Dancing in the Rain: Peace in the Philippines

As our flight from the Philippines descended into Denver International Airport, the pilot reassured us that the smell of smoke was not coming from the plane, but rather the surrounding forest fires, which had engulfed Colorado. For the next weeks, the fire(s) consumed not only the state, but the news, local conversation and the thoughts of those who live here. While my home remained at a safe distance from the ongoing fires, fear persisted around us. Fear, not of existing fires, but of the possibility of fire; at any moment, lightning could strike, winds could pick up and the place we call home would be engulfed in flame. Having just returned from the Philippines, the underlying feeling of fear was all too familiar.

Mindanao, where Jeff and I lived, is home to a decades-long war between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). 60,000 lives. 2 million internally displaced refugees. In 2008, the Philippines had the highest number of internally displaced people in the world (more than Sudan, more than Colombia). As astonishing as the statistics may be, they only tell a small part of the story. Perhaps the war’s most devastating mark has been the culture of fear that pervades the country. Those located in Luzon, the northern part of the Philippines, tend to lump all of Mindanao into one large, terrifying hotbed of armed conflict. The fear is also present throughout Mindanao – mostly in places that are relatively removed from violent clashes. Those who live in Davao are terrified of central and northern Mindanao, those who live in northern Mindanao are afraid of the island provinces, and the list goes on…

During our six months in Mindanao, this fear entered into daily conversations: people surprised that we would choose to live in Mindanao, intense worry from neighbors when they discovered we had just traveled to “delicate” (delikado) regions of the island. Sometimes subtle, sometimes surprisingly direct (one neighbor suggested Jeff arm himself before going to central Mindanao) –the underlying sense of fear wrapped itself around even the most quotidian aspects of life. Interestingly, the fear seemed more intense for those who had not directly experienced violence; their fear was not of existing violence, but of the possibility of violence. At any moment, violence could erupt, a bomb could go off and this place called home would be engulfed in flame. And while this fear is not completely unfounded (small bombs did go off in places we were working) it is greatly exaggerated. One of the major challenges for those working to build a culture of peace in the Philippines is to begin breaking down the culture of fear that exists.

Interestingly, our Filipino counterparts from regions hard hit by the violence were far from paralyzed by fear. On the contrary, they willingly entered into the most precarious situations. One colleague, Deddette Suacito, experienced the trauma of the kidnapping of her coworker. After months of sleepless nights and high anxiety, she was able to broker a release. Deddette continues to work in highly delicate situations in Basilan, a province that has been particularly hard hit by the war. When asked why she chooses to continue her work after experiencing, directly, what so many others fear she responded, her eyes welling with tears, “At the end of the day, when I look at their faces I see people, like me. I have to help them. We are all human.” Much later, as we began to say our goodbyes, Deddette joked with us about coming back to the Philippines with children. “Next time, you come with your 5 children to Basilan. I will show them the beauty of our island. I will show them our white sand beaches and crystal blue ocean. I will teach them how to dance in the rain.” While her intention was nothing more than a joke, the profundity of the statement struck a chord deep within me that continues to resonate: I will teach them how to dance in the rain.

Deddette is not alone. I met dozens of peace practitioners – many directly affected by the war – who carry with them a capacity to dance in the rain. Their joy at times seems almost misplaced in the face of devastating violence – and yet it has allowed them to cultivate an effective, strong civil society focused on bringing peace to their land. Today, it appears that they are on the cusp of making their dream of peace a reality. A report recently released by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) found that in the last 6 months, there were zero armed clashes between the MILF and the Government of the Philippines. The last recorded skirmish occurred in October 2011 in Basilan. This week marks a particularly important milestone for the Philippines as the GPH and MILF peace panels completed another successful round of peace negotiations, (despite efforts from a radical fringe group to thwart the peace talks).

