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SPEECH: The antidote to war is good governance 

(Vice President Sara Duterte’s keynote address at the Kusog Mindanaw conference at the Waterfront Insular Hotel in Davao City on 11 November 2022). 

Ladies and gentlemen, Assalamualaikum! Madayaw ug maayong buntag kaninyong tanan. Magandang araw po sa inyong lahat. 

First off, I’d like to thank you for your invitation for me to join you in this opening program and I am truly honored, I am happy to be with all of you here this morning. I am truly honored to stand beside you, here this morning.

Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte addresses the Kusog Mindanao Conference 2022 at the Waterfront Insular Hotel in Davao City on 11 November 2022. MindaNews photo by GREGORIO C. BUENO

Congratulations and daghang salamat to Kusog Mindanaw for spearheading this gathering of peace advocates, former combatants, government officials, private organizations, grassroots representatives, and civil society groups and international organizations supportive of the Mindanao Agenda.

Over the years, Kusog Mindanaw and its partners provided the country and the international community with a platform to look at Mindanao from the perspective of the Mindanawons, highlighting the struggle for recognition of the Moro and Lumad rights over their lands and territories, the longing for peace and the end of wars, or the dream of experiencing meaningful development and progress.

I know that many of you here have advocated for the end of the Moro rebellion all your lives — working tirelessly, and fearlessly with leaders of the Moro groups, leaders and members of your communities, grassroots organizations, and other peace advocacy groups and institutions, and the so-called “Peace Doves.”

Peace Doves, I was told, were top government officials, maybe members of the cabinet, or ranking military officials, who were supportive of the calls for the end of war.

And there were War Hawks — also top government officials, maybe members of the cabinet, or ranking military officials, who were exactly the opposite of Peace Doves. 

Some of you here may have witnessed the signing of the peace agreement between the Moro National Liberation Front and the Philippine government under the leadership of the late President Fidel Ramos in 1996.

And some of you have also been there when the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro was signed between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Philippine government under the leadership of the late President Benigno Aquino Jr. in 2014.

Both presidents are no longer with us, but I believe that some of those who worked with their Peace Doves continue the Mindanao peace advocacy works even today. 

Mindanao had been considerably quiet for quite a time now. 

After the signing of the peace agreement between the MILF and the Philippine government in 2014, there have been no major wars in Mindanao.

During the time of President Rodrigo Duterte, with the exemption of the foiled siege of Marawi City by supporters of a notorious international terror group, Mindanao has been relatively silent. 

The incidents of kidnapping by Abu Sayyaf Groups under President Duterte was zero.

While we had to deal with radicalized groups behind terror attacks in Mindanao, including the bomb attack that killed civilians in Davao City (on) September 2, 2016…and the intensified military campaign against the New People’s Army, practically, we have seen zero deployments of massive number of soldiers to Mindanao for a government-initiated all-out-war. 

We have been told that there’s always a time for everything. I believe it’s ‘peace harvest season’ for us in Mindanao.

The seeds of peace that you have planted all these years, the seeds of peace watered by the blood of Filipino martyrs who fought against each other, the seeds of peace nurtured by your sacrifices and bravery and that undying fire I see in your eyes — they have grown and their flowers in bloom.

You have all the reasons to be proud of the job that you have done for Mindanao and your fellow Mindanawons and for our future. 

After all, as we all know already, it takes many years and many wars and countless lives of armed fighters, soldiers, and civilians — all of them Filipinos — to grow peace, watch it bloom, and hopefully celebrate in glory.

Peace is a delicate, fragile beauty. It needs constant attention. In the case of Mindanao, it does not only need our continuous attention. It needs our constant, collective attention.

If causes of conflicts are left unresolved, a minor clash, perhaps between an armed group and government soldiers, perhaps somewhere in Maguindanao, could quickly escalate into a war that could potentially result in deaths and displacement of civilians.

If ignored, a terror group’s activity, although it might appear harmless on the surface, could explode into something deadly — and may reduce a proud city into decay.

Why I am emphasizing Mindanao peace in this conference today? Because peace in Mindanao remains to be on the top of the Mindanao agenda.

Mindanao continues to hold so much promise. I know this for a fact being a Mindanawon as well. 

I was born here, I was raised here and I lived all my life here in Davao City. And Mindanao, my home, our home, will forever be trapped in a miserable state of underdevelopment, and most of its people living in various conditions of poverty, if we do not protect the gains of peace that you have painstakingly labored for all your lives.

Born, raised, and having moved around many places of Mindanao — reaching former conflict areas and seeing battle scars around — I know that Mindanao has had enough of the madness of wars. 

