by Meira Andutan
An overnight camp attended by student leaders from various schools in Cagayan de Oro including Liceo de Cagayan University, PHINMA-Cagayan de Oro College, Pilgrim Christian College, Lourdes College was organized by fourth year Development Communication students from Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan as an effort to mobilize the I am Mindanao campaign, a counter-extremism project.
The two-day event featured lectures on the agricultural abundance and cultural identity of Mindanao, the origin of long-standing armed conflicts, peace negotiations, and the role of social media in generating change.
Ms. Mona Pangan, coordinator for the Socio-cultural and Dialogue Ministry of Xavier University, was the guest speaker for the event. She discussed the societal dynamic situations of Mindanao and reviewed the peace processes, expressing delight for Nur Misuari’s decision to participate in the peace talks with President Duterte. She also highlighted that some Muslim students are forced to drop out of school due to clan wars, locally known as Rido, which are violent retaliatory attacks between feuding families or clans.
In her lecture, Ms. Pangan explained that, “Extremism in Mindanao is correlated with the emergence of the Abu Sayyaf group.”
Abu Sayyaf is considered to be the most dangerous Islamic extremist group in the Philippines having been responsible for dozens of kidnappings and bombings since its establishment in 1993.
On the other hand, the student leaders in attendance provided valuable insights, new perspectives, and school-specific plans of action to counter violent extremism.
When asked about her camping experience, Nice, one of the camp attendees, answered that the camp has allowed her to learn something she could not have learned within the four walls of her classroom. She said, “Akong pagka Mindanawon napukaw tunod ani nga camp.” (My sense of being a Mindanawon has been invigorated through this camp.)
Their suggestions ranged from large group activities such as symposiums, seminars, freedom walls, improvisational theatre, and a food festival, to individualized mini-projects like poetry reading, essay writing, and a short film contest.
Aijay, a camp attendee, suggested to conduct a symposium during the Mindanao week of peace which will commence on November 26 to December 2, 2016 as the timing might draw a larger crowd.
She also admitted to joining the camp without fully understanding the concept of violent extremism but has ended up learning so much through the lectures and has felt motivated to share her I am Mindanao camp experience, “I am challenged nga magpadayun kung unsa tong mga akong na learn diri nga dili lang mag end gyud diri pero i-share nako sa uban sa akong mga ka org and for other people nga I know willing pud mu help,” she said. (I am challenged to pass on what I have learned here to the members of my organization and other people who I know are willing to help.)
The Young Communicators’ Camp was the first component in a string of activities that will be administered by the I am Mindanao campaign. Apart from the camp, the anti-extremism initiative will implement a mall exhibit, university television guesting, university seminars, active social media promotions, and engaging projects for Mindanawons to pave the way for a unified and peaceful Mindanao.
I am Mindanao serves as the countermove of the youth against recent violent extremist incidents in Mindanao. The campaign strives to educate college students on countering violent extremism, strengthen their sense of pride as Mindanawons, and empower them to take a stand against violent extremism in Mindanao.
In a country that has either become so accustomed to hearing news about violent extremism or tends to look the other way as a means of self-preservation, it is up to the youth to sow the seeds of countering violent extremism in Mindanao and push for social change.