Environmental Peacebuilding

In the post-war context, the competition to prioritize the national agenda is strong. Everyone – from foreign aid organizations, UN consultants, to government officials, to entrepreneurs to religious leaders – is clamoring to shine the spotlight on the most pressing issue that must be addressed. Some say economic development will bring peace, while others say that is impossible: peaceful bridges must be forged between communities before economic prosperity can be viable. It is clear that in Mindanao, as in every other conflict-stricken homeland, only locals know what is most important and what solutions are viable.

What should be done is only for local Mindanaoans to decide for themselves. Another “outsiders” opinion of what should be happening in Mindanao is irrelevant. However in this blog I’d like to offer my humble opinion, and a lens of analysis for solutions, building upon the priority most referenced in the field: land as the major root cause of the conflict.

Land use, management, ownership, and land rights are an incendiary cause of conflict across Mindanao. These are common theme of most conflict areas around the world: violent inter-state conflict is directly linked to natural resources. Mindanao’s rich biodiversity and natural resource wealth are a major point of contention in negotiations for Moro autonomy in the new Bangsamoro, for the current ARMM government, the national Philippine government, and private stakeholders. Legitimate sovereignty and resource wealth is in conflict.

While this may seem like a logical cause of conflict – armed violence fighting over natural riches – only in the past five years have solutions been sought from these same sources. Environmental peacebuilding is newly forming field of academics, policy and development practice that examines the role of environmental factors in moving towards a sustainable peace.

Environmental peacebuilding offers an alternative theoretical framework on conflict and human security. There are clear connections between natural resources and conflict. First, natural resources contribute to armed conflict in states of resource scarcity, the struggle for access, equity and benefits, environmental degradation, poor public participation in resource governance, lack of mechanisms for resource dispute resolution, and transboundary impacts. Second, natural resources can sustain and finance conflicts. Resources drive violent conflict in the struggle to capture resources (e.g. Virunga in the DRC), to capture territory, as a source of conflict financing, and motivation for recruitment. Lastly, natural resources and environmental issues can spoil peacebuilding. Economic incentives provided by intense resource extractive industries reinforce political divisions, barring peace negotiations and equitable development. Environmental damage caused by armed conflict spoils progress in its physical destruction to landscapes, livelihoods, and water sources.

By recognizing the linkages between natural resources and conflict, environmental peacebuilding seeks to center interdependence on shared resources as a driver for conflict resolution. It’s mission is to create and sustain a cooperative, progressive peace, not just the absence of violence. It seeks to provide a collaborative framework centered on an ecosystems perspective. Environmental peacebuilding integrates the fields of political science, policy-making, economics, natural resource management, psychology, and sociology, and conflict resolution in striving for and sustaining solutions for equitable resource management that is both stable and resilient.

This semester, my last at MIIS, I participated in a workshop entitled “Peacemaking and the Environment” with adjunct professor Todd Walters. He is an active environmental peacebuilding practitioner and Executive Director of Peace Park Expeditions. Throughout the two-weekend workshop experience, my four classmates and I gained exposure to the academics, policy and practice of environmental peacebuilding, methodologies of analysis and interviewed practitioners via Skype from Boston to the Democratic Republic of Congo. In my next blog posts I will discuss one analytical tool, the Peace and Conflict Impact Assessment (PCIA) methodology, its application to the land conflict in Mindanao, and some of my projects’ key findings.

7. “Que en paz dezcanse mi tíaEnedina Loza Guzman”

I found out that my aunt had passed on the morning of January 16th 2015 as I checked Facebook at the hotel during breakfast, my cousin had tagged me in a post that read “Que en paz dezcanse mi tía Enedina Loza Guzman.. .. Mala noticia pero todos sabemos q esta en un lugar mejor… Solo nos queda darle una buena despedida….” Rest in peace Aunt Enedina Loza Guzman, bad news but we all know that she is in a better place. All that is left is for us to give her a good send off.

My aunt passed away in Mexico while I slept in Mindanao, I was a million miles way, a lot farther than I would have been had I stayed in California over J-Term. This was probably the most difficult day I faced while on the trip, part of me wanted to drop everything and start making my journey home, but I knew I would never make it in time so I froze instead, feeling numb. The news of her passing wasn’t a surprise, before leaving I had gotten the news that my aunt had suffered a stroke and might not last very long but her passing was still a shock. My aunt was the first of my parents’ generation to pass, which marked a new chapter in my life, I had already buried all my grandparent and now it was time to start burring the next generation, suddenly my parents seemed a lot older and more fragile than they did on January 15th.

