In the Mindanao district of the Philippines, an NGO which manages marine fisheries has been utilising interfaith dialogue to resolve local conflicts.
The Lanao Aquatic and Marine Fisheries Center for Community Development Incorporated (LAFCCOD, Inc.), an NGO based in the province of Lanao Del Norte, Philippines and has been serving the two bays (Panguil Bay and Illana Bay) through their progams. LAFCCOD, Inc. implements Community-Based Coastal Resource Management,Sustainable Livelihood, Peace Buildng, Gender Mainstreaming and Disaster Risk Reduction programs. It is one of the active NGOs in Mindanao that advocates in strengthening relationships of all peoples towards active participation in developing small fisherfolk communities and the coastal environment. Interfaith Dialogue has been one of the practical tools used in conflict resolution.
Before our project intervention in the project sites, there’s indeed a difficulty in bringing Muslim and Christian together. It’s very hard to gather the majority of them in one setting. Since Sultan Naga Dimaporo is also a municipality belonging to a conflict affected communities, there was a feeling of mistrust that have been developed due to various conflict experiences in the past. There was an time when piracy was very strong. Thus, if the victim is a Maranao (Muslim) people living in the Muslim areas blamed the Christian. If a victim is a Christian, they blamed the Muslim (Maranao). Likewise, the Christian are afraid to go to the Muslim community and the Muslim are reluctant to go to the Christian community because of mistrust and biases that have started since time immemorial.
Seeing this predicament, LAFCCOD has seen that development is quite difficult to attain if this reality would continue. Development intervention is very difficult to implement if there’s unpeaceful situation in the community. To this extent, we integrate Peace building initiatives in the programs in order to establish good relation and to build trust and confidence with one another. Seriously, we conducted Community Interfaith Dialogue, and consulted the Council of Elders. This Council of Elders are composed of the Ustadz, Imams, Community Leaders, religious leaders, Sultan and other influential people in the Muslim community.
The council of Elder became a bridge to reach out and organize other Muslim people in the community. Aside from series of meetings and consultations, we also conducted Peace Forum, Culture of Peace Seminars, and other peace building related activities. The series of activities for Peace Building become an opportunity of creating an atmosphere of trust and confidence among themselves. With this trust and confidence, we have reached a point where we can already gather both Muslim and Christian together for development activities i.e coastal resource management.
Furthermore, the management of the marine sanctuary, mangrove nursery establishment, and mangrove planting becomes an opportunity where Muslim and Christian communities build relations. These building of relations transcends to working together to restore, rehabilitate, and sustainably manage the resource base which is the coastal environment. Gathering them to develop the marine sanctuary turn out to be an occasion of Sharing and Dialogue where both of them share their own problems, their aspiration and plans in their lives, and the community they have wanted to be.
At the present time, it’s both Muslim and Christian managing the Marine Sanctuary. If the violators are Maranao (Muslim), it’s the Muslim members who will settle the problem. If the Bisaya (Christian) are violators, it’s the Bisaya (Christian) members will settle the violations. Both of them (Muslim and Christian) are now confidently managing the Marine Sanctuary. And both of them are now benefiting the fruit of their labor because of the increasing fish catch in their fishing ground. The increase in fish catch is the assurance of FAITH (food always in the home).
Indeed, the Marine Sanctuary Management and Mangrove Reforestation Projects is not simply established for environmental protection and rehabilitation but provides space for building good relations between and among Muslim and Christians and to address the problem of poverty.
The establishment and management of the Marine sanctuary and the mangrove reforestation projects become one of the rare occasion where women and children go out from their home and participate in concretely responding to the dwindling resources and also concrete initiatives for adaptation and mitigation of the effect of the climate change. As expressed by the fishers during the evaluation process, “more fishers now spend less time catching fish because fish have increased and have more time to do other things in their home. They also have more time to spend in bonding and develop good relations at home. They also have more time spent for their children husband and wife. Since it lessens their time and effort in fishing but have more fish catch compared before, some of them are less often become sick and can spare some of their time to further productive activities.
Furthermore, several people in the community especially the youth who have availed our peace building program which is supported by the Australian Embassy through their program “Strengthening Grassroots Interfaith Dialogue and Understanding” are now participating in the various activities in community. For instance, several youth are now actively participating the coastal clean up, mangrove planting, and also in our campaign to stop illegal fishing activities. It also increased their understanding how important to have good relationships of all people in the community regardless of sex, religion, beliefs, culture and tradition.
In addition, since LAFCCOD has already established working relations with the local government through our partnership with the Australian Embassy Manila and other service providers, we have also lobbied their support through policy implementation. They helped LAFCCOD and partner communities in apprehending violators and illegal fishers to encroach in the marine sanctuary areas. They also helped our partner Peoples organizations in the campaign to stop illegal cutting of mangroves and maintain peace and order situation in the area.
In the midst of our Partnership with the Australian Embassy Manila through their Strengthening Grassroots Interfaith Dialogue and Understanding Program, it is hoped that our gains will be sustained and our initiative for increasing awareness and appreciation of interfaith and inter-cultural harmony in both Muslim and Christian communities will multiply a hundred fold.
Submitted by Fermin Flores Jr, Executive Director of the Lanao Aquatic and Marine Fisheries Center for Community Development Incorporated (LAFCCOD, Inc.)