On April 24, the GPH and MILF peace panels signed a framework for the final peace agreement. The “GPH-MILF Decision Points on Principles” provided a major breakthrough for the national peace talks, which many thought might stalemate just one month earlier. The mutually agreed upon decision points demonstrate both groups’ authentic desire to sign a peace agreement. During the July session of peace negotiations, the two panels made substantial progress in identifying concrete and realistic mechanisms towards realizing a New Autonomous Political Entity (NPE) for Mindanao, which further demonstrates the earnestness of the two parties to come to a negotiated agreement. On May 18, I joined the Multi-Stakeholders Caucus on the GPH-MILF Peace Talks, a caucus that brought together civil society organizations across Mindanao to engage with the peace panel members from both the MILF and GPH. At this meeting both Dean Marvic Leonen, chair of the GPH peace panel and Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace panel expressed “cautious optimism” for a signed peace agreement between the two warring parties: “I can see a small light flickering at the end of the tunnel…it is not a light I have seen before,” Iqbal asserted during the session, a rather remarkable statement coming from someone who has been part of the MILF peace negotiations for the last 15 years. Of equal importance is the response of the civil society, who quickly developed action points in support of the peace talks. Those who have lived and worked in war-torn countries know that a national peace agreement, while an important step towards peace, is really only the beginning. Successful transitions from armed conflict to sustainable peace are largely dependent on the people on the ground and the strength of the civil society. What makes the potential for sustainable peace a real possibility in the Philippines are the steps being made simultaneously by high-level leaders and grassroots organizations; From the national level to the local level, a sincere move towards peace is being made in the Philippines. Three specific examples come to mind:

  1. On March 8, for the first time in almost 492 years, the Moro (primarily Muslim) tribes of Mindanao gathered together with Indigenous tribes of Mindanao to celebrate their shared kinship. In an earlier blog, we documented the Reaffirmation of Kinship Ceremony, which brought together 31 tribal elders who chose to reaffirm their shared ancestry and commit to the five pillars of kinship established in the traditional peace pact of their ancestors: cooperation, mutual sharing of information, mutual protection of life, recognition and respect, and mutual obligation to help the needy. These tribes, many who have spent the last decade fighting one another, chose to come together to not only acknowledge their shared ancestry but commit themselves to respect and protect one another. Walee Roslie, a member of the International monitoring Team in Mindanao reiterated the importance of the gathering for the stability of the national peace agreement, “This event confirms the support of the individual tribes for the peace process and is a key factor in stabilizing the region. Without stability, peace cannot move forward.”
  2. On June 5, two Basilan families, known for one of the most violent clan warfares (rido) in Mindanao signed a peace covenant. In the presence of their children, grandchildren and members of the community Mujiv Hataman embraced Jum Jainuddin Akbar, effectively ending the decades of fighting between the two clans and set a new precedent for the younger generations. According to those close the families, Hataman and Akbar had spent a good part of the previous year negotiating and working towards the unity of their clans, culminating in the signing of this peace covenant. “Today, Basilan has become whole again. The Basilan family is now complete. We now have a son,” Mrs. Akbar said. One of the most cited forms of violence in Mindanao is clan warfare, or rido. In February, I attended a caucus with the Ceasefire Monitoring Teams where members of the Local Monitoring Teams cited rido as a significant concern to the ceasefire and success of a potential peace agreement. The significance of the peace covenant between the Hataman family and the Akbar family goes well beyond the borders of Basilan and spoke to the need for reconciliation between clans. “Forget about pride. If you want to have real peace and unity, you must learn to swallow your pride for your children, for your people,” Hataman insisted, encouraging clans throughout Mindanao to follow a similar path towards reconciliation. At the beginning of this month, a similar effort to address rido occurred in Lanao del Sur where the Pinagundo Clan launched their genealogy or Salsilah. According to Steven Rood, an expert on the conflict in Mindanao, these genealogies have “proven useful in helping to solve the persistent clan conflicts.”
  3. Earlier this month, the “Bangsamoro General Assembly” held at the main MILF camp, Darapanan in Maguindanao brought together close to 200,000 participants and observers to listen to their leaders on the MILF peace process. These leaders included the Malaysian Facilitator of the GPH-MILF peace talks, a representative from the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, the International Monitoring Team, members from the national congress, governors and local officials from around the region. Perhaps most notable were two representatives from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), who the MILF historically broke off from and who, until recently, have had strained relationships with the MILF. In an unprecedented effort to strengthen the peace process in Mindanao, the MILF and MNLF leaders met together along with the OIC and expressed their desire to create a Bangsamoro Coordination Forum. While the General Assembly proceeded, officials from the Commission on Election were simultaneously making their way into the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao for a re-registration of voters, a process that many have applauded. As Steven Rood noted in his blog, “the confluence of [these] two rivers of people showed that energy for change is certainly surging in these areas. One can only hope that the energy produces genuine progress towards peace, prosperity, justice, and democracy for Mindanao and the Philippines as a whole.”

