Mindanao, Once the Worst Conflict Zone in Asia Shows Possibility of Resolving Global Disputes

The war between Ukraine and Russia has killed over 3,000 people and has lasted nearly four months since the war broke out. Various political, border, religious, racial disputes, infighting, strifes, and revolutions are ongoing in Africa. While coping with the new normal, the international community faces new concerns over the risk of armed conflict increasing in various places, including their own country. The emergence of a new conflict structure requires a new approach to problem-solving.

In this reality, the achievements of the international peace organization Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL) at the private level present a ‘New model of peace’ to the global community. Chairman Lee Man-hee of HWPL is a Korean War veteran who experienced the horrors of the war, discharged from his military service because of a gunshot wound. He is a peace activist who works to achieve the common goal of cessation of war and world peace. His representative achievement in leading the HWPL was his contribution to peace in Mindanao, the Philippines.

Mindanao was the site of the largest armed conflict in Southeast Asia due to conflicts. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), based in Mindanao, was the largest armed force in Southeast Asia and the Philippines. In the 2010s, the Philippine government declared an all-out war with the MILF, which resulted in over 120,000 casualties. The Mindanao conflict clearly shows the international community’s problem: the spread of conflict based on ethnic and religious identities that emerged in the 21st century. After much bloodshed, the Philippine government and the MILF signed a Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) in October 2012 due to the international community’s intervention, recognizing Muslim autonomy in Mindanao.

But even after the agreement, the deep-rooted conflict between Islam and Catholicism did not end. Then, in September 2013, Antonio Ledesma, former Catholic Archbishop of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro, requested Chairman Lee of HWPL to mediate the settlement of the Mindanao conflict. Chairman Lee, who toured the world 31 times for peace until just before COVID-19, responded to visit Mindanao, which was still tense due to armed conflicts.

Fernando Capella, former Archbishop of Davao, and Esmael Mangudadatu Maguindanao, Governor, Signing the World Peace Agreement to End Wars (Mindanao Peace Agreement)

On January 24, 2014, Chairman Lee visited Mindanao. He held a Peace Walk, inviting more than 1,000 people, including students from Mindanao State University and members of Youth Group, to the City of General Santos, Philippines, for the first time. After the Peace Walk, Chairman Lee called to stop any acts that might encourage conflict in the name of religion and stressed that “The will of the creator is not war, but peace.” After then, he asked the attendees, “Do you want peace or war? If you want peace, please raise your hands.” Seeing everyone with raised hands, Chairman Lee asked Fernando Capalla, former Davao Archbishop, and Esmael Mangudadatu, Governor of Maguindanao, to sign a peace agreement.

The government forces and MILF finally agreed on the final annexe of the Preliminary Peace Agreement on January 25, 2014. The agreement is to recognize Muslim autonomy and gradually disarm the MILF in the Bangsamoro region in southern Mindanao. It is considered the biggest progress in the 18-year negotiation process between the two sides. In May of that year, the Philippines Parliament entered the so-called Bangsamoro Basic Law into the legislative process. The civil war of Mindanao was over when President Rodrigo Duterte finally signed this Law last August 2018.

The Civil Peace Agreement arbitrated by HWPL was Mindanao’s declaration of permanent peace. Since then, HWPL and all related parties, including local politics, religion, and civil society, have continued cooperating to establish peace in Mindanao. Efforts initiated by civil society have been developed to cooperate in the education sector with central government ministries at the national level. Starting with signing MOUs with 70 educational institutions in February 2016, HWPL has implemented peace education at the international level presented by the UN and UNESCO to the students and citizens in the Philippines. HWPL signed an MOU with The Commission on Higher Education(CHED) in 2018. These efforts are affecting Africa beyond Mindanao. Last 2021, HWPL peace education was implemented for 101 sessions at 47 organizations in Nigeria and Ghana, and among those, 115 peace educators met with Commissioners of Education to request their cooperation. In addition, through 2022 HWPL Western Africa Peace Educator Empowerment Training, 196 peace educators from 121 organizations graduated from the program, and about 40 peace education was conducted for two months, May and June.

In addition, HWPL continues a campaign to raise awareness of peace in which citizens participate and is also building a peace monument in cooperation with civic groups. On May 25, 2015, “the 2nd Anniversary of Peace Walk in Commemoration of the Declaration of World Peace” was held in Buluan, Maguindanao Province, hosted by HWPL. At the event, not only local Catholic and Islamic leaders but also key figures from the MILF, politicians, soldiers, police, and about 3,000 citizens gathered to create peace and harmony. In addition, on January 24, 2016, HWPL Peace Monument was erected in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat in Mindanao, to commemorate the second anniversary of the Civil Peace Agreement, and MILF Chairman Hon. Ahod Ebrahim declared January 24 as ‘HWPL Day.’ It was an announcement that HWPL contributed to achieving peace in Mindanao.

On this day, MILF Chairman Hon. Ahod Ebrahim presented Chairman Lee with a sickle as a sign that he would make such one by melting weapons. “The camps will be turned into productive communities. Our combatants will focus on earning their own livelihood, living in the camp peacefully. We will be establishing also the monument of peace in our other camps when this is implemented.” he expressed his desire for an end to the war in Mindanao. A few years later, MILF Chairman Hon. Ahod Ebrahim’s wish became a reality. The HWPL Peace Monument, erected on July 19, 2021, in the Barangay Bagua Mother, Cotabato City, Mindanao, is proof of this. This peace monument is special because of weapons owned by Former MILF combatants. The guns were donated, melted, and used in the monument.

Regarding future activities in Mindanao, John Rommel Garces, Chief Branch Manager of HWPL’s Philippines, said, “The core value of the Mindanao Peace Agreement is an approach of ‘citizen-centred awareness improvement and action’ for peace. According to this approach, HWPL will carry out peace projects based on civil society such as education, religion, youth, and women.” “In 2022, we will focus on the establishment of additional peace monuments in Mindanao as well as various locations in the Philippines, the realization of autonomy in the Bangsamoro Muslim Mindanao Autonomous Region (BARMM) and the promotion of cooperative projects for peace-building, establishment of the HWPL Interfaith Religious Peace Office in Davao City and other places in Mindanao, and to host active regular meetings,” he added.

Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL) is an international peace organization established for the cessation of war in the global village and world peace. HWPL is a non-governmental organization registered with the UN Department of Global Communications (DGC) and the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) as a special consultative status organization and registered in Seoul, Korea.

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