The Barangay Justice for Peace (BJP) Project is a 2-year project initiated in year 2009, funded by the USAID through the Gerry Roxas Foundation (GRF). Mahintana was tapped by GRF, in close coordination with South Cotabato’s Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Legal Office, to implement the project in the province, covering 10 municipalities and one (1) city. The project aims to promote community peace in Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and non-ARMM communities by integrating community-based alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms in local level planning and implementation, mobilizing and training a total of 3,000 peace advocates or who are popularly known as Barangay Justice Advocates (BJA).
In February 9, 2011, the BJP project conducted a Peace Event in Barangay Upper Sepaka, Surallah, South Cotabato. The urgent need to intensify peace-building efforts was BJP Project’s primary reason for choosing the peace communication strategy. This aimed to reinforce the present initiative of the Provincial Government of South Cotabato and the Local Government Unit (LGU) of Surallah to restore peace and rebuild the lives of people who had been victims of killings and lawlessness.
The peace event was conducted in unity with the community’s aim to restore peace and to start the process of healing and reconciliation. The program was entitled “Balik barangay para sa Kalinong kag Kauswagan sa Upper Sepaka” because this described the aspiration of displaced families to return to their own home and live in peace and harmony with one another. This was manifested through the planting of “Commitment for Peace Tree” by the newly trained BJAs, government officials, the community, NGOs, and other stakeholders.
A total of 1,300 individuals participated in the Peace Event, comprised of community members, the youth, and children, who came from 19 sitios and three (3) puroks of Barangay Upper Sepaka. They were joined by Governor Arthur “Dodo” Pingoy, M.D. and Vice Governor Elmo Tolosa, M.D. of the Office of the Provincial Government of South Cotabato; Mr. Martiniano Magdolot of Mahintana Foundation, Inc.; School Teachers; and representatives coming from the 27th Infantry Battalion, Barangay Council, and LGU Surallah. Common flow of the visitors’ peace message challenge was that peace will start from within oneself; that there will always be groups of people ready to help Upper Sepaka achieve peace and rebuild lives, given that members are ready to help themselves; and that peace is achieved in partnership with other groups.
Other activities were conducted simultaneous with the planting of “Commitment for Peace Tree.” These include Peace Essay Writing Contest, expounding on the word “Kapayapaan;” Poster Making Contest with the theme PEACE; and Draw and Tell a Story with the theme “Karanasan sa gitna ng Karahasan.” The activities were participated by elementary and high school students as well as out of school youth.
Among these activities, the Draw and Tell a Story depicted the closest to reality of what the community went through. One entry was an account of an 8-year old girl whose experience amidst violence took the life of her mother, who was hit on the chest by a stray bullet. Though tearful, she recounted the painful event and ended it with, “Kung hindi dahil sa kaguluhan dito sa aming lugar, hindi sana kami mawawalan ng ina.”