Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Traditional Conflict Mitigation Systems

Bishop Jun of Tabuk in Kalinga got a letter from one of his parishioners that changed his life. This woman had recently lost her son to tribal violence. She wished to pray for her son’s murderer and to express her desire to publicly forgive him. This radical act of reconciliation was the start of the Bishop’s vision for the Ka-ili-yan Peacebuilding Institute (KPI).

I was invited to facilitate an introductory workshop on Conflict Transformation and Alternative Dispute Resolution earlier this month as part of KPI’s ongoing work at peacebuilding in the mountainous areas of northern Luzon, Philippines. In the workshop were military and police commanders, persons from the church and government, and some elders who are the holders of the traditional peace pacts called Bodong.

The Bodong is a traditional capacity for peace that is often underestimated by outsiders in its ability to address current violence often based on inter-tribal vendettas. In a planning meeting after the KPI, peace pact holders were adamant that where there were tribal peace pacts, there was no problem with ongoing violence.

While these peace pacts take time and resources to negotiate between the numerous tribes in Northern Luzon, they are a durable way to address violence. I was shown a map indicating that there were nearly 200 different pacts between various tribes. As many as 5 carabao (water buffalo) need to be slaughtered to seal the pact, multiplied times the nearly 200 pacts translates to a lot of money. Yet what are the alternatives? What is the cost of one helicopter or feeding one battalion of soldiers both of which are far less effective in “peacekeeping” than an indigenously owned peace pact. Local tradition and wisdom once again proves to be the best resource.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Not the longest wait

Upon arriving at Ninoy Aquino International Airport terminal 1 this morning at 4am, I checked in and prepared to wait the remaining time before boarding my Delta flight after three weeks in the Philippines. Comforted by the sight of the 747-400 aircraft sitting at the gate, I was ready to get home. The first clue that something was wrong came from the stampede of persons up to the airline counter in the waiting area. One of the staff said that the flight was canceled. Disbelieving I waited my turn to get to the counter, and moving at a snail’s pace, finally got to talk to an airline representative. To reinforce what they told me about the flight cancellation until tomorrow due to maintenance problems, the plane was pushed back from the gate. We are being well taken care of by Delta airlines in a 5-star hotel. Breakfast consisted of every kind of Western and Asian food you could possibly eat. However, I would much rather be eating airline food over the Pacific knowing I am headed home, than the grand buffets at this glamorous hotel overlooking Manila Bay.

In twenty-four hours until we leave, or so they say. Seems like a long to time to wait but it is not the longest time I have had to wait for an airplane. Once in Somalia, in the late 1980s, I waited 2½ days for a plane. That time it was out on the desert in a windswept coastal town called Berbera. Having missed the Hargeisa>Mogadishu flight, I took the bus to Berbera 4 hours away to wait for the incoming flight enroute from Jedda to Mogadishu on Somali Airlines. But the president absconded the plane for some state business or shopping trip to Europe and so we sat, waiting under a shade tree for the tardy plane. The airport had no terminal, just a shell of a block building from the Russian era that had its windows and doors ripped out, had a dirt floor and stunk of goat pee. The airline put us up in something they called a hotel but there was no running water, was at least 100 degrees F inside and a legion of mosquitoes had a feast on me during the night. With no internet, or TV or even anything to do in Berbera, which was under curfew, we just sat, waiting.

So, lest I am tempted to scowl at this turn of events, I must remember that it can always be worse.