Peace 911: Successful Peacebuilding in the Philippines

The following case study covers the district of Paquibato in Davao City, the regional capital of Mindanao, where Irene Santiago describes the successful application of the Pillars model in the innovative project called Peace 911.

Paquibato covers almost a third of the area of Davao City. The ancestral domain of the Ata tribe covers 67,000 hectares.

Many adults talk about not knowing anything else but violent conflict since the 60s under the Marcos martial law, which saw atrocities committed by both the military and the New People’s Army (NPA).

Concerned about lives and opportunities lost, the Mayor formed the Davao City Advisory Committee on Peace and Development (DC PEACE-DEV) to engage in local peacebuilding.

Consultations called “Panag-ambit” were held in all the 14 barangays to listen to the concerns not only of the barangay officials but also of members of women’s, youth, farmers, indigenous people, and faith-based organizations.

An emergency response was needed, hence the project name “Peace 911”

Fear and hunger were the immediate concerns that people expressed in the consultations. An emergency response was needed. Thus the term Peace 911 was chosen for the Paquibato peace building process.

Peace 911 addressed the hunger by bringing in basic services that the people of Davao City have long been deprived from, due to the violence. Officials sent a “caravan of services” twice a month to each of the 14 barangays.

Local engagement at all levels

The caravan was composed of city agencies responsible for health, agriculture, legal services, social services, education, cooperatives, civil registry, land transportation, etc. These city agencies worked actively with the local officials to provide for the people.

Contractors of unfinished roads and bridges were put on alert. Locals were hired as field staff to monitor developments on the ground and make sure that immediate action was taken on any problem.

The Indigenous People’s Structure, the highest decision-making body of the Ata tribe, was given assistance to implement their ancestral domain sustainable development and protection plan.

Young people started arts, sports, and – surprisingly – blogging activities. The most destitute farmers were prioritised in an innovative lending scheme that would tide them over while their plants were not productive.

Each barangay formed a Barangay Peace 911 as the decision-making body for local peace concerns.

A local hotline for assistance

A hotline that anybody could call for assistance, or request information was also opened. Slowly, calls on the hotline were coming in from rebels.  Eventually 92 men and women surrendered, many bringing their firearms with them. Within nine months, the military declared Paquibato “clear” of the communist insurgency.

Women trained in container gardening

To further address the problem of hunger, women were trained in container gardening that enabled them to have readily available organic vegetables for their families and for selling to their neighbours.

In this type of gardening, containers are made of discarded tetra pak, plastic bottles or coconut husks. The women were taught to make organic fertiliser from materials available around their houses.

This activity was a resounding success with the women because it meant they did not have to walk too far to plant, weed and harvest. While tending to their container garden in the morning, they could look after their children as they prepared for school.

Peace 911 then started a livelihood project

After the immediate problem of hunger was solved, Peace 911 started a livelihood project that answered the need for both food and income.

Women grouped together to sell rice in their neighbourhood, starting in the barangays where women had to walk a great distance to buy the staple at prices higher than usual.

“In the aftermath of violent conflict,” Santiago says, “it is important that responses are big and fast, not small and slow.” Although still fragile, trust between government and the people in the communities is at a higher level than a year ago, she said.

The second phase is now aimed at “building peace” or ensuring that “our patient regains and maintains good health,” Santiago said. “It means addressing the inequality in political, economic and social relationships that is at the root of the violence.”

The ceremony to signal the end of the emergency

In early 2019, the Mayor of Davao City, Philippines, Sara Duterte, took the hands of four children and together they pressed the switches that sent the siren wailing.

It signalled the end of the emergency in Paquibato district, an area that for more than 40 years had been wracked by violent conflict.

The ceremony on May 25, 2019 celebrated one year of “Peace 911”, the local peace building process initiated by the city, covering 14 villages called barangays.

Having stopped the violence, a phase they called “negative peace”, the barangays are now poised to strengthen Positive Peace. The eight Pillars of Positive Peace were translated into the local language Cebauno/Bisaya.

At the first anniversary program, representatives of the different sectors and groups took turns to describe the eight Pillars of Peace, the framework that would continue to guide their initiatives for the next three years.

These Pillars, as identified by the Institute for Economics and Peace, are the following:

  • a well-functioning government
  • low levels of corruption
  • acceptance of the rights of others
  • good relations with neighbours
  • sound business environment
  • high levels of human capital
  • equitable distribution of resources
  • free flow of information

The “whole-of-city” approach

All barangay halls will display the “Walo Ka Haligi sa Kalinaw” (the 8 Pillars of Peace) prominently.

Using the “whole-of-city” approach, academic institutions, cooperatives, social enterprises, civic and professional clubs, and public campaigns are pitching in to engage in peace building.

In the meantime, Mayor Sara announced that Peace 911 will now expand to another 18 barangays in five districts of the city, bringing the total to 32 barangays.