Alumni Spotlight: A Conversation with Jovar Gallaza Pantao on International Day of Peace

‘Due to the complexities and uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, it is vital to enhance peacebuilding skills and values through peace education.’

Jovar Gallaza Pantao is a Maguindanao-Ilonggo peace advocate with a Ph.D. in Philosophy in Education.  He is a peace education specialist with vast experience in peace and development in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Region XII in the Philippines. He is currently the head of the Institute for Peace and Development in Mindanao at the Mindanao State University. He is also an Alumni of our 2021 International Training in Dialogue and Mediation (ITDM). 

Hi Jovar, it is a pleasure speaking with you today. In light of the ongoing global health crisis and related development impacts, can you tell us more about the current difficulties and challenges in investigating the coronavirus effects in the Philippines?

Managing a crisis such as the COVID-19 epidemic requires fast, accurate, and relevant information that may be used to drive policy decisions, response mechanisms, and tactics. Access to high-quality data on coronavirus incidence and impact remains a challenge in the Philippines. Relevant agencies struggle to centralise data sources, resulting in inadequate data as inputs to planning and policy actions. Therefore, there are still blind spots in response to COVID-19 since some of the data captured is incorrect.  While attempts have been made to improve data reconciliation between the national and local governments, there is room for improvement as inconsistencies and contradictions exist between what was documented and the actual situation.

Additionally, leadership in managing the health crisis dominantly rests on the security sector rather than on the public health sector, resulting in measures that sometimes worsen the overall situation. The country’s security sector has, for example, been tasked with enforcing tight quarantine measures established by the national Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) and its local counterparts and the Bayanihan Act of 2020. However, a series of violent incidents involving members of the security sector’s field units have been reported, indicating a tendency for impunity,abuse of authority and low standards for protocol adherence and proper conduct. This has resulted in numerous human rights violations and casualties, leading to increased distrust in the security sector.

In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has weakened the security sector’s ability to effectively respond to security crises and created opportunities for increased violent extremism episodes. The pandemic has forced many young people to leave the education system, which may have resulted in their interest in violent and extremist groups that have been on the rise across the country.  Meanwhile, the Philippine government passed the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. The law aims to reduce the frequency of terrorism in the country, but numerous sectors have expressed intense opposition. One of the primary reasons for their reservations is the general public’s lack of trust in the security sector.

COVID-19 has disrupted one of the foundational principles of peace-building practice: bringing people together face to face. How has this impacted your work, and can we genuinely ‘build peace’ from a distance?

The COVID-19 pandemic has compelled peace advocates and peace activists to relocate to online platforms to maintain social connections at a physical distance. This has forced peace stakeholders to quickly analyse numerous problems, including capacity, accessibility, the ability to build trust digitally, and issues of cultural sensitivity on virtual platforms.

This analysis has shown that the ‘digitalisation of peacebuilding’ has a tendency to exacerbate current conflict dynamics and structural disparities and to generate new conflicts. These virtual strategy specifically limits access for marginalised groups as numerous conflict-affected and fragile communities have little to no internet connectivity, leaving them behind.

In terms of peace research, we in academia face difficulties in data collection. We also need to retrofit our research methodologies to work well with the situation. This retrofitting has to be thought through well, in light of scientific principles in data generation.

What have been the short-term and long-term impacts of peace-building in the Philippines?

Over the years, peacebuilding efforts have resulted in a significant increase in the number of skilled peacebuilders. Despite this, fundamental obstacles to achieving inclusive peace and development in Muslim Mindanao persist. Separatist rebel organisations, violent extremist groups, and feuding political factions all represent substantial risks to Mindanao’s rebuilding efforts.

The Mindanao State University (MSU) noted an unanticipated growth in violent extremism culminating in the Marawi siege in 2017. As a result, the university introduced a course in Peace Education in all undergraduate programs offered by the MSU.

This program offers peace education in an action or action-based discipline through a comprehensive, multi-, inter-, and trans-disciplinary approach. Its mission is to develop peacemakers, change agents or agents of positive change, peace advocates, and champions capable of establishing or expanding a culture of peace.

How can peace education be enhanced or used to build peace during a global pandemic? Has peace education changed since the global pandemic?

Education for peace remains critical during this global health crisis. Due to the complexities and uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, it is vital to enhance peacebuilding skills and values related through peace education. We are faced with grave challenges such as rising inequalities, varying levels of violence, and social disruptions related to digitally-enabled industrial transformations. One way to address these challenges, in the long run, is to teach people how to use peacebuilding tools to maintain a sense of hope in making our society a peaceful place.

Pandemic frontline responders, both state and non-state actors, must be educated on how to integrate peacebuilding approaches into their everyday work. Peace education will help ensure that their actions promote peace and address the core causes of conflict and violence. Additionally, peace actors must explore peace-promoting initiatives in sensitive locations. They can begin by learning how to collect context-sensitive, evidence-based information that they can use to build pandemic solutions that reflect their understanding of how complicated challenges affect communities.

Our peacebuilding efforts have been challenged by the migration to online platforms. It is more difficult for us to reach our target communities. Our ingenuity is tested in terms of how best to engage and connect individuals, particularly given that peacebuilding rests on relationship development. In many cases, the transfer to online platforms necessitated more effort to engage peace stakeholders. Although these platforms offers financial and economic benefits, issues of trust and a sense of belonging are a worry due to the security risks associated with online activity.

Additionally, the pandemic allows for reflection on future approaches to local peacebuilding. Peacebuilding is about relationships and an understanding of how diverse social groups and communities interact. Dialogue and facilitation are necessary processes for forming these linkages, but COVID-19 restrictions inhibit these activities. To transform relationships, reciprocal trust must be established, which is normally accomplished through prolonged periods of dialogue, usually in person. To ensure the future viability of peacebuilding efforts, it is necessary to design a hybrid strategy that allows for full participation by all.

Can you tell us a bit more about the importance of long-term sustainable funding in peace education and the impact of peace-building in the Philippines?

Peace education in the Philippines has failed to achieve its intended outcomes due to the lack of an effective implementation strategy and framework. However, this is also due to the absence of clear funding for peace education implementation. I believe it is essential to ensure funds for policy-oriented initiatives and implementation.

To guarantee long-term funding for peace education, legislators can establish a Peace and Development attribution fund aimed at mainstreaming peace education not only in formal education but in government agencies. International agencies and other donors may also contribute to policy adoption by supplementing the government’s funds.

Thank you Jovar for your time. We are grateful for you highlighting the importance of peace education in the efforts to build more resilient communities on International Day of Peace, building on the conversation ‘Recovering better for an equitable and sustainable world’. 

Read more about the DPCR-ITP Alumni Network.

PHOTO:UN Photo/Manuel Elías


International Day of Peace

The International Day of Peace is a United Nations-sanctioned holiday observed around the world each year on 21 September. 'This year, as we heal from the COVID-19 pandemic, we are inspired to think creatively and collectively about how to help everyone recover better, how to build resilience, and how to transform our world into one that is more equal, just, equitable, inclusive, sustainable, and healthier'.

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