I went through the motions of the day, mostly in silence trying to use the day’s activities as a distraction but focusing all of my energy on keeping my composure. In my experience death always causes a pause, a brief standstill and it was difficult to process the death with it. I felt like I was not allowed to stop, not allowed to grieve properly. In Mexico the family gatherers and is together from the funeral wake through the Novenario, the nine days following the burial where they go through the rosary prayers. Thought I was sad that I couldn’t be part of the traditional grieving process, I was also a relief to have something to do since I could not hop on the first flight to Mexico. This event changed how I processed what I was seeing and experiencing in Mindanao that day, we went to a displaced community where we toured around and were told that multiple families lived in a tiny room, there was poor sanitation and resources for them. Yes I saw the poverty, but while my colleges might have felt sorry for these people I was jealous, they were with their families and I was not. I heard all the negative statistics, but all I saw was kids playing; teenagers walking around; people buying street food; neighbors talking and grandparent’s sitting on porches, people watching. The concrete streets and the various scenes reminded me of the neighborhood my grandmother’s house is in, in Ecatepec Mexico, and with a heavy heart I listened to my colleagues reactions and wondered if I was the only one in the van that was looking passed the poverty.

6.“They Shot the Principal”

I don’t think I will ever forgot the energy in the van when we received the news that the principal we had just interviewed was shot. A million questions ran through my mind at that moment; was he shot because he talked to us? Was conflict escalating again? Are we a target?  Are we safe? Why did I come here? Is my mother right, do I seek danger? … and so on. The questions expressed guilt and a sense of safety shattered, all while trying to ground and orient myself in the moment. Like the rest of my classmates, I chose silence at that moment and took refuge in the chaos of my mind. Talking was too difficult, I feared that I might loose my composure so I did the only thing I know to work at moments like these, and took deep breaths. Once oxygen began to once again flow through my body at a steady pace, I instantly resented the fact that I could not remember his name, and that I could remember the conversation but not the features of his face or what he was wearing the day we interviewed him. I felt like a careless human being for not remembering the small details, yet this is nothing new I have always been better at remembering emotions, faces and visuals over names and details, but at this moment it felt disrespectful. I know that I only felt the need to recall those details because the principal had passed away, had we not received the news of his murder he would have just faded in my memory like most of the other people that briefly come and go on our life’s.  This made me wonder what the point of it all was and yet reminded me that he might be gone but the positive changes he brought to his community had not been erased with his death, this thought helped me transition from shock to acceptance as I continued to take big breaths.

Once order and safety were reaffirmed in my mind, outrage made an appearance once we discovered the reason he was killed, professional jealousy. Never had I heard of such a thing, to be shot dead because you are doing too good of a job. In the world that I come from leaders of a community can become targets sure, but because they pose a threat to the status quo not because someone is jealous of their work. What an awful position to be in. These are the moments where I both loose faith in humanity and am at awe at the individuals that continue to do strive to bring about positive change despite the threats.

Rest in Peace Ruben K. Alameda


Thanking blog

This is my last blog here and I wanted to take a chance to thank everyone with whom I interacted during the J-Term.

First of all, I would like thank Doctor Iyer for designing and leading the course. It was well planed and it worked out very well. As I also have experience in doing almost the same work related to designing programs and planing logistic, I completely understand how relieved you feel when things you planned worked out well. Being in charge of people abroad is tremendously hard but I did not feel unsafe or deprived of anything. (Except things you can do nothing about). The course you designed did not serve for me only as an examination of challenges for peace building in Mindanao but also as challenges to maintaining peace inside oneself under various circumstances. I was struggling with certain emotions, difficulties during and after the course but value of what I experienced weigh much more to me. I wish you all the best in advocating peace around the world.

Secondly, thanks to Catholic Relief Services members for bridging our team to experience Philippine’s culture, people, and the insights to the conflict resolution process. Being under your umbrella provided us with better access to the government institutions, different organizations and local people. Wish you Prosperity, Stability and Peace.

Thanks to all the interviewees for your sincerity, patience and kindness.

Thanks to all my group members. It was pleasure to know and work with you. Good luck with your future careers.