While each of these events on their own are not enough to suggest that lasting peace in the Philippines is a real and imminent possibility, the combination of these events certainly points towards a bright future for the Philippines. One cannot help but feel a surge of hope in the midst of this continued “energy for change.”

Of course much is still needed for a signed peace agreement. The next round of peace talks, scheduled for the end of August, will continue to identify mechanisms to implement the 10 principles; from power and wealth sharing in the NPE, to strengthening the Shari’ah judicial system, to upholding basic human rights—including the right of women to meaningful political participation, the road towards peace is still long and tedious. But hope is beginning to poke its head through the cracks where fear is slowly eroding.

Today, as I watch the rain pouring down on the dry Colorado mountain tundra; the valley below my home slowly changing from gold to green, I can’t help but dance in the rain.

Where there are no doctors

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About a month ago I (Jeff) traveled with Mei Solocasa, Peacebuilder’s RN, to Maguindanao, a province located within the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and directly to the west of Davao City. It is a majority Muslim province and Peacebuilder’s Community has a program within there, which focuses on training healthcare volunteers. The program was developed as a way to empower communities, with limited access to healthcare professionals, to be stakeholders in their own health by training several individuals within the communities to provide basic medical assistance, advice and training to other community members. The class is composed of 15 students mostly women.  I assisted Mei in some of the teaching activities and then a practical clinical experience.

We were hosted by Care Channels on the Mindanao State University campus. The first night we spent the evening with a Muslim community to connect with some of the families whose members were students in the healthcare class.  The people who live in the home that we went to are the leaders of the community.  The community refers to them as Mommy and Daddy.  Mommy has a big laugh and welcoming personality.  She is also one of the people being trained by Peacebuilders as a health care volunteer.

The following day I packed medicines in the morning in preparation for our clinic and then joined Mei for the first class session.  I was nervous for the first session, but the students welcomed me quickly. I was the butt of many a joke when I tried to participate in activities by using my small knowledge of Tagalog words.  The focus of this month’s class was mostly about the effects of diarrhea, dehydration, cold and flu assessments and the use of home remedies.  The training for the volunteers occurs over 3 days a month and requires a year for completion. Two of the three days are in the classroom and focused on concept learning, while the third day is putting the learned concepts to use in a practical manner, a healthcare clinic.

For our practical clinic we set off for the clinic at 7 a.m.  I drove one of the vehicles to the clinic site. Driving here in the Philippines is very different from what I am used to in the U.S. It seemed that rather than organized traffic flow there was chaos, but as I drove I began to learn the principle rules of the road. Which are: don’t hit/kil anyone, fill the gap between yourself and the vehicle in front of you as quickly as possible, honk often to let people know of your location and intentions. We did arrive safely to the clinic. It was located in a rural community about 1 hour drive from the University campus.  We drove for about 3 miles off the main highway on muddy, bumpy, dirt roads up to the community.  A dentist and med tech supported the clinic by volunteering their services.

People who came to the clinic were mostly from the nearby village, but some walked hours to be seen. There were a large number from one Indigenous group in particular, the Teduray. After the clinic I learned more about their difficult history one in which they have experienced decades of on again off again displacement due to the armed conflict, illegal mining and illegal logging this has resulted in their being unable to establish permanent homes, secure communities, which in turn has robbed them of the opportunity for self-determination. Many of the patients that were seen in the clinic had common illnesses such as cold, cough or headache. There were some active TB cases in adults as well as malnourished or undernourished children.  There was one difficult case in the clinic that involved a 3 month-old baby who appeared to be severely malnourished because of a liver problem.  The story was heartbreaking the mother had been to the hospital, but the doctors there said the child was anemic and gave the mother some vitamins.  Mei said that anemia was just a symptom and that the underlying cause was the liver issue, but that since the woman can not afford treatment for her child she was given an easy diagnosis for her child and sent away.

I came away from the trip feeling excited at being allowed the opportunity to learn from Mei, to meet all the students, the supporters of Peacebuilders and to participate in the clinic. I appreciate the work of empowering a diverse group of people to be decision makers when it comes to their individual and communal health.

