slow.” It means the response needed must involve big investments and quick response. So the usual government process of piecemeal interventions and slow bureaucratic processes would not do for Paquibato, which has been in a state of emergency (although not declared officially) for a long time now. “The secret to peace is simple. It is not easy but simple. The secret to peace is us,” said Santiago, quoting William Ury, a leading expert in peace negotiation and mediation. Following the three principles of Peace 911, the DC Peace embarked on community consultations from December 2017 to February 2018 in the 13 barangays of Paquibato district. The people have identified their major concerns which include fear and insecurity, marginalization, discrimination, exploitation, lack of access to basic services, and maldevelopment. The people of Paquibato have also proposed six major solutions to address their urgent concerns:

  1. Create and implement a strategic and integrated agriculture (including agri-tourism) development plan to provide livelihood opportunities and bring inclusive economic growth in Paquibato;
  2. Establish a community-based health and wellness program to ensure a healthy human resource pool and save community resources from expensive medical costs;
  3. Build local capacities for peace including inter-cultural harmony to sustain peace in Paquibato;
  4. Enhance women’s participation for public office to ensure that half of the population are meaningfully included in the decision-making process;
  5. Implement a youth development program through sports and the arts as well as a catch-up plan for Paquibato children; and
  6. Create an Indigenous Peoples Affairs Office in Paquibato to ensure that indigenous communities are not marginalized, discriminated against and exploited in the peace and development process.

Paquibato has set clear short-term and long-term goals. Immediately, they aim to build “a climate of safety and security for every child, woman and man in Paquibato.” Strategically, they aim to “change the pattern of development in Paquibato by using a human-centered approach taking into account cultural diversity and aiming for self-reliance, social justice, and participatory decision-making.” Now that an inclusive peace framework has been clearly set, an entrepreneurial aspect needs to be brought in to sustain and multiply the peace dividends. Entrepreneur and Davao City Councilor Marissa Salvador-Abella of the second congressional district, where Paquibato belongs, has initiated an innovative program that will address the practical and strategic needs of the residents there. “If Peace 911 is the emergency treatment to stabilize Paquibato, Peace, Inc. is the regimen that will nourish and sustain the people towards inclusive economic growth and lasting peace,” Salvador-Abella explains. Peace, Inc. stands for Paquibato Economic Advancement through Crops Expansion. It is a hybrid of a cooperative and a corporation, adapting the best practices of both to make it a more responsive agricultural social enterprise. It is made up of 22 cooperatives with members from indigenous communities and “millennial farmers,” meaning the new generation of young and entrepreneurial farmers in Paquibato. They incorporated themselves and invited agriculture, technology, business, and finance experts to join them on the board to run their agricultural ventures as a world-class enterprise. Peace, Inc. will assist Paquibato cooperatives to access financing and technical assistance from banks, micro-finance institutions, and government agencies. It will also serve as consolidator of agricultural products produced by Paquibato farmers and give them access to local and international markets. It will facilitate capacity building and organizational development of the member cooperatives to always make them competitive but culturally and gender sensitive in the way they do business. Councilor Salvador-Abella sees the development of a 25-hectare economic zone producing high-value crops like cacao, coffee, coconut, and abaca in Barangay Salapawan to jumpstart Paquibato’s inclusive economic growth. She said that the ecozone will have manufacturing plants for processing so farmers get more value from the products they produce. She has also identified another 25-hectare area for livestock production and tapped investors and markets for them. She has also convinced the Don Bosco Technical School to establish a 10-hectare training and technical school complex in Paquibato to develop the community’s human resources. “As a mother, food and livelihood are important components to peace for me and that is why my thrust as chair of the committee on agriculture in the City Council has been centered on food and the empowerment of small farmers to become social entrepreneurs,” Salvador-Abella shares. Integrating and coordinating peace and development efforts of Davao Peace 911 is the task of Atty. Elisa Lapina, Davao City’s Legal Officer. She is the focal person appointed by Mayor Duterte-Carpio to make sure its implementation runs according to plan and consistent with what the people of Paquibato wants. Atty. Lapina is one rare breed of lawyer who brings creativity and heart into her work. She just does not make sure everything is legal, she also cares that it is moral and just. And her infusing last Thursday’s Peace 911 launch with “hugot lines” (heartfelt quotes) as a way of introducing each barangay in Paquibato reminds all present that peace is deeply personal, too. It is the desire of each man, woman, and child. It is a dream of every family, every community. It is a deep expression of hope. And it is hope that moves people to change and to bring about change in their communities. The start of the video that introduces Peace 911 features this “hugot line”: “Ang gusto ng pangulo ay pagbabago kaya andito kaming mga tao sa distrito ng Paquibato, ayaw na ng gulo; magsimula na tayo, kaya halina kayong mga taga-gobyerno, magtulungan tayo para sa tunay na pagbabago.” (The president wants change that is why we, the people of Paquibato, reject violence and want to start new; so we invite the government to work with us to bring genuine change.) The dream of peace has always been elusive in war-torn Paquibato. But change is here now and it is the women and mothers who are leading it, proving the argument that when you add women to any equation, you change everything.

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