When I was taking the bus to get from one terminal to another in Manila, a women seating opposite to me started talking to a young men who just entered the bus. According to her facial expression she was nice to him; she was smiling, shaking her head in agreement. Additionally I heard some well-known words “Koran” and “Maashallah”. While the man made himself comfortable in his seat he was turning to her and showing something that was in a big frame resembling a picture. My observation suggested that he was carrying a Koran that was framed.

Mindanao is home for multiple religions. There are Muslims, Christians and Indigenous people. It was believed by the foreigners, including me, that the main reason for the conflict in Mindanao was based on religious; however, after being there I started doubt the idea. The presence of different religions was more obvious than I ever thought was possible. In some hotels, there were arrows pointing towards the Mekkah, a holy place for Muslims where they turn towards to pray. Some places had Bibles. During our visits to some religious organizations or local communities, the meetings started and/or ended with prayers. Overall, people form various communities, whether they were Christians, Indigenous people, or Muslims, expressed or commented in a positive tone regarding the representatives of the other religions. They were echoing each other’s concern that even if there is a religious reason it was in the past and roots of the current conflict should not be connected to the religion. However, according to Baba Mike Mindanao conflict has a “religious color”.

Baba Mike

One of the most impressive meetings that we had was with this famous religious leader known as Baba Mike. I know almost everyone blogged about him so I may not convey anything new; however, I feel strongly that I have to share my impressions. From the moment I entered his office, I felt a strong presence of calmness and peace. The moment I saw a man in a white T-shirt and black pants welcoming us with his kindest smiles, I knew it was the person whom our professor, Dr. Iyer, spoke highly of. Baba Mike had not only been a religious representative, he was also one of the strongest peace advocates in Mindanao. He communicated with the people to give them the opportunity to see their problems and find solutions to their problems. He negotiated with the military, armed group’s representatives, the local people, and the children. Using different techniques he helped them find peace within themselves and then navigated them on how to make peace among themselves and others. Whenever he talked about conflict resolution, he emphasized on the important technique of talking. One might ask: but what about two groups who were and are fighting and murdering each other? How could he alone just using his words make them, at least, gather under one roof? He not only brought them together but also made them eat together at one table and talk. He strongly believes that “biases are because of ignorance.” That’s why, in order to decrease or eliminate biases and misunderstandings, people need to know about each other by sharing with each other. “Truth liberates” he said, and this reminded me on the Conflict Resolution course readings that emphasized on open talks and why they are hard to initiate because the conflict parties insistent on their positions. Finally, he advised us to “achieve big, start small,” which I interpret as having big global goal, such as bringing peace to the whole world, should start with a small “purok” (street) and grow from there.

organization of the course

The course was organized and planned in details. Every day, except two the days when we were done and began departing, we were devoted to attend three to four meetings a day. We met central and local government institutions, national and international organizations, various communities, peace zones and peace schools. Our days began early morning in the hours of 7-9 am. There wasn’t a single day our minivan was late to pick us up from one place and take us to another. The driver was always nice, welcoming and helpful. We were constantly moving from one organization to another during the day; dinnertime was also spent productively chatting in an informal setting in the company of the organization’s representatives and the locals. At the end of the day, we had a tiny break to leave our backpacks and unnecessary belongings at our hotel rooms and went to have lunch at one of the local restaurants. Visiting numerous organizations were not the only variation in our schedule, we were also changing cities. Our route looked as follows: Davao city, Datu Montawal in Maguindanao, Magpet in Cotabato, Tulunan and Columbio in Sultan Kudarat and Cagayan de Oro city.

Bridging organization between us, MIIS and CSUMB schools’ students and the Leader of the course Doctor Iyer, and Philippines was the Catholic Relief Services. They supported us in planning and managing our schedule, provided overall information about the conflict resolution snapshot/history in Philippines and explained what was the role, goals and activities taken by this organization in this long term conflict resolution process.

This course also gave an opportunity for those who were considering working in conflict resolution field a glance of what type of work awaits them.

Mindanao Women

During our trip we had meetings with representatives of government institutions, local and international organizations as well as villages. Interestingly the ratio of women on leading positions seemed to be equal and that fact was inspiring. The development of a country is tightly connected with bringing women to leadership positions. When women are involved in the process of shaping the national policy, they provide in depth analysis of issues relating to women and address women’s issues properly.