Witnessing History: Mindanaoan Tribes Unite for Peace in the Philippines

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“Today we are writing a new chapter in the history of Mindanao.” Filipino historian Rudy Rodil cannot contain his excitement as we enter the Talaandig tribe’s Ancestral domain, located in Mindanao, Philippines, where the decades-long armed conflict continues to affect the lives of its inhabitants. The winding red dirt road leading to the “Hall of Peace” is lined with flags honoring each of the tribes of Mindanao; Tribes who have come – some traveling more than two days from the far islands of Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi – to participate in a Reaffirmation of Kinship Ceremony between the Muslim tribes of the Bangsamoro and the “non-islamized” Indigenous tribes. “This is a historical event, that no historian should miss.” As a historian and a former member of the peace panel between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Professor Rodil knows, intimately, the significance of this historic event. The Reaffirmation of Kinship Ceremony, with over 1,000 representatives from the 18 major indigenous tribes of Mindanao and the 13 ethno-linguistic Moro, is a remarkable step towards sustainable peace in Mindanao; One that deserves recognition from the wider international community.

The ceremony comes at a critical time for the Philippines.  The Aquino administration, engaged in ongoing peace-talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest armed insurgency in Mindanao, find themselves on the cusp of a signed peace agreement that recognizes a Bangsamoro Sub-State and autonomy within the region. Similar negotiations have failed in the past due, in part, to the animosity between the Indigenous and the Moro tribes.

But today, we are witnessing for the first time in over 400 years the re-joining of these tribes, who have chosen to lay down their arms and unite as kin, upholding a traditional peace pact that their ancestors made centuries ago. They are preparing the way, not only for a signed agreement between the GPH and the MILF, but also for sustainable peace in Mindanao. “We must reaffirm our kinship, which has not been nurtured in the past. We have seen the cracks in the past between our tribes,” explains Attorney Raissa Jajurie, one of the only female consultants to the MILF peace panel, “Today, we want to see equality and mutual respect. It is time to heal the wounds of our past.”

One by one, the elders come forward to retell the history of their tribe and reaffirm their shared ancestry with all of the tribes of Mindanao. Each one signs their name to a new covenant of kinship, based on the ancient history of their ancestors. The covenant upholds the 5 pillars of kinship: co-operation, mutual sharing of information, mutual respect and recognition, mutual protection of life and mutual obligation to help the needy. “This is not just a ritual, but a call to action,” Datu (Chief) Antonio Kinoc, a member of the MILF peace panel remarks as the ceremony comes to an end.

The hope for peace is palpable and for the first time seems to be within reach of those present today. “This event confirms the support of the individual tribes for the peace process and is a key factor in stabilizing the region. Without stability, peace cannot move forward.” The words of, Walee Roslie, a member of the International Monitoring Team, remind us of the importance of this ceremony and the continued need for stability in the region. Though the ceremony marks a historic step towards peace, the road to peace is long and relationships are still fragile.

This new union, between the historically marginalized tribes of the Moro and the Lumad (indigenous) requires support and recognition, not only from the people of the Philippines, but also from the wider international community. We, too, can play a role in promoting lasting peace in the Philippines, by acknowledging the courageous work of the people of Mindanao to bring lasting peace to their country. In the words of Sister Arnold Maria Noel, “We have the responsibility to tell this story, to spread this story to the international community. We must allow the truth to come forward.”

Drinking from the Pool of Talaandig Wisdom

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 On February 10, we had the honor of visiting the Talaandig tribe in Bukidnon, Philippines, where we spent several days learning about Talaandig traditions, spirituality and indigenous practices of peacebuilding. The Talaandig consider themselves the “Guardians of the Mountain” (Jeremy Simons with Datu Migketay Victorino “Vic” Saway. Guardians of the Sacred Oil and Comb). 

“Go to the forest,” Datu Vic advises, “Listen to the Creator. Everything starts there.” And so, nestled among the mountains of Bukidnon, surrounded by the “leaping greenly spirits” of the pine & palm, we began our conversation with Datu Vic.

In recent years the Talaandig have started to vigorously re/claim their traditions, spirituality and land. Datu Vic explained that while studying cultural Anthropology and the religions and traditions of indigenous groups worldwide, he kept asking himself: Who am I?  From Where do I Come? His journey towards self re/invigorated his desire to re/member, sustain and continue the deep spirituality and traditions of his Talaandig tribe, in the midst of the ever-growing pressures to conform to conventional society.

For decades, the Talaandig’s way has been threatened: by the fighting factions and ongoing war in Mindanao, by multi-national corporations and by colonization and globalization. In an effort to confront these outside influences – and maintain connection to their ancestors, their land, their spiritual leaders and their traditions – they have begun the School for Living Tradition, educating their children in the Talaandig way.

