The Filipino Peacebuilders of Butig

Published: Aug 19, 2021 Reading time: 5 minutes
Alinaid Panolong Macatbar, a teacher and member of the Butig Youth Movement for Peace, advocates for youth empowerment and the promotion of Butig as a peaceful tourism destination.
© PIN Archive

In 2016, two fierce battles between pro-ISIS militants and the Government of the Philippines left the small town of Butig in ruins. Due to the intensity and frequency of the attacks by the Maute, a local terrorist group, Lanao del Sur Province gained a reputation as the centre of violent extremism in the country . According to the Philippines Statistics Authority (PSA), Butig is a sixth-class municipality. Between 2016 and 2017, the town was among the 10-poorest municipalities in the country. Residents – mainly women, children, the elderly, and the sick – were forced to flee their homes for the safety of neighbouring towns.

Misbah Zacaria, a community organiser for UNYPAD-RANAO, began walking long distances to escape armed conflict in Butig when he was a young boy. 

“There was always conflict or violence right outside our door,” Zacaria says.

“We were called the 'multi-displaced people,' because we evacuated Butig to go to Marawi during the Butig Siege, and then during the Marawi Siege we were transferred back to Butig. We felt as if our address was never permanent because conflict was always raging between the government and rebel groups in our area.”

Fortunately, today, Butig is making a recovery, empowered by the very people who once fled.

To hone his skills in community organising, Zacaria joined the peace communicator programme as part of People in Need’s (PIN) “Empowered Youth for Mutual Understanding, Respect and Increased Tolerance” project, funded by the European Union through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) programme, and implemented by People in Need Slovakia, People in Need Philippines, People in Need Myanmar, and national partner Pailig Development Foundation, Inc.

With the aim of advocating for peace amongst the area’s young people, Zacaria learned the nuances of conflict-sensitivity, and how to address hard-to-reach audiences. Together with other young people, Zacaria also helped to organise the Butig Youth Movement for Peace (BYMP) to inspire his peers to take action towards preventing future violence. Saddened by the fact that the people of Butig had grown accustomed to frequent violence, Zacaria and other young advocates wanted to help ensure a better future for their generation. BYMP leads joint community peacebuilding activities with other local youth groups, enhancing camaraderie, building mutual respect, and boosting their self-confidence. The members write about their activities on social media to inspire other young people from rural areas to develop their own peacebuilding activities. 

“It is because of the ongoing violence that we, the youth, were moved to create an organisation against activities that disrupt the peace and security of our home,” says Zacaria. “We founded the BYMP for those who are determined to protect their futures and retain peace in their communities.”

Everyone who comes here really appreciates our hospitality

BYMP member Alinaid Panolong Macatbar, 30, is a teacher who seeks to empower the youth and promote Butig as a peaceful tourism destination. “For those who have never been here, there is always discrimination and stereotyping,” he laments. “Many people believe that Butig is the home of terrorists and mean people. What I would say to others is that they shouldn’t judge. Nobody knows what the story of Butig is yet. Everyone who comes here really appreciates our hospitality and our environment.”

He describes the different tourist spots he promotes, many of which have yet to be discovered by the general public. He believes that public awareness raising campaigns can serve to advocate for the youth and promote the area’s tourism appeals. 

On social media, we can easily identify fake news

Asiah Panolong Camar, 25, talks about the power of public communication: “Social media is important because it can help with people who are judgmental. On social media, we can easily identify fake news.” Camar noticed that during the war, many people her age and younger were forced to discontinue their education. Through BYMP, she believes that these former students are given a platform where they can express themselves. Beyond correcting misconceptions, BYMP also engages in youth empowerment projects to help out-of-school young people who cannot support themselves.

Duck Farm

Recently, Zacaria and other BYMP members started a project to raise ducks. Many community members as well as local tourists prefer duck to chicken, thus the project has the potential to become an income generator.

 Supported by PIN Philippines under its sub-grants project implementation component, the BYMP is determined to use this project to improve the lives of young people in Butig.The goal is for this initiative to provide out-of-school members of the organisation with their own sources of income, as well as to help sustain the organisation’s peacebuilding activities.BYMP does not have access to a steady source of income, but by February 2022, the organisation expects to sell at least 10 live ducks at a price of between PhP 700 (approximately 12 EUR) and PhP 1000 (approximately 17 EUR) each, helping to support their activities. 

"If I were to say something to people outside Butig, it would be that 'to see is to believe,'” says Zacaria

"There are so many negative stereotypes about Butig being a place of armed rebel groups. That’s wrong. Maybe this was true in previous years, but now it is very calm and peaceful, and it is clear that the locals are determined to keep the peace." He hopes that through both social and mainstream media , he can change this negative perception of his home and rehabilitate the image of Butig. It is his dream to help others see it as the home of people who denounce violence, and are determined to build a more secure future for the next generations.

Autor: People in Need Philippines

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