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|Peace building in the Philippines|
An unlikely alliance
January 18, 2007
Mindanao, Philippines — It used to be very difficult for Elwyn Neri to trust a military officer or trooper.
He has too often witnessed military troops destroying homes and farms of the alleged rebels in the conflicted region of Mindanao, where my wife Joji and I work
Elwyn has been exposed to too many Muslim and Christian families displaced
because of military operations. Elwyn grew increasingly antagonistoc.
It became impossible for him to work with the people in uniform
Elwyn Neri is a field worker in our peacebuilding ministry. Pedro Soria
enrolled in 2007 Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI) in Davao City
in May, 2007.
Elwyn and "Pete" (as Colonel Soria introduced himself in the
MPI classroom) learned about the fundamentals of peacebuilding, conflict
transformation, and conflict resolution skills. Pete Soria's thinking
was influenced by John Paul Lederach's writings. Elwyn learned
to treat and respect all participants in the Mindanao conflict as human
beings and not to demonize the Philippine army.
"My understanding of my job as an army officer was to pacify and
to neutralize armed rebel elements within my area of operations. At
MPI, I gained a deeper understanding of the dynamics of individual and
social conflicts. Before, when an armed conflict happened within
my area of operations, I would immediately send armed personnel carriers
and tanks to deal with conflict. Today, I would seek to listen
to all the conflicting parties. I hope they are willing to listen
as well. Though I am very clear about my primary role as a military
officer defending the constitution of the Republic of the Philippines,
I am learning this complimentary role as a peacebuilding leader... I
am thankful for the peacebuilders in Mindanao who are helping to work
together with us in bringing just-peace in our land."
Daniel and Joji Pantoja are Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers in the land-conflicted region of Mindanao, Philippines. They work to bring Muslims, Christians, and Indigenous peoples together in dialogue and to teach holistic peace-building skills.