It should be a thing of the past, a dark chapter in our history as a people. War in Mindanao should be remembered only to remind us of why we should all work together and commit, protect, and defend peace at all costs.

Harvest time — peace time — is a good time for all of us. It allows the government to address problems that, if not given appropriate attention, could be exploited by terror groups to foment anger and incite people to resist the government, resort to violence and join their cause.

Poverty is a mainstay in the playbook of the NPAs in their recruitment of people to join their cause against the government.

That’s the reason why we implemented Peace 911 program in Paquibato District (applause) — and with the help of ma’am Irene Santiago (applause) —we succeeded in eliminating the insurgency problem in the area.

I would like to share… this is something that I am an expert about because this is my personal experience, with my work as mayor of Davao City when I first became mayor in 2010. 

When I was a very young child in the 1990s, late 1980s, I would remember the conflict in the downtown,  in the urban areas of Davao City and it continued on. We were somewhat in a bubble, we were living in Matina and the other areas that were problematic areas were far from Matina, in the mountainous barangays but when I first became mayor, I realized that the problem of the 1990s were still there during my term and it was already 2010 and I was already 30years old 

And so during my next term in 2016, I had two personal experiences as mayor, of deaths. First was the death of Larry, the fish vendor, tinamaan noong shrapnel ng bomba na iniwan pagkatapos sinunog ang box plant ng Lapanday.

Larry was going to Mandug because Mandug is an interior barangay, there are less wet markets there so ang trabaho niya, araw-araw, magdala sa iyang bukag, ibutang niya sa iyang motor, dad-on niya ang presko nga isda sa Mandug, ibaligya niya. When he’s done, he goes home. So that was his business. And then unfortunately on that morning, naigo sa shrapnel and when I learned there was an incident, I went to the area, and I was told,  I asked, “duna bay patay.” And then they said “Dunay naigo.’ And then they said “Nag motor man to.” Where is he? He’s in Southern Philippines Medical Center. Regional Hospital. And then I went there. 

Naabtan pa nako siya nga ginatabang sya sa mga nurses and doctors. And then I asked one nurse, “kinsa iyang kauban” and they said walay kauban, gibilin ra na sya diri sa ambulansya. And then I said, “where are his things,” so they gave it to me and so I went through his things, I took his cellphone, walang password, so I went through his messages. 

I looked for a message that would reveal some sort of intimate relation that would reveal that this is a a loved one and I found, the very first message was “I love you.” sa sent messages niya. “I love you.” And then I found out it was their wedding anniversary that day he died. 

It was a traumatic experience for me and I think I still have that stress traumatic ano. I have not debriefed myself but I always share this story of why, why I invested so much time sa Peace 911 in Paquibato.

And then I called her,  “Kaila ka ni Larry?” “He is my husband.” 

I said, can you just come to the hospital because we need you to be here.  And he died. Larry died. And then the next time I talked to his wife, the only thing I could tell her was “I’m sorry.” I felt responsible for what happened and then the next time was another death. It was the death of Jay. He was a young officer who was operating in Paquibato. I think na-ambush ata. And then he died. 

And then I went to the funeral home to make sure everything was arranged going back to Antique and then I asked the AFP, “may anak ba ito, may asawa?”

I wanted to call. And they said, “no, he is single. You may talk to parents.” So I talked to his mother and I said “I am sorry.” And then she said, “You know Inday Sara, our sons have been dying there in your area in Davao City.”  Ana sya, “hindi pwede na lagi na lang ganyan dyan sa inyo.”

And then I had to tell her na “I’m sorry, I’m sorry and I will just go there to you and personally say sorry. So I did that, I went to Antique, I sat down with the family and after that, I felt anger because I was asking myself, “why am I the one saying sorry, hindi naman ako gumawa ng bomba, hindi naman ako ang sumunog, I did not ask anyone na sunugin yung box plant, I did not ask anyone to ambush Filipinos. Why am I saying sorry?” And so I decided that in my second term as mayor,  I said na I will not let this one term of mine pass again without doing something. 

I might fail. I thought about that, because gaano ba katagal problem sa Paquibato?

Since, I would guess, even before I was born. Maybe. And then I said, if I fail, because there was never a solution there,  but I said I will not let this pass without me investing my name, my work and my work na hindi na ako mag sorry next time. And so I  don’t know what happened but God, I had to relate this kwento. 

