I am Pax Christi

The “I am Pax Christi” interview: Cesar Villanueva of Pax Christi Pilipinas

Starting this November, we’ll be featuring something we’re calling the “I am Pax Christi” interview, a short conversation with the women and men who make up our movement. Today’s profile is Cesar Villanueva of Pax Christi Pilipinas. The interview was conducted by communications intern Marie Just in October at the Pax Christi International offices in Brussels.

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Marie Just: How did you become involved with peace and justice work, and what was your first involvement in Pax Christi International?

Cesar Villanueva: When I was a young boy, I served in our church; I studied in a school where the church is called Queen of Peace. Indirectly I thought that must have influenced my passion for peace work. The Queen of Peace Church is a nice church, mostly Chinese people who go there. … So when I went to university I started being aware of the conditions of equality and justice and, after graduation I was attracted to a poster which said: “Why sell soap?” – because many people were selling soap after university – “when you can build people?” After that I applied for Volunteer Philippines and was sent to the poorest school in Naga City. I started a program there that was called “integration”. We made students aware of the realities of the ground. We exposed them [to the realities of the] dictatorship, the injustice, the corruption, and brought it to their attention. And I went on to work on that for seven years.

When I decided to go back to my Island of Negros Occidental — which is the fourth largest in the Philippines, 85% dependent on sugar — I was challenged with how I could contribute to build the peace that will be needed for the island … So I helped form the local peace community in Negros. … At the same time I was earning money from my university for teaching and a directorship (Director for Popular Peace Education, Pax Christi Institute); and then Father Niall O’Brien, a Columban missioner for 30 years on the island, who wrote a very beautiful book called Revolution from the Heart and who embraced the work of nonviolence in the midst of the armed conflict in my country, invited me in 1995 to the 50th anniversary of Pax Christi in Assisi in Italy. That’s how I got introduced to Pax Christi. … I was asked to be a member of the executive board and elected vice president for Asia. When I finished my term in the international movement, I decided to work as the national coordinator of Pax Christi Pilipinas to continue the work that I was doing, running the movement for almost 6 years.

(During this time) there was a project with Pax Christi Germany and Pax Christi in the Philippines. We were recipients of a civil peace project that gave us the resources to really involve everybody in the whole of the Philippines, and in fact, I am happy to say, we started an institute, Pax Christi Institute, which continues today as a training ground for peace workers, conflict workers. And this has now been accepted by the university also because we offer some masters programs.

MJ: During your time with Pax Christi Pilipinas, can you tell us a story about a time that the work of Pax Christi in the Philippines made a real difference in the situation in your country, or in the lives of people there?

cesarCV: There are two things I personally did when I was Pax Christi National Coordinator. We started a Visayan Peace-building Institute which gathers all church social action workers, teachers, and community organisers in the field. We trained people in conflict transformation and peace-building. See, in my country, conflict is a bad word. So we have to make people aware that conflict is part of life and it shouldn’t be something to be afraid of. This is what we mean by “conflict understanding and awareness”. But also that a conflict can be transformed, not just solved. So we share the whole concept of conflict transformation, the thinking of Johan Galtung, the thinking of John Paul Lederach. And we share with them exact conflict analysis tools that will help people to be competent in handling conflicts. For me that’s one very important contribution that Pax Christi in the Philippines has made. And we now have an institution that is offering a master’s program in conflict and reconciliation – the only one in the Philippines, I think, at the moment.

The other thing that I think is very important: 85% of the people in the Philippines are Catholic. They assume that they know everything and judge people based on the fact that we are the majority. But we realise that when there are interfaith dialogues or dialogues with Muslims, Christians and Protestants, and indigenous people, many Catholics don’t know the Church’s social teachings on peace. So I was challenged to start what we call a Catholic peace-building dialogue, a dialogue among ourselves as Catholics and why we are for peace — what is the basis, what are the social teachings and biblical stories that support our work. I’m very happy that our Pax Christi Bishop-President, Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, who is also now member of the International Board, helped us to do that. So we did trainings in Mindanao, gathering all the youth organisers for that purpose.

