Friday, April 17, 2009

Philippine NGO to host Asia- Europe inter-faith retreat and dialogue

DAVAO CITY, Philippines - Amid fresh European Union (EU) offer of increased support for the peace process Mindanao, Asian and European inter-faith experts and practitioners will hold a retreat in Davao City next week and will interact with Bishop-Ulama Conference (BUC) leaders in a bid to enrich ongoing peacebuilding and conflict prevention efforts here.

Dubbed “Talks on the Hill: The Future of the Dialogue of Cultures and Civilizations”, the dialogue will be hosted by the Davao-based regional advocacy institution, Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID).

The retreat is an ongoing project organized by the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), a long-time IID partner. The dialogue aims to involve Asians and Europeans of different faiths and convictions from a wide range of public and civil society sectors. Organizers chose Mindanao as a venue citing its significance in the upholding of continuous dialogues and conflict-prevention among communities of differing cultural and religious values.

Participants include Moro woman leader Amina Rasul- Bernardo, who once served as the Presidential Adviser on Youth Affairs during the term of former President Fidel Ramos and who was also first chair of the National Youth Commission. Rasul- Bernardo is presently the lead convener of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy. She will be joined by human rights and peace advocate Gus Miclat, IID executive director, the event's host, and some 20 participants coming from all over Europe and Asia.

“Religion is, and will continue to be, a powerful element in the tensions and polarisation between and within societies. It is therefore essential to include both religious and non-religious actors in dialogue efforts to bring about mutual understanding towards the mitigation or reconciliation of conflicts,” Miclat said.

ASEF's interest to initiate such a discourse is a response to the call for increased dialogue and cooperation among the cultures and civilizations of Asia and Europe. The program was designed to provide a neutral venue for open and non-confrontational discussion, and to counterbalance the misconceptions and cultural contradictions highlighted in the public by facilitating meaningful and resonating exchanges.

IID has been in the forefront of advocating peace, self-determination and democracy issues in the region including those of Mindanao, East Timor and Burma. It is the lead secretariat of the Mindanao Peaceweavers (MPW), the broadest peace network in the island, and in 2001 established the Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC) which has led grassroots ceasefire monitoring and peace campaigns including support for the scuttled Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) agreement.

“The participants' impending interaction with the BUC leaders provides an opportunity to understand a little more the context of the conflict in Mindanao and the ongoing peace initiatives where the participation of grassroots and civil-society organizations are of utmost importance.

This event will also discuss the present involvement of the BUC in community consultations concerning the resumption of peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) after the MOA-AD debacle,” Miclat said.

Following the botched MOA-AD deal, IID organized a series of national forums that attempted to unravel the controversy. Last November, it launched a campaign for national and international understanding and solidarity called “Duyog Mindanao”.

Its opening salvo was a peace and solidarity caravan from Baguio to Cotabato City were Mindanao issues including perceived religious and faith concerns were tackled in the 10-day trip that stopped in key cities and towns in Luzon and Visayas. The MPC has meanwhile organized a massive “peace power” caravan last month that saw several thousand people greeting and supporting the convoy as it snaked its way from Davao to Cotabato.

IID likewise pursued its earlier call on the European Union to lend its political clout on the peace process in Mindanao. In a dialogue between an EU delegation and civil society groups in Cotabato City last December, IID, together with other groups reiterated their call on the EU to help facilitate the peace process in Mindanao and join the International Monitoring Team (IMT) apart from continuing its humanitarian aid to the island. IID partners in Brussels have also lobbied the same at the EU headquarters.

The EU meanwhile issued last week a resolution saying it is willing to help facilitate the peace process if it is requested and to also support the IMT. The EU had also earlier announced that it will provide generous grants to peacebuilding initiatives of the MPC and two international NGOs working in the island.

This will be the 14th time that a Talks on the Hill will be held. Since 2003, ASEF has organized 13 of this kind of intensive dialogue retreats. The activities have engaged diverse participants and audiences on issues of cross-cultural significance, ranging from the tension between press freedom and religious freedom, to the management of emotional and at times violent public responses to external conflicts. ASEF has exclusively chosen the select participants.

Among the topics to be discussed are: role of the media; religion, migration and multiculturalism, the global response to economic crises, contestations between religion and human rights, gender and religion, religion and ecology.(Angging Aban)

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