They want to re/member with their children.

As Datu Vic says, the children must “drink from the pool of the ancestors –of the living, of the dead, of the spiritual world” – so that they can carry the Talaandig into the future. They must understand the past – all of the challenges the Talaandig have overcome – so that they, too, can become guardians of the mountain.

For the Talaandig, Creation began with 3 gods who came together at the Bublusan Balugtu, or the “sitting place of the rainbow.” The first was a 10-headed god, called Gumagang-aw, some heads were crying, some shouting, some arguing. They were loud. They were emotional. Gumagang-aw was the “forbidden god.” But Gumagang-aw was not evil. In fact, Gumagang-aw held the soil for creating.

The second god, Magbabaya, was “the god of creation.” Magbabaya held the power of life.

The third god, Agtayabun Migbaya, was the “god of peace.” And it was on Agtayabun Migbaya’s outstretched wings that Magbabaya and Gumagang-aw lived. Only Agtayabun Migbaya’s wings were expansive enough to hold in balance the two gods: Love and Anger, balanced together; Despair and Joy, balanced together; Life and Emotion, balanced together; And there they rested, in perfect harmony, on the wings of peace at the “sitting place of the rainbow.”

In order to create life, Magbabaya and Gumagang-aw needed one another. Creation was not possible with only one. Both forces are at work in the spirits and in the people. They relied on Agtayabun Migbaya, the god of peace, to create a peace pact for Creation.

For the Talaandig, Creation began with a peace process. From this peace pact, the gods breathed life into the natural world and eventually the four tribes of Mindanao emerged, the Talaandig, maguindanao, Maranao and Manobo.

The Talaandig ancestor, Apu Saulana, was given the role as peacekeeper. Saulana held the sacred jar of oil and comb, which he used to comb out the tangled hair of conflicts between clans.

The Talaandig have a lived-experience of metaphor, which lies at the core of community healing and reconciliation. These metaphors are employed through traditional rituals and practices. Blood corresponds to water, flesh to land, voice to the words of life, bones to trees, breath to air, body heat to fire, the soul relates to the creator. All elements of earth that give life are found in the body (Jeremy Simons with Datu Migketay Victorino “Vic” Saway. Guardians of the Sacred Oil and Comb). These elements are brought into the ritual sacrifices, in communion with one another and the spiritual world, to cultivate healing and reconciliation.

The metaphors are not just symbols, they are alive in the Talaandig traditions, alive through the communion with their ancestors. As Datu Vic says, “The spirits are the true custodians of land.”

When we arrived to talk peace, the Elders, Mothers for Peace along with Datu Vic and his wife, prepared the sacrifice of chicken, inviting water (blood), flesh (land), voice (life), bones (trees) to our communion. We communed together, inviting all the ancestors and spirits into our sharing, so that our conversations held the fullness of the natural and spiritual world, intertwined together.

For me, the most beautiful aspect of Talaandig spirituality lies in their ability to transcend dichotomies. Physical/Spiritual. Metaphorical/Experiential. Life/Death. Good/Bad. For the Talaandig there are no dichotomies, only different realities simultaneously occurring and interacting in the fullness of the world. In fact, We need both realities — “Bad does not mean evil, there is a time for the bad as well – there are times when anger and despair are needed, like when we must confront and acknowledge injustices.” It is only when both the 10-headed god and the god of creation are imbalanced that we experience conflict, only when they fall off the wings of peace that we witness violence and disorder. Peace is not found in the absence of Conflict, but in the balance of these seemingly contradicting realities.

On March 7, more than 1,000 people will gather at the Talaandig Hall of Peace to perform a re/affirmation of kinship pact between all of the indigenous tribes of Mindanao, including the Bangsamoro (Muslim) tribes. We will have the privilege to witness the Talaandig tribe invoke, once more, the sacred oil and the comb: working through the knots of conflict that have persisted between the tribes of Mindanao for decades. The tribes will once again re/turn to the forest. listen to the creator. And ask themselves: Who are we? Where do we come from? 

And together, we will journey once again towards the sitting place of the rainbow, in search of the rest and healing found on Agtayabun Migbaya’s wings of peace.