There was a – was it supposed to be me who was invited or you Ma’am. Ako no?  Yes, There was an art exhibit by a Mindanawon in Abreeza. And somehow the organizer made a mistake of inviting Inday Santiago kasi nung sinabi na imbitahin si Inday (laughter) and it was her group, her people, her network. They invited Inday Santiago. They made a mistake of inviting her. And of course realizing their mistake, they invited me as well. So of course, I have always been a supporter of Mindanao artsists so I went and when – the program, the blessing, and I was standing sa gilid, we happened to stand by each other, si Ma’am Inday and then I asked her. “I’m not with the office anymore in the national office,” (she said). So what are you doing. I’m planning to come back here in Davao City.

Can you please help me –Ma’am because this is something new for me. 

You know Ma’am,  I am not a peaceful person (crowd laughs), that is why I need someone  to help me navigate this peace talk. 

And then she said. “Okay. Okay, Davao City, I will help,” And then she sat down.  She asked me for people. I gave her people. These are the best I think that can help Paquibato. These are people magagaling sila, maayos kausap, di paligoy-ligoy yung sinasabi nila. So I gave her people, they sat down and then they worked back and forth there in Paquibato and I had to make, include this in my story na during our work, nagalit pa ang isang barangay captain sa akin. Galit talaga siya sa akin. He was so mad at me that he was calling President Duterte and he was telling President Duterte to talk to Inday Sara because she is making it very difficult for him in Paguibato. And I said, I told the intermediary, can you just ask the President to allow me as mayor to do what I think is right at this point in time, at this point in making sure that there is peace in Paquibato. And so yun yung experience ko sa Peace 911. 

I was recently in Borongan, Samar and I explained to them, I narrated to them what I narrated to you this morning and I said, “you know it can be done because I am standing here in fonrt of you, sharing my experience in what I did. It only needs a heart, a very strong heart to start it and continue on when things become difficult.”

Ang ating problema sa mga taga Davao City ngayon is sustaining that fragile peace that we have in Paquitabo because one mistake there as I said earlier in my speech, one mistake there could undo the four years that we invested in winning peace in Paquibato district of Davao City.  

And I would just like to share everyone, with everyone, no this is not in my speech because this is my work for the Department of Education and this is not about Mindanao but the entire country. 

But I just wanted to share with you that we are currently talking about a National Peace Culture, National Culture of Peace in the curriculum of the Department of Education (applause). We are currently developing that and of course we welcome your input when we are ready to present it to our stakeholders, to our partners, to everyone. 

Just right now, we are not ready, we are still internally discussing everything but  sinabi ko sa kanila, doon sa mga kasamahan ko, my colleagues in the DepEd, you know what, I  am the expert here in talking about peace because I am not peaceful but Paquibato is now peaceful.”

So that what we are working on right now. A program about peace that is embedded in the curriculum from Kindergarten  to Grade 12 And this is what we are telling Congress no, alam myo na sa Kongreso, di ba. So this is what I am telling Congress now. ‘Wag, ‘wag, Kami muna bago you give us the legislative framework so that hindi masira yung vision, yung  gusto nating mangyari sa basic education learners. And this I said to them, before you teach about being a reserved officer, you teach them first about peace and that is our trabaho, trabaho yan ng basic education to make them peacebuilders first before you put them in military training to serve the country. 

So that is what we are currently cooking in the Department of Education and we hope to be able to catch the first, the first new or the 2.0 curriculum of the K to 12 program in 2024 but if not, definitely we will be able to catch the framework 3.0, the third curriculum in 2025 because we are doing another review right now of the K to 12 curriculum that is intended to dovetail from the current review of the administration of Secretary Liling Briones.

So that is my personal experience about conflict and peace. And I have realized that the antidote to war is good governance (applause). And good governance builds public trust. And that is what I learned doon sa Paquibato. Yun lang naman ang sinabi ng mga tao. That is also where I learned to create satellite offices. 

Sabi ng Paquibato, ‘why will we trust you, we don’t see you here, we don’t feel your presence here. Sino ba andito para sa amin? Mga NPA” (New Peoples Army). And then I said na, ah, okay, I’ll  put up an office dito sa Paquibato district so you will know who is mayor, anong ginagawa ni mayor, anong pwedng magawa ni mayor sa problema ninyo. 

That is something that I learned sa Paquibato. Good governance breeds public trust

When people see government officials working with integrity, with professionalism, and dedication to public service — they no longer see sense in causes that espouse violence. 

The Mindanao Agenda is a Philippine Agenda. 

How do we sustain that requires unified action and our collective voice.

And only through that that we will be able to keep the flowers of peace in Mindanao forever in bloom. 


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