Military Commanders Learn Diplomacy as Alternative to War

Zamboanga City – SENIOR military officers who are battalion and brigade commanders are now poised to be more responsible peace-builders as they attended a four-day training on conflict management and peace-building last June 20-23 at Garden Orchid Hotel, this city.

According to Director Atty. Benedicto Bacani, Executive Director of the Institute of Autonomy and Governance (IAG), which sponsored the training, its main objective is to broaden the perspectives of the military officers, especially in handling conflict and when conducting military operations.

“We will be presenting topics on the context of conflict, skills in conflict management, mediation and conflict transformation, as well as on human rights,” he said as the training took off.

He said this training is already the third in their series of four, which started in May. “We gathered senior officers this time because these officers can easily re-echo the concepts to their men and a big possibility of institutionalizing the concept among the rank and file of military,” he told PeaceWorks.

“We had conducted the first training among junior officers in Sulu last May 30-June2 and in Basilan last June 6-9. We are set to have our fourth one in Puerto Princesa, Palawan on June 26-29”, he revealed.

Among the speakers were Prof. Rudy Rodil of the government’s peace panel, Brig. Gen. Rey Seleana of the GRP-MILF ceasefire committee, Marine commandant Brig. Gen. Mohammad Ben Dolorfino, Maj. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer of 6th Army Infantry Division, lawyer Jose Lorena, Dr. Ofelia Durante of Ateneo de Zamboanga University Research Center, and peace advocates Deng Guiguiento of Catholic Relief Services, Dedette Suacito of Basilan-based Nagdilaab Foundation, and Peace Advocates Zamboanga president Fr. Angel Calvo, among others.

Gen. Dolorfino, one of the main proponents of this initiative along with Maj. Gen. Ferrer, said the military forces are now focusing more on its “peace building” activities rather than combat operations. “Now we only conduct surgical operations if ever we have to be engage in combat action,” he revealed.

“We prefer to be peace builders rather than security officers,” he told PeaceWorks in an interview at the sideline of the training. “Because nobody will win in war,” he said, adding: “therefore, we are conducting activities like this to educate our men, to equip them with enough knowledge on handling conflict.”

He also revealed that the military now is more concerned with assisting communities especially in development work. He said the military are now engaged in constructing infrastructures like school buildings, roads, and bridges as well as assisting the communities in their livelihood programs.

Dolorfino said for instance, in Patikul, one of the heavily conflict-affected towns in Sulu, the military have donated some units of sewing machines to women cooperatives in the place. They also partnered with the Gawad Kalinga (GK) in building a community for the town and in Bongao in neighboring island province of Tawi-Tawi. They link with other organizations and agencies for such community undertakings.

For his part, Col. Rustico O. Guerrero, commanding officer of the 1st Infantry Brigade based in Basilan and one of the participants of the training, said in his area they are also doing humanitarian activities especially in the far-flung and remote municipalities.

“We dedicated 80 percent of our efforts in Basilan for civic-military operations and only 20 percent to combat,” Col. Guerrero said in a separate gathering as he welcomed the civil society and NGO workers of the Kalitawhan network, who went to Basilan last June 25 for community exposure.

“We have soldiers who are teachers, teaching in communities where there are no teachers available. We have soldiers who are engineers constructing community learning centers, schools, health centers, roads and bridges,” he told the group, composed of different organizations from Mindanao, Visayas and Metro Manila.

Other organizations have been also working to institutionalize this effort. Last August 2006, the Cagayan de Oro-based Balay Mindanao Foundation, Inc. (BMFI) signed a partnership agreement with the Department of Defense, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Philippine Armed Forces, and other stakeholders for the conduct of conflict management and peace-building training among Filipino soldiers.

Atty. Bacani said the series of trainings in made possible through IAG, BMFI, the Philippine Marine Corps, and Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID).

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