Jeepney 101: 17 Steps to Mastering the Jeepney

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  1. Prior to riding a jeepney, you must completely memorize a map of the city, using major landmarks and malls, not street names, as your orientation.
  2. When deciding which Jeepney to ride, bring binoculars so that you can read the fine print posted in the front window of the Jeepney. Do not be thrown off if the landmark’s name is shortened. For example if you want to go to a restaurant that is en route to Gaisano Mall, find the small placard that says “Gmall.”
  3. Before getting on a Jeepney, make sure you have small bills or coins (no larger than 50 pesos=$1.00).  If you do not have small bills, find something to buy from the sari-sari cornerstore in order to make small bills. This is critical preparation for riding the jeepney. Jeepney drivers refuse to carry change.
  4. If it is between 7 and 9 in the morning or 5 and 7 in the evening, be prepared to push, shove and run to catch your Jeepney, beating as many people out of the ride as possible. No holds barred. Note that leaving the house at 8:30 and leaving the house at 9am result in the exact same arrival time to your final destination.
  5. When you finally find the right Jeepney, discretely hold the number of seats needed for your party out to the driver (like a catcher would do with a pitcher in baseball) as if speaking a secret code. *Please note* “seat” in Jeepney terms is defined as ¼ of a Filipino butt cheek, which is approximately 1/8 of an American butt cheek.
  6. *translation note* If the driver raises his eyebrows, he is welcoming you onto his treasured jeepney.
  7. When entering the Jeepney, fold your body in half, while squeezing 1/8 of your butt cheek onto your designated seat. Hold on tight to the rail above you for added support. Raise your eyebrows to say hello to your fellow jeepney riders. Begin the obligatory morning texting to fit in with your fellow jeepney riders.
  8. Remove all precious possessions from your pockets, as they will fall out due to the fact that your legs have been squeezed in and raised to eye level.
  9. Even if you have your fee (8 pesos=10 cents) ready, resist paying immediately. That will make you look like a pushy, harried, on-time foreigner. At all costs, you must not look like you are timely.
  10. Do not pay when you get off, as this will hold the Jeepney up for an extra 2 minutes. Instead, wait for the perfect moment to pay, allowing just enough time to look casual, while also giving yourself enough time to receive change before your stop.
  11. Yell “bayad” (payment) and pass your money two people in front of you. When they do not take your money, yell “bayad” once more, while jiggling your change. If they still do not respond, shove your money in front of their cell phones to distract them from their 1000th text message of the morning. *translation note* If the driver makes eye contact with you in the mirror and raises his eyebrows, he is asking “how many people are in our party and where you are going.”
  12. Like your filipino counterparts, you should consider bringing a handkerchief to protect your orifices from the black exhaust emitted by morning traffic. Despite using a handkerchief, do not be alarmed when all of your boogers the next morning are black.
  13. Whatever you do, do not move to the left (away from the  jeepney exit) when someone new enters the Jeepney. If you must move, move to the right, forcing the new Jeepney rider to crawl over you. Do not make exceptions for old people or mothers with babies, this will make you look like a foreigner and a schmuck.
  14. To stop the Jeepney yell “lugar lang.” You may also make a kissing noise with your  lips (sucking in air) or tap a coin on the metal roof. Or, for best results, do all three at the same time.
  15. Even if someone exits the Jeepney a mere 15 feet from your destination, do not get off. Getting off early will make you look like a foreigner and schmuck and will require you to walk 10 extra steps in the glaring heat.
  16. Do not wait too long to get off the  Jeepney, as you risk flying past your destination. This will make you look like a foreigner and schmuck and will require you to walk the glaring heat.
  17. To exit the Jeepney, once again fold your body in half, while simultaneously sliding your backpack on your shoulder and hop off as quickly as possible. Do not be alarmed if the Jeepney starts moving again while you jump off.
  18. Wait for the next Jeepney to take you to your final destination. Repeat steps 1-17.