The last thing I would like to share is that we did do study fora on reconciliation. There are five or six peace processes in the Philippines and I think reconciliation is not much talked about. Pax Christi would like to contribute to the discussion on reconciliation. How can we begin to talk about reconciliation, even if there are conflicts that have not been ended, that have not been resolved? We came up with a simple book, which in the local dialect translates to, “How do you resolve conflicts, how do you calm things so that it can be resolved?” Peace-building.

MJ: What does nonviolence mean to you personally and professionally? How would you describe it?

CV: Nonviolence, I think, is the capacity of people to engage with conflicts with the total respect of the dignity of every person. And that means the use of all possible means that will not hurt the person. It is the ability to know and to think that even the most obvious violent person has dignity in his conscience and you can appeal to the conscience of that person and use that as a way of transformation. That for me is nonviolence.

It is also the ability to think that if you resolve conflicts early on, then you don’t need to lead to violence. At the same time, it is important to understand that in every conflict, there are deep, deep cultural biases and that there are deep, deep structures, that allow violence to happen. If we are made aware of these deep cultural biases and deep structures, maybe we can deny violence. Because violence is not natural. Conflicts are natural but violence is not. So it’s an option that people can make. And I think, as a person with deep faith in gospel values, I think that these aspects of human dignity and conscience are very important.

Cesar Villanueva was first introduced to Pax Christi over 30 years ago. He is the creator and director of the Pax Christi Institute on Non-formal Education that is based in Bacolod City. He has previously served on the International Board.

Our Stories

OUR STORY: Pax Christi Pilipinas

This is the first installment of a regular feature on the Peace Stories blog featuring the stories of our 120 member organisations on five continents around the world. For November 2016, we’re getting to know Pax Christi Pilipinas. This interview was conducted by email with Jasmin Nario-Galace, President of Pax Christi Pilipinas. She is the Executive Director of the Center for Peace Education at Miriam College, Manila, Philippines, where she also teaches Peace Studies and Theory and Practice of Nonviolence at the Department of International Studies. She is both a peace educator and advocate.

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Q: When and how did Pax Christi in the Philippines start? Was there some particular event or issue that served to bring Pax Christi Philippines into being?

Fr. Niall O'Brien

Jasmin Nario-Galace (JNG): Mr. Simon Gregorio and Fr. Niall O’Brien (photo right) were the first coordinators of Pax Christi Pilipinas. In 1994, Fr. Paul Lansu (Senior Policy Advisor of Pax Christi International) visited the Philippines, specifically Manila, Cebu, Bacolod and Zamboanga. In 1995, Pax Christi Pilipinas was invited to the 50th anniversary celebration of Pax Christi in Assisi, and, in 1999, Pax Christi Pilipinas was made a full section of Pax Christi International.

In 2004, Pax Christi Pilipinas (PCP) and Pax Christi Germany started a Civil Peace Service Program based in Bacolod. Since then, PCP has organised workshops and conducted training on peace concepts and skills, nonviolence and reconciliation, among others, and we offer a graduate degree on Conflict and Reconciliation Studies. PCP has also served and took leadership roles in various peace and disarmament networks such as the Philippine Action Network on Small Arms (PhilANSA), Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) and Philippine Misereor Partnership Incorporated (PMPI). We have led in doing action research such as the Peoples’ Consultation on the Arms Trade Treaty and Dialogue Mindanao. A regional peace-building program, the Visayas Peacebuilding Institute, was started in 2010 where courses for peace advocates such as peace education, peace journalism and conflict transformation and reconciliation were offered. We have developed modules on Catholic Social Teaching for trainings … Today, PCP continues to be active in supporting peace processes and global and national disarmament initiatives.

Q: What is the structure and who are the people involved in Pax Christi Pilipinas?

JNG: Pax Christi Pilipinas has sections present in Metro Manila, Cagayan de Oro, Negros, Zamboanga, Isabela, Samar, Tacloban, and Davao City.

