Nonviolence, Peace, UN Report

The critical role played by unarmed civilian protectors in war zones

by Mary T. Yelenick
Pax Christi International UN Representative

The United Nations, like most of its member countries, has historically relied, as one facet of its efforts to resolve regional global conflicts, on deploying to areas of active conflict international teams of armed soldiers. Yet the presence of armed forces, while perhaps prompting a temporary cessation of overt violence, cannot lead to a sustained peace.

Guns – which represent, quite explicitly, a looming threat of violence – cannot eliminate violence. While flashing a weapon may temporarily, and artificially, stave-off a violent episode, it does not address (and indeed may only exacerbate) the underlying inequities and unresolved problems that led to the violence in the first place. True resolution of violence cannot occur until and unless the issues that gave rise to the violence – whether long-simmering resentments or inequities; exclusion; a failure fairly to share and allocate resources; a lack of food, water, or housing; or other dispute – are addressed and resolved.

In a recent panel presentation at the United Nations, a university professor from the U.K. shared findings from her ongoing academic research focusing on new insights and understandings about the behavior of armed groups, as well as the most effective ways of securing peace. Her findings suggest that the world community must question the assumption that where there is violence, the best way to address that violence is through the presence of armed soldiers. The growing body of empirical evidence suggests that in a number of settings, nonviolent responses to violence are more effective than are armed responses. Furthermore, such nonviolent responses are easier and less expensive to employ, with the logistical and financial costs of employing unarmed civilian protectors, particularly in remote geographical areas, being but a fraction of those required to deploy military forces.

Another panelist at the UN session, an unarmed civilian protector working in Mindanao, Philippines, explained that, as an unarmed civilian protector, her first goal when entering a community is to reach out to those around her, getting to know them well, and gaining their trust. (By contrast, such trust-building is elusive at best in situations in which local communities of women and children are being “protected” by armed military forces, most often consisting of men whose deployment is short-term, and who may not even speak the local language.) The key to peacekeeping, she explained, is to engage in building and strengthening interpersonal relationships, thereby strengthening the capacity of the community itself to respond to challenges. For it is the community itself, and not an outside armed force, that understands best its own population, history, experience, and challenges. The community itself, by coming together, takes ownership of preserving the peace.

Given our human history, in which war is shown, repeatedly, to beget more war, it is fair to question whether the traditional model of sending armed peacekeepers to preserve peace is not only oxymoronic and ineffective, but illogical (recognizing the base motives of war profiteering). Unarmed civilian protectors have been shown capable of performing most of the traditional tasks of armed peacekeepers – including patrolling, engaging in dialogue, and negotiating. Unarmed civilian protectors – who often work in the most isolated and remote areas of the world – break the isolation of the local communities in which they live and work, serving as a connection with the outside world and being a daily visible reminder that someone from the outside world is watching, and cares about, what is happening there. The track record of unarmed civilian protection – a dramatic decrease in violence perpetuated against members of the communities with which they live – provides a blueprint for a more effective and humane response to global conflicts.

And their track record also illustrates why peace is not simply the absence of war. True and lasting peace is determined by how people treat each other – and not by the weapons they carry.

Mary Yelenick is Pax Christi International’s Main Representative at the United Nations (UN) in New York.


* Photo credit: Council on Foreign Relations
Nonviolence, Our Stories

Tabang Marawi: Encountering the casualties of war

by Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma, S.J.
Pax Christi International Board Member

Last Monday, July 31, after the fiesta Mass of St. Ignatius Loyola at the chapel of Camp Evangelista in Cagayan de Oro City, I visited the wounded soldiers in the military hospital.  There were more than 80 of them filling the rooms, with some having to lie on beds along the corridors.  One had an amputated arm, several had shrapnel wounds on different parts of the body, others had casts on their arms or legs.  A number showed me near – misses of shrapnel around their eyes.  Many more of the wounded were lying down or seated with dextrose bottles hanging  near them.  The more severely wounded had already been flown to Gen. A. Luna Hospital in Quezon City.

