The war between Ukraine and Russia killed over 3,000 people and is lasting nearly 4 months since the day the war broke out. There are no signs of ending the shootings in parts of the world. While coping with the new normal, the international community faces new concerns over the risk of armed conflict increasing in various places including their own country. The world has put much effort into resolving conflict and establishing peace, but after the end of the Cold War, ethnic and religious identities bound by ideology emerged as a source of conflict. The emergence of a new conflict structure requires a new approach to problem-solving.
In this reality, the achievements of the international peace organization Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL), at the private level present a ‘new model of peace’ to the global community. Chairman Lee Man-hee of HWPL is a Korean War veteran who experienced the horrors of the war, discharged from his military service because of a gunshot wound. He is a peace activist who works to achieve the common goal of cessation of war and world peace. His representative achievement in leading the HWPL was his contribution to peace in Mindanao.
Mindanao was the site of the largest armed conflict in Southeast Asia. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has been based in Mindanao, was the largest armed force in Southeast Asia as well as the Philippines. In the 2010s, the Philippine government declared an all-out war with the MILF, which resulted in over 120,000 casualties. The Mindanao conflict clearly shows the problem of the international community: the spread of conflict based on ethnic and religious identities that emerged in the 21st century. After much bloodshed, the Philippine government and the MILF signed a Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) in October 2012 due to the intervention of the international community, recognizing Muslim autonomy in Mindanao.
However, the deep-rooted conflict between Islam and Catholicism did not end even after the agreement. Then, in September 2013, Antonio Ledesma, former Catholic Archbishop of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro, requested Chairman Lee to mediate the settlement of the Mindanao conflict. Chairman Lee responded to visit Mindanao which was then still tense due to armed conflicts.
On January 24, 2014, a Peace Walk was held at General Santos City attended by more than 1,000 people including students from Mindanao State University and members of the International Peace Youth Group. After the Peace Walk, Chairman Lee called to stop any acts that might encourage conflict in the name of religion and stressed that “The will of the creator is not war, but peace.” He asked the attendees, “Do you want peace or war? If you want peace, please raise your hands.” Seeing everyone with raised hands, Chairman Lee asked Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla and then Governor Esmael Mangudadatu to sign a peace agreement.
Succeedingly, the government and MILF agreed on the final annex of the Preliminary Peace Agreement on January 25, 2014. The agreement is to recognize Muslim autonomy and gradually disarm the MILF. It is considered the biggest progress in the 18-year negotiation process between the two sides. In May of that year, the Philippines began to enter the Bangsamoro Basic Law into the legislative process, and the civil war of Mindanao was over when then President Rodrigo Duterte finally signed this Law last August 2018.
In line with this, efforts initiated by the civil society including the civil peace agreement arbitrated by HWPL have been developed to establish peace in Mindanao. Starting in the education sector, HWPL signed MOUs with 70 educational institutions in February 2016 to implement peace education. In 2018, HWPL signed an MOA with the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), resulting to 2,551 teachers from 557 educational institutions being capacitated to teach peace education to up to 23,000 students in the country.
In addition, HWPL continues a campaign to raise awareness of peace through establishing symbolic markers in former conflict areas. On May 25, 2015, during the “2nd Anniversary of Peace Walk in Commemoration of the Declaration of World Peace” in Buluan, Maguindanao, the first peace monument was erected in front of the governor’s office.
In the following year, on January 24, the second peace monument was unveiled in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat to commemorate the second anniversary of the Civil Peace Agreement.
“We see that we have a compatible objective of establishing peace, so when he (Chairman Lee) visited us in January 24 in our camp, we declared the day as ‘Peace Day’ and then, we agreed to erect a peace monument in our camp. This is to symbolize our cooperation in working for world peace. So we also want that, not only in the Bangsamoro but there will be peace in the entire world,” said Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim, Al Haj of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
On the same day, Chief Minister Ebrahim gifted Chairman Lee with a sickle as a sign that he would make such one by melting weapons. “The camps will be turned into productive communities. Our combatants will focus on earning their own livelihood, living in the camp peacefully. We will be establishing also the monument of peace in our other camps when this is implemented,” he expressed his desire for an end to the war in Mindanao.
A few years later, his wish became a reality when the third HWPL Peace Monument was erected on July 19, 2021, in Cotabato City. The map in the monument was made of weapons decommissioned by former MILF combatants.
Regarding future activities in Mindanao, John Rommel Garces, Chief Branch Manager of HWPL Philippines, said, “The core value of the Mindanao Peace Agreement is an approach of ‘citizen-centered awareness improvement and action’ for peace. According to this approach, HWPL will carry out peace projects based on civil society such as education, religion, youth and women.”
“In 2022, we will focus on the establishment of additional peace monuments in Mindanao as well as various locations in the Philippines, the realization of autonomy in BARMM and the promotion of cooperative projects for peacebuilding, establishment of the HWPL Interfaith Religious Peace Office in Davao City and other places in Mindanao, and hosting active regular meetings,” he added.
Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL) is an international peace organization established for the cessation of war in the global village and for world peace. HWPL is a non-governmental organization registered with the UN Department of Global Communications (DGC) and the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) as a special consultative status organization and registered in Seoul, South Korea.
Learn more: https://www.hwpl.kr/language/en/about-hwpl-_en/