Currently, there are active geographical areas (#1-5) and non-active areas (#6-10) of Pax Christi Pilipinas:

  1. Zamboanga and Basilan (Zabida; community and sector-based work)
  2. Davao City (CRS, MSPC Youth; community and youth-based work)
  3. Bacolod (including the Pax Christi Institute; community-based, school, youth and government-based work)
  4. Manila (Center for Peace Education, Pax Christi-Miriam College; school-based work)
  5. Negros (church, community and government-based work)
  6. Cagayan de Oro
  7. Samar
  8. Isabela
  9. Tacloban
  10. Cotabato

Q: What are the current issues you are working on, or what are your major priorities?

JNG: In the last PCP General Assembly at Miriam College in 2015, members agreed to focus our work on supporting the peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, as well as the peace process between the government and the National Democratic Front, through active lobbying and campaigning for the adoption of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, among others. We also agreed to focus our efforts on disarmament work such as lobbying for laws that will help control the proliferation of small arms; campaigning for a treaty ban on nuclear weapons; as well as campaigning for the ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty.

Q: How is Pax Christi Pilipinas putting nonviolence into practice? What role does nonviolence play in your work?

Nonviolence is at the heart of the work of PCP. It is integrated in workshops as well as in academic courses that PCP members conduct. PCP members also participated in the Rome conference on Nonviolence and Just Peace (in April 2016). Those who attended are now part of the Education Committee where activities are organised and conducted to popularise the outcome statement.

PCP members’ support for peace processes and disarmament initiatives is a testament to our commitment to the method of nonviolence as a pathway to peace.

pilipinas2Q: What is the greatest accomplishment of Pax Christi Pilipinas during your history?

Since its birth in the early 1990s, PCP has helped in the promotion of peace, dialogue and reconciliation based on truth, justice and the common good. We have harnessed the strength of young people to work for peace, and we have organised key peace groups involved in peace issues both at the local and national levels. Specific objectives were also met throughout the years. These included the organising of peace groups, mainstreaming peace education, initiating national campaigns that have both direct and indirect impact on peace. Pax Christi Pilipinas has also significantly engaged with the Church in various peace-building initiatives such as interfaith dialogue, conflict transformation and reconciliation. We have also collaborated with local, national and international groups in relation to disarmament issues, among others.

Q: Is there any story about Pax Christi Pilipinas that stands out for you?

Pax Christi Pilipinas is very relevant in today’s time. With violence growing in the Philippines, we need more peace-builders who are bearers of peace rooted in the Catholic faith. It is important for us to serve the communities, to be the bridge toward greater interfaith understanding and to create pathways that will prevent extremism.

A story that stands out was the Elders Meeting in Davao in early 2016 where participants shared why they care about the network. It’s a beautiful story as the network had been sailing through rough times. Elders shared that the peace of Christ is very important alongside sharing the importance of secular peace; that they care because as Catholics, the work of Pax Christi is a calling of their faith and it is this faith that inspires them to work for justice, peace and reconciliation. The Elders shared their hope that Pax Christi Pilipinas continue to be a light in the midst of challenges in the peace and security situation in the Philippines and to shape the organisation to become a “home” to aspiring peace-builders.

The Elders also identified a set of values that they wish to have and carry as Catholic peace-builders and which should characterise their relationship with one another. The identified principles are:

  1. Respecting the dignity of each person
  2. Encouraging and building up each other
  3. Being patient with one another
  4. Accepting one another
  5. Being kind to each other
  6. Walking in the light to have fellowship with one another
  7. Speaking the truth in love
  8. Being humble toward one another
  9. Offering hospitality to one another
  10. Challenging one another for the better
  11. Giving and receiving constructive and transformative feedback
  12. Asking empowering questions
  13. Instructing one another
  14. Learning from one another
  15. Spurring one another on toward love, good deeds, and meaningful action
  16. Allowing a person to speak without fear
  17. Empowering each one through various affirmative ways

The identification and conscious application of the above principles distinguish PCP from other peace groups with whom we work.