What struck me most was the youthful demeanor of many soldiers – many in their early 20’s.  About a dozen soldiers had wives or relatives watching over them; some had two or three children left at home; but the majority were left alone, coming from distant provinces – Apayao, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Cavite in Luzon; Samar, Leyte, Cebu, Negros, Iloilo in the Visayas; and various parts of Mindanao, including some Muslim soldiers from Jolo.

As we left the hospital, two Huey helicopters from Marawi were landing – one with more wounded soldiers and the other carrying the dead.  This is one face of the battle of Marawi.  The most recent casualty count includes 114 soldiers killed with seven or eight times more that number wounded.  Rebel casualties are reported at more than 700 killed; and an indeterminate number of civilians killed or missing.

Another image of the Marawi conflict are the lines of Muslim women and children with some men, waiting to receive relief packs as their names are called by a local leader reading from a prepared list.  On July 18, I joined our relief team from the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro and St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.  We distributed relief packages to 430 families in six barangays in Marawi – Bgys. Bito Buadi Parba, Bito Buadi Itowa, Eunie Punod, Pagalamatan, Bubong Lumbac and Mipaga.  One could see from their courteous greetings and smiles that the Muslim residents appreciated our coming, since this was one area that had been reportedly neglected by aid agencies.  Some of the religious sisters with us tried to conduct a brief trauma – healing session for the children by means of some games.  Occasionaly, one could hear the sound of bomb explosions coming from the other side of the hills separating these barangays from the fire fight zone.  Some residents showed us several M-75 stray bullets that lodged in their houses.

Earlier on June 8, in Bgy. Barra, Opol, bordering Cagayan de Oro City, our Social Action team with some religious sisters and ministry co-workers distributed standard packs containing five kilos of rice, Milo, coffee, dried fish, some canned goods and toiletries to 500 Muslim families.  These were evacuee families from Marawi preferring to seek shelter with their relatives rather than staying in evacuation centers.  Indeed, government agencies report that 90% of Muslim internally displaced persons (IDPs) could be classified as home-based rather than staying in evacuation centers.  In Barra, the distribution of relief goods was done at the four mosques, with the help of the local imam (or religious leader) of the mosque.

In all, our SAC team and volunteers, headed by Fr. Satur Lumba and Mr. Carl Cabaraban, has distributed food and relief packs to nearly 3,400 families in 16 city parishes and barangays – such as Kauswagan, Cogon, Camaman-an, Iponan, Carmen, Macabalan, Consolacion, Lapasan, Cugman, including Oro Jama-ah Masjid mosque near Cogon market.

Likewise, our SAC team together with other volunteers has brought over the past two months relief goods to 368 families in evacuation centers situated along the road to Marawi, in Baloi, Lanao del Norte and Saguiaran, Lanao del Sur.

We are grateful to many donors and partners in our relief work.  These include: CBCP-NASSA; Xavier University; Lourdes College; Peace and Equity Foundation; the RVM, RGS, DC Sisters with the Association of Women Religious of Cagayan de Oro; Catholic Women’s League; Couples for Christ; CFC-Gawad Kalinga; Tanging Yaman Foundation with Fr. Manoling Francisco, SJ; Sen. Koko Pimentel; Atty. Rufus Rodriguez; the Diocesan Social Action Centers of Bacolod and Legazpi; and many of our parishes (Gingoog, Balingasag, Claveria, Balingoan, Cathedral, Camaman-an, Xavier Heights, Villanueva, Mahinog, Consolacion, and Sacred Heart).

In the midst of war and destruction, our relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts will continue together with many other government and non-government organizations.  And this perhaps is the shining light from Marawi in the midst of gloom – that Christians and Muslims have learned to help each other (even as in some cases they have died together), and that the re-building of Marawi can be done with the collaboration of all sides aspiring for peace and development in Mindanao.