There was a meeting with one of the government officials. She shared with our group her life story that was not an easy one. When the conflict again erupted between Mindanao armed groups and state military, some barangays were caught in crossfire. One of those unlucky barangays was her home. Pot, some rice and a few clothes were the only belongings her family could salvage. She faced hard times as she and her family lost everything they had, including their house. They were displaced to another barangay. Because of this incident she could not complete her secondary education. However, when we met her she had completed her higher education. She also had family and she had lived abroad for some time. According to her, at some point she decided to came back to Mindanao, to the same barangay, in order to help the local people who were experiencing the same fate.

The other day we met an energetic leader Ms. Irene Santiago from a Global campaign on women, peace, and security called “Women seriously”. Main activities of the organization except trainings are organizing peace tables at various places. One of the goals of this organization is to attract 20 million women to join the movement. The leader seemed to be powerful, influential and convincing in her statements. The energy and passion calling all the women around the globe to unite in the name of protecting, supporting women and children, and of course in the name of bringing peace is extraordinary. One of the main barriers of women’ s exclusion from peace negotiations she finds the fact that “women are not warriors”. She meant that women do not participate literally in armed conflicts, but rather a great share of them participate in effective peace advocacy as a religious leader pointed out.






about my group

We had a diverse group: different age, different schools and different backgrounds. It was my first time travelling and working with Americans and it was my first encounter with Philippine nationals. I was adjusting to both cultures in one setting. Being in a classroom or in an informal setting with my American colleagues back in Monterey is significantly different than working with them on a project in a foreign country where we spent almost every hour together. We were not only moving together from one point to another, we also were helping and supporting each other in processing and analyzing new information, experience and even acquiring new skills. My group members were nice and caring towards me especially when I got ill during the trip. Unfortunately during our trip, several people including me got sick and we had to rely on each other for support. Miranda, my friend and roommate, during the trip was kind and conscientious.

Our group leader, Professor Iyer, was supportive and understanding. We could address our concerns to her during our group debriefs or we could have individual sessions with her to discuss the issue in private.

When the trip ended, I began to miss my group because our bonding grew stronger during trip.

Peacebuilding work: the CRS approach

“Peacebuilding is creating the opportunity for shared experiences,” Todd Walters, activist and adjunct professor, told our workshop class. The workshop was a 2-credit course on Peacemaking and the Environment, and concluded last weekend. It was an incredible learning experience that I will write more about in another blog post. Essentially, peacebuilding is a social, political, economic and environmental movement striving for transformation from conflict to a state of harmony, functional tolerance, and peace. As a thriving academic field, it articulates the integration of conflict resolution, international development practice and policy, anthropology, economics, social welfare, and security studies.

But how is peacebuilding actually practiced? In the torrential cycle of militant and structural violence, what actions are being taken, and by who? What are the solutions that peacebuilding offers?

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is spearheading peacebuilding practice through programs not only in Mindanao, but worldwide. The CRS strategy is to “bridge relationships, transform structure, and build peace.” CRS Philippines Peace and Reconciliation program (based in Davao) seeks to address one of the fundamental issues of conflict in Mindanao: land.

Approaching the land conflict, CRS operates through the “A3B” program – Applying the 3 B’s (Binding, Building, and Bridging) to land conflict in Mindanao. The initiative involves a staged approach that is a not linear or sequential, and different processes for different groups.

  1. Binding – Intrapersonal efforts at self transformation, including inter-religious dialogue and trauma healing
  2. Bonding – Training traditional religious leaders, group conflict analysis, organized group celebrations
  3. Bridging –Inter-group reconciliation efforts, such as joint leader training


CRS is effective in leveraging partnerships to nurture relationships between and within different state and non-state groups. Although founded in the beliefs and institutions of the Catholic Church, CRS is committed to helping everyone. They are effective because they engage in all levels of activity, from the grassroots, to civil society institutions, to top-level government, religious and military leaders. Specifically, they focus human and capital resources into strengthening communication in peace networks, peace education, conflict mitigation in land-related issues, peace and conflict mapping, disaster response, and development assistance


According to CRS, not all development projects are peacebuilding projects. Many development projects exacerbate competition and corruption over where money gets spent, and cause more community conflict. However, development projects can become peacebuilding work, with the proper set of processes built in to transform relationships.

MIIS students have partnered with CRS before in other fieldwork course with Dr. Iyer and the Center for Conflict Studies. We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to have CRS host us in Mindanao. Through their peacebuilding network of partners and allies, we were able to meet incredible individuals and a wide range of peacebuilding actors working to bring peace and inclusion for all people in Mindanao.