“more fun in the philippines”

The department of tourism has recently announced a new campaign to attract tourists to the Philippines. The tagline: More Fun in the Philippines. The tagline might be lost on people who have never been to the Philippines or who do not know many Filipinos. The spirit of  joy in the Philippines is unmatched anywhere else in the world. A blanket claim, we know, and since we have not spent extensive amounts of time in every part of the world, it is also completely unfounded. But we stand by it! We have compiled just a sampling of why we agree with the Department of Tourism that it really is “more fun in the philippines”

  1. In-flight trivia and entertainment. On our flight from Singapore to the Philippines we knew we were making a cultural shift as soon as we stepped onto the plane. The in-flight entertainment is LIVE, and includes a trivia game with, yes you got it, real prizes! To top it off, everyone (despite age and class) is really really into the trivia game, working hard for the free Cebu-Pacific airlines tote. The trivia or in-flight LIVE entertainment is varied and sometimes includes karoake (yes, using the flight attendants announcement microphone). Whats more, this dance is incorporated into their safety demonstration! Buckle your seatbelts and turn up the beat, filipinos plan to get down if the plane goes down. And in response to a few criticisms, they added an all male crew dance.
  2. And the dancing doesn’t stop there…At the NCCC mall here, the staff stops what they are doing 4 times a day to perform a choreographed dance. And we mean everyone. This mall is 4 stories high. Watch and experience one of our daily encounters!
  3. You may remember a few years ago when a Filipino video went viral featuring Filipino prisoners dancing to “thriller” in one of the largest Cebu prisons. For a refresher, we highly recommend you watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KadX7lqgxpA&feature=fvsr and for a more recent production from the prisons of the Philippines, you can see the radio gaga dance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAVVVMcTShQ&feature=fvsr as well as jai ho: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTMUZ39UHgo&feature=related
  4. UNO? I mean, who likes the game uno, right? Unless you are still young and just learning it might be one of the most boring games on the face of the planet, next to go fish. But somehow, filipinos magically transform the game of UNO into an exhilarating and laugh-till-your-stomach-hurts card game.
  5. Videoke. It’s the national pastime in the Philippines, but it’s not about singing well, its just about joining in together and singing your guts out. Bad singing can be heard on every street corner, but somehow coupled with laughter and chatter it becomes a wonderful reminder of the palpable joy that surrounds us daily.
  6. Filipinos LAUGH at everything. They love to laugh. When there is crisis, they laugh. When there is celebration, they laugh. When there is loss, they still manage to laugh. When something is funny, they laugh. When something is kind-of-sort-of-could-have-been-funny-on-another-planet, they laugh (usually followed by shrieks and more laughing).
  7. Filipinos love LOVE. Cheesy, cheesy, cheesy love stories, love quotes, romantic comedies. February 1st marked, for most filipinos, the month of LOVE. Our facebook accounts have been loaded with so many love quotes, not to mention valentines-themed posters that adorn every street corner, we didn’t realize this much cheese could exist in one city. Of course, the philippines makes national news about this time every year because they hold the guiness world record for the most people kissing at the same time. Indeed, Lovapalooza has become an annual tradition. And the sap quotes know no boundary: Men, women, old, young, can be heard shrieking with joy and sharing a giggle in the name of love. Pass the cheese, please.
  8. Icebreakers. You haven’t experienced icebreakers until you have experienced Filipino icebreakers. Every training requires several breaks with very energetically delivered icebreakers (songs, dances, etc) without distinction of age, social class or “professionalism” the best are trainings with older pastors who joyfully participate in all of the icebreakers. Another “training” phenomenon in the Philippines are different “claps” or “pak-pak” (round of applause you clap in a circle, the “rainbow” clap, the “fireworks” clap and the “rodeo” clap are among the top “pak-paks” used here).
  9. Of course, for us landlocked beings, its more fun in the Philippines because of our proximity to pristine islands: scuba diving, tropical fruits, fresh fish, moist cake on every street corner, its really hard to beat. Not to mention the frequency with which filipinos eat. They love snacking! So peanuts, caramelized bananas, taho, ice cream, and all kinds of wonderful snacks abound in every corner of the city! We eat breakfast followed by merienda followed by lunch followed by merienda followed by dinner followed by merienda… And for filipinos, its not a meal unless you have rice, so “snacks or meriendas” here include full plates of spaghetti, tuna sandwiches, and the list goes on…
  10. People Power. Perhaps the most powerful example of Filipino joy is the People Power movement. The People Power Revolution (or EDSA revolution) of 1986 nonviolently overthrew one of the worst dicators in Filipino history. Nonviolent activism doesn’t encompass the movement’s approach. Filipinos literally toppled the dictatorship with flowers, dancing, music and gifts. Photos abound of filipinos showering the military soldiers with cigarettes and flowers. It was a movement fueled, not by anger or despair, but by hope and joy and remains an incredible symbol of the power that continues to reside within the people of this country. Exuberant. Joyful. Infectious. Laughter.
How is it possible to have an entire country full of over-the-top extraverts who have a natural proclivity towards joy & happiness? Where does this abundance of {sustained} joy come from? Is it something in the food (stinky-dried fish does not strike us as particularly joy-inducing). Is it in the air (not unless you find joy in exhaust fumes and burning leaves & trash). Regardless of the mysterious source of incredibly infectious joy remains a mystery, it is hard to deny that it truly is “more fun in the Philippines.”
We’d love to hear your own examples of why its more fun in the Philippines (or WITH filipinos)!

