By Romulo Vinci R. Bueza

In 2016, the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus formally adopted its new roadmap committing itself to a “more strategic, creative, collaborative, dialogical, and effective apostolic work for peace in Mindanao, and for its sustainable and inclusive development and, specifically, for communities in the peripheries or margins in Mindanao.” The Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU), as a Jesuit University already working with and in the peripheries of Southern Mindanao, welcomed this new direction of the Province as an acknowledgment of its own works in Mindanao and the confirmation of its own institutional Vision and Mission (VM) on the Province level.

The Ateneo de Davao University’s VM is strongly anchored on the university’s Mindanawon identity. It is first missioned to develop “communities of peace” especially as these may develop from “the promotion of faith that does justice,” “cultural sensitivity and transformation,” “inter-religious dialogue, especially with the Muslim and Lumad communities of Mindanao.” Second, as a response to Mindanao’s relatively severe poverty, ADDU is missioned to promote “the creation of wealth and its equitable distribution” especially in among the most vulnerable communities in Mindanao. Third, ADDU is missioned to engage “vigorously in environmental protection, the preservation of biodiversity, and the promotion of renewable energy” taking into consideration the vast natural wealth and wonders of Mindanao and Sulu. Finally, ADDU appropriates “the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola” and so “excels in the formation of leaders for the Philippine Church and society, especially for Mindanao”. This means that the areas on which the Philippine Jesuits are now directing their energies and resources are the habitual areas of concern of the ADDU from its own communally discerned self-understanding and mission.

Since the promulgation of the Roadmap in 2016, the ADDU has implemented and initiated several programs in support of the roadmap’s areas of engagement. Some of these are: the Madaris Volunteer Program, the Tboli Sbù Senior High School, the Salaām Youth Movement, the Mindanao Peace Games, the Bitiala sa Maguindanao, and works in Islamic Microfinance.

Students from the partner schools of the Madaris Volunteer Program huddle during one of their sessions in the Compassionate Leadership Training conducted 17-21 September 2017 at Eden Nature Park and Resort.

Madaris Volunteer Program

The Madaris Volunteer Program (MVP) is a collaborative initiative of the Ateneo de Davao University with the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) for the promotion of inter- and intra-faith dialogue through immersion. It is implemented in strategic partnership with the National Association of Bangsamoro Education Inc. (NABEi) and the Regional Government of ARMM.

Currently, the program has 12 partner madaris (Islamic schools, pl. of madrasa) in Cotabato City, Lamitan City, and Maguindanao province catering to students from underprivileged communities. Madaris are schools that teach Arabic Language, Qur’an, and Islamic Values. The program specifically partners with private “Pilot Madaris” which are privately-run schools that teach both traditional Madaris curriculum and Department of Education (DepEd) curriculum. Its motto, “Peacebuilding Through Education,” resonates with the Philippine Province’s commitment to channel effective apostolic work for sustainable and inclusive peace in Mindanao specifically in the Bangsamoro.

As a volunteer service program, it is dedicated to an active “apostolate of presence”. Madaris Volunteers act as teachers in selected pilot madaris in the Bangsamoro. They teach DepEd-mandated subjects and share their personal experience of Muslim homes and communities in the Philippines to promote and increase insight into, understanding of, and solidarity with Filipino Muslim individuals, families and communities.

Since its inauguration in 2015, there have been 29 Madaris Volunteers from various universities in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. It is also interesting to note that Madaris Volunteers come from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds which greatly enriches the intercultural and interreligious dialogue with their host families and communities. Currently, there are ten deployed Madaris Volunteers in Talayan, Datu Paglas, Guindulungan, Sultan Kudarat, Datu Piang, Lamitan City, and Cotabato City.

In line with its mission to assist in improving the quality of education in the Bangsamoro, the Madaris Volunteer Program also spearheads capability enhancement training for its partner madaris. The program facilitates training, seminars, and workshops necessitated by the current collective and individual needs of partner madaris. These capability enhancement trainings aim to empower partner madaris in their capability to facilitate learning, to design strategies for their schools, and to administer their learning institutions. They are facilitated in partnership with various offices and organizations of the Ateneo de Davao University as well as other CEAP-member schools.

On January 12 to 17, 2017, a third-party consultant evaluated seven selected partner schools of the Madaris Volunteer Program (MVP). Results of the assessment showed that the Madaris Volunteer Program was able to achieve its objectives according to its motto of “Peacebuilding through Education” and was able to create new channels for inter-religious dialogue between Bangsamoro and Catholic schools. Specifically, themes identified were that the MVP enhanced the reputation of partner madaris resulting in increased enrollees, upgraded the skills of administrators and faculty members, changed perspectives on Moro and non-Moro relations, and enabled fresh positive experiences for the pupils.