Nonviolence, Women and Peacemaking

My experience of nonviolence in the Philippine People Power Revolt of 1986

by Loreta Castro
Pax Christi Pilipinas

The Context

In 1972, then President Marcos declared martial law in the country and became a dictator, vesting himself with both executive and legislative powers through presidential decrees. He had been President for 8 years (2 terms) and could no longer be re-elected according to the constitution. It was a time of turmoil. All basic freedoms (esp. freedom of expression and assembly) were curtailed. All those perceived by Marcos and the military as belonging to the opposition groups were subjected to warrantless arrests. Thousands were tortured and others simply disappeared and were never heard from anymore. As to be expected so many lost hope and decided to join the underground, the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA), and waged an armed struggle against the dictatorship. I was a young teacher then and was struggling with what was happening in the country. I wanted the situation to change and yet the option of joining the armed struggle to overthrow the government was an option that I could not consider because killing or harming anyone was something I knew I could not do. In the rallies that I joined prior to the martial law declaration, I could not even mouth the chants that I felt degraded the humanity of another. Many among my colleagues were in a similar quandary and had the same question: what could we do to resist nonviolently?

The Opportunities

What catalyzed the people’s nonviolent resistance against the Marcos dictatorship was the murder of opposition leader former Senator Ninoy Aquino when he returned to the Philippines from his exile, on Aug. 21, 1983. The August Twenty-One Movement (ATOM) was organized and soon began an almost-daily mobilization of protest rallies. Soon, other groups followed.

The option of Active Nonviolence or ANV was embraced by those who believed that this was a path of resistance that we could take instead of violence. The Catholic Church took a leading role in this movement. An organization called Aksyon Para sa Kapayapaan at Katarungan (AKKAPKA) was organized and was led by a Jesuit, Fr. Jose Blanco. Many ANV trainings involving various sectors of society were held and I can say that the success of the so-called People Power Revolt of 1986 can be attributed to this ANV movement. The ANV philosophy convinced us that counter-violence and passivity were not the ethical and effective responses to the violence of the Marcos regime. The ANV movement also operationalized an important insight about the nature of political power: that the power of the leaders rests upon the obedience and cooperation of the people. Hence, when the regime committed massive fraud during the snap presidential elections (called by Marcos in 1985 to prove to the world that the people would still vote for him if elections were held at that time), Cory Aquino who ran against Marcos called for a civil disobedience campaign. We boycotted products of a crony company, a crony bank and a crony newspaper. These were owned by Marcos’ cronies or friends who continued to prop up the Marcos regime and in return benefited from it.

During a military mutiny led by a general and the Defense Minister on February 22, 1986, Cardinal Jaime Sin called on the people, via the Church-owned Radio Veritas, to protect and support the military personnel who have withdrawn their support from Marcos. The Cardinal asked the people to go to a camp where the said military personnel had set up their headquarters and had expected a bloody confrontation with the loyalist military.

In the few days that followed, more and more people poured into the area surrounding the camp, in a massive nonviolent demonstration against the Marcos’ dictatorship and involved about 2 million people. It was amazing to experience the nonviolent actions that were taken by the people who were there: we were giving food and flowers to the loyalist soldiers instead of throwing stones at them; we were praying and singing, and carried with us symbols of our Faith. We all disobeyed the curfew that was imposed by Marcos so that the people would be off the streets. There were those who made their bodies the barricade to stop the loyalist tanks from proceeding to the camp to attack those who were holed up there. There was nonviolent persuasion as demonstrators shouted these messages to the loyalist military personnel who were advancing to the camp, (translated into English from Filipino): “Join us, let us not fight each other, we are all Filipinos…” On February 25, Marcos and his family left the Philippines.

Towards a Deeper and Wider Practice within the Catholic Community

As a peace educator, I believe that we have to invest more energy and resources in educating about nonviolence beginning with our Catholic schools and the formation programs for the Catholic religious and laypeople. There is much that we still have to do in this area. We need more workers in this NV vineyard. Catholic organizations have to reach out more, too, to other kindred organizations that may be secular or faith-based to promote the spirituality and practice of nonviolence.

I sincerely hope that our Catholic Church would take the leadership in this. I have long felt that in the last decades of my own existence that globally we have not really strongly spoken about the nonviolence of Jesus. The whole tone and spirit of his life was that of nonviolence and love, and yet so-called Christians have accepted killing whether through the state-sponsored death penalty or through war.

Finally, I believe that we as Catholics have to speak more strongly about delegitimizing war as a means of resolving conflicts. War is an inhumane and immoral institution and needs to be abolished along with the tools that go with war such as more and more destructive armaments, including nuclear weapons.