Typhoon Sendong

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 There is no way to write our first post without talking about the Typhoon that hit northern Mindanao 10 days before our arrival to Davao. Much of our work in the next 6 months will be focused on the rehabilitation of the areas affected by the region and we have felt, repeatedly, that we have come at just the right time to offer a few more helping hands in the mid and long-term healing process for northern Mindanao.

We apologize ahead of time if the background and details are a bit lengthy, but much of what we will be writing about in the coming months will be directly related to this post, so we though a bit of background on the flood and the causes of the flood as well as Peacebuilders approach to relief and healing would be helpful:

On December 17th Typhoon Sendong hit the northern coast of Mindanao, causing flash floods in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. Over 1,000 people died & more than 330,000 people were affected as a result of the flash flooding. There are still close to 50,000 displaced people in evacuation centers and make-shift tent cities.

Within hours of hearing about the Typhoon, Peacebuilders Community, Inc. began organizing and meeting to create a long-term relief strategy. Jeff and I arrived in time to accompany PBCI on their second direct relief operation and have now moved into “phase two,” preparing for mid and long-term strategies for the survivors of Typhoon Sendong.

Within our first week here in the Philippines, we have witnessed the incredible generosity and dedication of the Filipino people in response to this crisis. Though there has also been substantial international support, Filipinos have volunteered, donated, and contributed to the relief efforts in northern Mindanao in remarkable ways.

PBCI created 4 teams: direct relief, trauma healing, medical response & long-term strategic planning. The PBCI Relief Team served a total of 2,065 families. The Medical Team cared for a total of 906 patients. The trauma healing Intervention Team cared for a total of 460 traumatized children. Jeff accompanied the medical team, while I participated in long term strategic planning and coordination with a network of pastors in the region.

The flood is only an exacerbation of larger systemic and environmental issues in the Philippines, namely illegal logging. Illegal logging is inevitably connected to multi-national corporations, as well as ongoing conflict between these corporations and the New Peoples Army (one of the armed communist groups in the Philippines). Over the last several years, Peacebuilders has been working in one of the major logging areas, Bukidnon. Starting with the fairtrade coffee project (Coffee for Peace), they were able to build relationships with the people in Bukidnon and have now hired two teams of 3 people to work in strategic areas in order to address illegal logging as well as the ongoing conflict between the NPA and the multinational corporations by training and supporting Peace and Reconciliation teams within these strategic communities. The Coffee for Peace project of Peacebuilders also provides a concrete project, which encourages economic stability in the region, while also promoting sustainable agricultural practices (an alternative to illegal logging). The mudslide and flooding that caused the flash flooding in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro is directly related to the illegal logging in areas of Bukidnon. One of the more immediate and imaginative responses to the “killer logs” (named because many of the bodies were found under the logs) has been to retrieve and utilize them to rebuild homes for the survivors of the flood, being carried out by one of PBCIs partners, Ecoweb.

Since the causes of Sendong are multifaceted, Peacebuilders’ response is also multifaceted: working both at long-term solutions for illegal logging & peacebuilding while also providing direct support for relief and rehabilitation, restoration and reconciliation (potential conflict identification and management in the areas devastated by the flooding).

Jeff and I will be part of this multi-faceted approach to Sendong in our time here and the majority of what we will be doing will have a connection to the survivors of Sendong. To be part of an organization that recognizes the connection of environmental justice, peacebuilding, economic justice (fair trade) to Typhoon Sendong is incredibly inspiring and we are very energized to be a small part of these efforts. We are also very glad to dive headfirst into work here at Peacebuilders and are grateful for the ways we have been incorporated so quickly into the organization.

Although we have been here for several weeks, we just recently moved into an apartment (it was too busy and we were traveling before) and we are excited to settle here in the city (although Jeff leaves again for a medical response trip in two days). We’ll be posting more about our life here, the people we are working with, the foods & experiences we love and more stories of our work in the coming weeks and months.