The first graduates of the Tboli Sbù Senior High School (TSSHS) pose for a photo during their graduation last 5 April 2017 at Barangay Lamdalag, Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. Thirty-six (36) Tboli students graduated from the school’s special senior high school program for Sustainable Community Resource Development. TSSHS is a collaborative initiative of Ateneo de Davao University and the Department of Education. Photo by Eanna Fernandez.

Tboli Sbù Senior High School

In 2013, then Secretary Br. Armin Luistro of the DepEd visited Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, to inaugurate the kindergarten school of the Lake Sebu Indigenous Women Weaver’s Association Inc. in Barangay Klubi. During that same visit, perhaps inspired by the overwhelming possibilities waiting to be realized in Lake Sebu, he asked Fr. Joel Tabora, president of the Ateneo de Davao University, to help in the development of a culturally appropriate and sensitive curriculum for Senior High School in Lake Sebu. It was envisioned to not just be a regular Senior High School, but a school co-owned by the community and animated by the culture, ideals, and values of the Tboli people.

In this public-private partnership for education, the Ateneo de Davao University facilitated the community preparations and all other processes involving the Tboli communities. It has also taken the lead in the development of the curriculum and provided technical assistance in the implementation of the program. The Department of Education, on the other hand, provided all of the program’s administrative, structural, and logistical needs. After about two years of constant dialogue with all the stakeholders, the Tboli Sbù Senior High School (TSSHS) was finally launched on May 19, 2015. The name Tboli Sbù was asserted by the community elders in order to give emphasis to their identity as Tbolis of Lake Sebu since there are also Tboli communities in the municipality of T’boli.

The TSSHS offers the course Sustainable Community Resource Management (SCRM) under the Technical-Vocational Track. It has two (2) specializations: SCRM – Livelihood Management & SCRM – Eco-Tourism. In the Livelihood Management program, students are taught the skills of Tnalak weaving, Loom Weaving & Embroidery, Brass casting, Woodcarving and Sustainable Crop Production with entrepreneurial and management skills. In the Eco-Tourism program, students are taught environmental conservation vis-a-vis sustainable tourism management and practices. These programs were conceptualized based on the community’s resources, cultural heritage, and aspirations.

The Tboli Sbù Senior High School (TSSHS) celebrated its first graduation ceremony on 5 April 2017 at its campus at barangay Lamdalag, Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. A total of thirty-six (36) Tboli students graduated from the school’s special senior high school program for Sustainable Community Resource Development. The graduates were also given National Certificates by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) during their graduation.

Salaām Youth Movement

The Salaam Youth Movement is a Mindanao-wide movement for peace, advanced under the auspices of the Al Qalam Institute for Islamic Identities and Dialogue in Southeast Asia (an institute of the ADDU). It aims to promote unity in diversity in the pursuit of sustainable and inclusive peace in Mindanao. On the one hand, the movement aims to help young Muslims come to such a deep understanding of their Islamic faith that they are challenged to live radically in Philippine society. (“Radically,” meaning deeply rooted in finding and doing the will of Allah.) On the other hand, it also reaffirms the mutual understanding, respect and in-depth acknowledgment of people from other faith traditions, which constitutes an important dimension of a culture of peace.

The Salaam Youth Movement is, in a sense, a kind of religious militancy but instead of extreme violence, the goal is toward “radical peace,” a jihad for God’s peace. The young peacebuilders of the movement aim to build upon the notion of “just peace” to develop a comprehensive approach to addressing the multiple forms of violence in Mindanao, seeking not only to counter the influence of violent religious extremists but ultimately to win the internal argument within each religious tradition.

Several leadership youth camps, dialogues, and fora have been conducted in different cities and provinces in Mindanao since the launching of the movement on 28 November 2016.  One of these major fora was conducted on 27 February 2017 in Xavier University where issues on countering violent extremism were discussed and a stronger commitment to peace and youth participation were expressed by the student participants. A 2-day Salaam Youth Camp, gathering a thousand students and out-of-school youth from the different universities, colleges, madaris, and high schools of Mindanao, is currently in the pipeline.

Bitiala sa Maguindanao

The Bitiala sa Maguindanao is a series of informal roundtable discussions conducted in the communities of Mindanao on pressing issues concerning the Islamic faith and the Muslim communities of the province. “Bitiala” is a Maguindanaon word which means “a conversation wherein several parties are sitting down, talking and listening to one another in order to find a common ground and to engage into something for the common good of the community.”

The series aims to provide space and forum to initiate conversations among Maguindanaon traditional leaders and young Moro intellectuals where they can openly share their perspectives and insights on how to engage in the Bangsamoro peace process and to enhance the culture of dialogue and cultural discourse in this part of Mindanao.

