Pajarito replaced; new 6th ID chief known as a peacebuilder
Is this a relief for the fragile state of the ceasefire between the government and MILF forces, especially after the Midsayap clashes early this month?
ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews/17 March) – Maj. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer, the newly- appointed commanding general of the Army’s Sixth Infantry Division based in Maguindanao, was apparently chosen to take over not because of his Spartan-like qualifications as a warrior, having been in Mindanao from his lieutenant years all the way to becoming battalion, brigade, and division commander, but because he has been “winning hearts and minds” of the people through his peace-building efforts.
Late last year, the 1977 Philippine Military Academy graduate rose to become the chief of the First “Tabak” Division, in command of the Army’s operations in the western part of Mindanao.
But it was his stint as commander of the 103rd Infantry Brigade in Basilan from 2004 to 2006 when he rose to prominence. No, not for the body count of the Abu Sayyaf bandits and rebel groups that he was able to present to his superiors, but for the peace- building efforts he initiated that has brought change to Basilan.
As battalion commander in the 1990s, Ferrer “applied brute force in an attempt to make Basilan peaceful.”
But nothing changed as Basilan became even more violent with more enemies sprouting from everywhere,” he tells his soldiers during conflict management seminars the 1ID holds in coordination with various non-governmental organizations.
A decade later, starting in 2004, Ferrer decided to use another approach by reaching out to the people and holding more dialogues with them. “When you go out of your way to talk to the people, they will respond, and will eventually trust you,” he said.
Ferrer even got the trust of NGOs in Basilan, groups like the Catholic Children’s Fund and the Nagdilaab, and their counterparts in nearby Zamboanga City, who eventually helped him in his peacebuilding work. These are groups often dismissed by other military commanders as leftists or communist fronts.
Ferrer himself walked the extra mile in reaching out to civil society, attending the peacebuilding training by the Davao-based Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute. He was the first ever military man to attend such a seminar. “At first they were surprised, because even these peacebuilders have bias against the military,” Ferrer recalled.
Upon the suggestion of these NGOs, Ferrer made his soldiers undergo seminars on the culture of peace, of their role in the community and in the family, discovering their roles in society, and conflict management. Even members of the paramilitary Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) underwent seminars, thus transforming the entire 103IB, from its high-ranking officers to the soldiers out there in the field.
For Ferrer, it was important that his soldiers on the ground knew which conflicts need military intervention, which are better left on their own, like in the case of ridos, which start with a feud between warring clans but could drag the military into a bigger, unending conflict.
Perhaps it was only in Basilan where the military and the church were happily working hand in hand. Bishop Martin S. Jumoad and Sr. Sulpicia A. Wate, O.P., directress of the Claret School of Lamitan have even praised the Army for its contributions in changing Basilan’s image.
It was also about this time when the general attended a seminar on “Bridging Leadership” at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) in Makati.
According to AIM, a “bridging leader” can readily see a divide, and “able to analyze its dimensions clearly, and identify all the stakeholders, among whom he could form bridges of understanding and action. Bridging leaders have a vision of a positive resolution of the divide to transform the lives of the marginalized and underprivileged.”
Ferrer later became a fellow of the AIM program, thus even devoting more of his time and effort on this new kind of leadership approach, with constant help from AIM professors.
He was also fortunate that in his ongoing fellowship at AIM, one of his classmates — Ariel Hernandez, executive director of the Cagayan de Oro-based Balay Mindanaw Foundation, Inc. (BMFI) — is also heavily into peacebuilding, particularly helping settle conflicts among the Higaonon tribes of Misamis Oriental. Hernandez’s BMFI is currently helping Ferrer spread the peacebuilding efforts he started in Basilan to all of Tabak Division.
Ferrer’s conflict management skills learned in Basilan, at the peacebuilding institute, at the AIM and in the Tabak Division, should help him manage the numerous ridos of the various municipalities in Maguindanao, which often drag the military and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in bigger wars and cause displacement of thousands of families.
Ferrer took over the post Friday, March 16, from Maj. Gen. Nehemias Pajarito who took over his post at the 1st ID. (Bobby Timonera/MindaNews)