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Peace as culture - HWPL

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Can practical steps to end conflict in Mindanao, the Philippines, led by an international NGO provide a solution for New Zealand’s escalating gang violence?

Recently a rise in gang violence has been witnessed across the country, driven by a particular feud between two rival gangs. It is a time when communities in fear and pain are crying for solutions for sustainable peace.

Let’s take this moment to look at an approach taken by international peace NGO, HWPL (Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light) to address conflict and help maintain peace in the Mindanao region of the Philippines.

HWPL and Mindanao

Mindanao was the site of one of the largest armed conflicts in Southeast Asia. Recent decades, particularly since the end of the cold war have seen the evolution of conflicts worldwide based on ethnic and religious identity.

Political, economic, and cultural discrimination and contradictions accumulated since the colonial period of Spain and the United States in the Philipines led to the formation of armed groups in the 1960s who fought and struggled against authorities for decades.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) using Mindanao as a base, was the largest armed group in Southeast Asia as well as the Philippines. In the 2010s, the Philippine government declared all-out war with the MILF, which resulted in 120,000 casualties.

Efforts were made by the international community to bring the conflict to an end. Out of this the Mindanao Peace process emerged, supported by international NGOs and the governments of Japan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UK as well as Malaysia, the mediator of the official government-MILF peace agreement.

International organisations such as the European Union and Islamic Cooperation Organisation and various other private organisations also played a role in supporting peace and providing humanitarian aid.

The conflict never ended just by signing a peace treaty though. Peace in Mindanao showed the need for a fundamental and long-term approach across politics, economy, society and culture to prevent a resurgence of war.

The emergence of these new forms of conflict presents new challenges and opportunities. While groups and individuals beyond the state can now independently cause conflict, this means the ability to resolve conflicts is also expanded to the private level and non-state actors. HWPL, headquartered in Korea, started a journey of peace in Mindanao, which sets a precedent for peace worldwide.

Mindanao Peace Declaration

In 2013, Man-Hee Lee, Chairman of HWPL, visited Mindanao, when tensions were still rampant due to military clashes. There he worked at a private level to conclude a peace agreement between Mindanao’s local leaders and non-governmental organisations.

On January 24, during his visit Representative Lee asked a room of 300 people including soldiers, students, residents, and two local leaders, "Do you want peace or war?" When every single participant raised their hands to show they wanted peace, Representative Lee urged the Catholics and Muslims representatives to join hands and do their best through reconciliation and cooperation to achieve peace.

Since then, January 24 has been established as Mindanao Peace Agreement Day which is celebrated annually with festivals and events commemorating the peace of Mindanao.

Peace as an institution and culture - the foundation stone for long-term peace

Since the declaration of permanent peace through the civil peace agreement, HWPL and relevant parties from local politics, religion and civil society have been cooperating to establish Peace as culture and ensure peace remains a legacy for future generations.

At the regional level, from 2019 to 2020, key cities in Mindanao, such as Kotabato City and Davao City, have resolved to support and implement the Declaration of Peace and Cessation of War (DPCW). (Written jointly by HWPL and international law experts, the DPCW is an international legal document and normative framework that aims to spread the culture of peace and the basic principles for the prohibition, prevention, and resolution of conflicts and wars.)

Also HWPL continues to cooperate with civil society on a peace awareness campaign in which citizens come together to build peace monuments. Examples can be found in Camp Dharapanan of Sultan Kudarat, a former MILF military base, and the peace monument built in the Purok Tongkie area of Kotabato City, a location that frequently saw armed conflict between Muslims, Christians and indigenous peoples in the past.

As former combatants melted their weapons and came together to make these peace monuments, they are a symbol of the transition to peace, and a reminder of the spirit of coexistence and respect as people go about their daily lives.

At the national level, HWPL is cooperinging with local and central government departments in the field of education. HWPL’s Peace education curriculum, which is being implemented internationally, focuses on educating citizens in peace values and character development in line with an era of peace.

In February 2016 HWPL signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with 70 educational institutions in Mindanao. An MOU was also signed in 2018 with the Higher Education Commission (CHED), an organisation under the direct control of the President of the Philippines.

Working with the Ministry of Education curriculum development and training on Peace education are being expanded nationwide. Currently 2,551 teachers from 557 educational institutions have been trained in the Philippines, contributing to peace education for 23,000 students.

These just a few of the activities through which HWPL is establishing Peace as a culture in the Phillipines that transcends religion, politics, culture, and race.

From Mindanao to New Zealand

While New Zealand is not facing armed conflict at a scale seen in Mindanao, the recent uptick in gang-related shootings this month demonstrates the need for action to maintain peace on the streets of Aotearoa.

Seven shootings took place across Auckland in one night in late May. Overall Gang activity across the country has been growing for years with over 8000 gang members officially recorded nationwide last year, twice as many as 5 years earlier.

While pressure is being placed on authorities to act, good policing alone may not be the solution to gang violence, and other forms of conflict taking place within New Zealand communities. It is worth asking could some of the practical steps taken by HWPL in Mindanao to generate a culture of peace across society, be repeated here in New Zealand?

What if those drawn into gang shootings and other forms of hate-driven violence could see the value of peace, as communities in Mindanao and the Philippines have done? Could initiatives based on the principles of the DPCW such as Peace Education and Peace Monument building make for safer New Zealand streets?

HWPL and local volunteers have been engaging with New Zealand youth, religious and civil society groups to lay the foundations to work towards making peace a culture that crosses geographical , ethnic, religious and social lines.

In last May, a virtual conference was held by HWPL New Zealand to commemorate the 9th anniversary of the Declaration of World Peace, attended by about 100 local religious, youth, and civil society groups. Murray Stentiford, Former President of Theosophical Auckland Society, said, "when looking at the progress made around the world with the various initiatives of HWPL, it gives me a lot of encourgement and is fascinating seeing the various countries involved." The various events will be held in the second half of the year with local religious, youth, and civil society groups to contribute to solve problems in the New Zealand community.

If you would like to know more about the work of HWPL in New Zealand follow @hwpl_nz on Instagram.

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