Since its first run in November 2015, it has gathered Muslim leaders and intellectuals to discuss pressing issues in the ummah (community).  The first ever bitiala was participated in by traditional leaders and NGOs/CSOs from Maguindanao to discuss the idea of defining/redefining the Bangsamoro identity. The lead discussant for the first bitiala was Prof. Alih Ayoub of the Ulama Council of the Philippines.  Early this year, the bitiala was graced by no less than Mufti Abu Hurairah Udasan to lead the discussion. Mufti Udasan is the Grand Mufti of the Bangsamoro (MILF areas). He discussed the “essence of Islam in peacebuilding”. Other topics discussed included: Reflections on the September 2, 2016 Davao City Bombing; The Amman Message on Intrafaith Dialogue; The Role of the Muslim Youth; and Reflections on the Marawi Siege.

Atty. Maria Rosalie Richa A.Taguian (SHFC Legal and VisMin Group Vice President ), Ma. Ana Oliveros (SHFC President ), Fr. Joel Tabora, S.J. (Ateneo de Davao University President ), Datu Mussolini S. Lidasan (Al Qalam Institute Executive Director), and participants pose for a photo during the Memorandum of Understanding signing between Ateneo de Davao University and Social Housing Finance Corporation (SHFC) last 20 February 2017. The Ateneo de Davao University and the Social Housing Finance Corporation have formalized its partnership to respond to the need for innovative and affordable housing solutions for the less fortunate Muslim communities. Photo by Aivy Rose Villarba.

Initiatives in Islamic Finance

The Al Qalam Institute of ADDU is also engaged in research and implementation of various Islamic financing models to help partner communities create Sharia-based business models and mechanisms for socio-cultural development. These initiatives include: research and development of Islamic business financing; creation of Sharia-based Islamic Finance with partner communities; creation of a Sharia-board in communities; and halal business promotion with the Department of Trade and Industry. It has also completed an action-research on creating workable social enterprises that focuses on peace-building in Mindanao and incorporating Sharia principles on financial transactions.

One of the initiatives of the Al Qalam Institute on Islamic Finance is a partnership with the Social Housing Finance Corporation (SHFC) and Ateneo de Zamboanga University (ADZU) in developing a culturally-sensitive housing finance plan for Filipino Muslims in Zamboanga City. The recipients of the housing project are victims of the 2013 Zamboanga siege. Al Qalam Institute conducted the social preparation for the communities and prepared the Sharia-compliant engineering and design of the houses. Since Sharia-compliance does not only involve the Islamic architecture of the houses, Al Qalam Institute also designed a riba-free (or interest-free) financing plan that will fund the housing projects. As a symbol for the turnover of the Shariah-compliant financing plan, Php 10M worth of checks were awarded to homeowners last February 17, 2016, at Pampang, Zamboanga City.

Mindanao Peace Games

One of the exciting suggestions that became part of the Jesuit Roadmap was the idea of using sports in Mindanao to promote peace. It was an idea as old as the Olympics: the idea that warring nations could cease their hostilities to allow peoples of diverse origins to come together in sports competition. The Mindanao Peace Games (MPG) was created to promote inter-university, inter-religious, inter-cultural, and inter-personal contact through sports — a sports organization in Mindanao that would promote personal interaction and friendships for life, encouraging dialogue towards a shared common good in Mindanao.

The first MPG was launched at Xavier University with 400 delegates from 13 teams in High School and College. It was participated in by Ateneo de Davao University (Davao), Fr. Saturnino Urios University (Butuan), Mindanao State University (Marawi), Holy Trinity College (General Santos), Holy Cross of Davao College (Davao), Ateneo de Zamboanga University (Zamboanga), Xavier University (Cagayan de Oro), La Salle University (Ozamis), St. Joseph Institute of Technology (Butuan), St. Theresa College (Tandag), St. Vincent College (Dipolog), Assumption College of Davao, and Philippine Women’s College (Davao). In its second year, two new schools joined – the Muslim school of Datu Ibrahim Paglas Memorial College (Datu Paglas, Maguindanao), and the Sebucal Integrated School (a Lumadschool in Oroquieta).

The 3rd Peace Games was conducted in Davao City from 24 to 28 October 2017 gathering close to 600 athletes and coaches from the 14 member schools of the MPG.

A Social Project in Southern Mindanao

The Ateneo de Davao University seeks to be a true social project – a university working “to insert itself into a society, not just to train professionals, but in order to become a cultural force advocating and promoting truth, virtue, development, and peace in that society” (Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, 2010 Jesuit Higher Education Summit). It is with that idea in mind that it pursues these programs and initiatives ultimately toward a Mindanao blessed by durable peace.  With God’s grace, it is ADDU’s hope that its contributions to the Roadmap may help to transition from yesterday’s injustice, war, and poverty to tomorrow’s justice, peace, and prosperity – not only in Mindanao and Sulu but in the entire Philippines.