Philippines makes peace through technology

Muslim separatist rebels in Philippines


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Some countries have used digital technology as a means to bring about revolution. In the Philippines they are using new technologies to end it.

More than 6,000 young Filipino Muslims and Christians from opposing sides of a 40-year conflict are to come together in a mass videoconference on Wednesday, some in Manila and others in Iligan City 500 miles away, in an attempt to start treating their adversaries as real people rather than faceless stereotypes.

Personal experiences will be shared by three victims of the conflict – a Muslim, a Christian and an indigenous Filipino. A negotiator from the government and one from the Mindanao Islamic Liberation Front will also speak about a tentative peace deal that could end decades of strife and create a new autonomous region in the Philippines.

“This bridging of the public happens in strategic areas at a strategic time,” says Zabra Siwa, a 26-year old Muslim whose province has endured some of the fiercest fighting, which has led to the deaths of 120,000 people.

Siwa works for PeaceTech, the organisation that introduced the concept of mass videoconferencing for peace-building and education in Asia in 2006 and, is staging this tech dialogue.

Gathering in two large gymnasiums in Iligan City (Mindanao) and Manila and interacting through cinema-sized screens, young people directly participate through question-and-answer sessions, interactive activities and singing en masse.

The Mindanao Islamic Liberation Front negotiator, Dr Robert Alonto, said: “The presence alone of both sides of the panel sends a good message that at last here are two erstwhile adversaries coming together and telling people how a conflict we have had for generations has been resolved through peaceful negotiations.”

According to Ayana Maranda, a 17-year-old Muslim, the four-hour videoconference “bridges the gap between Mindanao and Manila. It does not only connect us with other people, but through it see the differences, which will change their perception.

“It is like a two-way process where they will open up and say what are their perceptions of Muslims and we will be able to share our perceptions of Christians … so they don’t just hear that there is war.”

PeaceTech founder Robin Pettyfer, whose father was a British officer and mother a prisoner of war, explained: “I am conscious that today’s young generation has an opportunity and responsibility to use the internet to come together in ways that all previous generations could never do – to learn that we just might have more in common than what we have always been told.” His aim is to expand PeaceTech in Asean countries and then the Middle East.

December 3, 2011
Photograph: Mark Navales/AFP/Getty Images
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