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08-17 January 2020. Three Indigenous Communities in Mindanao welcomed the visit of 12 Canadians from Southern Ontario. This is part of PBCI-CFP Inclusive Development Team’s initiative to facilitate the connection between the coffee farming communities and prospective impact investors and market representatives. This relationship-building and social entrepreneurial partnership is based on justice, peace, and reconciliation.

At the beginning and the middle of each year, we, at PeaceBuilders Community and Coffee For Peace, visit all our peacebuilding and inclusive development partner communities mainly to renew and celebrate our field relationships. These visits are also the time when we discuss peacebuilding issues, strategic ideas, and field activities that would influence the policies of both PeaceBuilders Community, Inc. and Coffee For Peace Corp.

Our understanding of “justice, peace, and reconciliation,” when working with the Indigenous Peoples, includes:

  • repudiating The Doctrine of Discovery;
  • walking with the IPs in their struggle to realize genuine enjoyment of their Right to Self-Determination;
  • supporting the IPs in their struggle to protect, nurture, and sustain economic-ecological stewardship of their Ancestral Domains; and,
  • learning from the IPs their Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices (IKSP) that, for millennia, have sustained them with the land, with the water, with their people, and with their cultures and identities.

The 12 representatives of East Zorra Mennonite Church identified themselves as committed peace advocacy partners of PeaceBuilders Community and impact investment partners of Coffee For Peace. These Mennonite partners travelled halfway around the world specifically to show and tell that they are equally passionate about our understanding and practice of the above-mentioned “justice, peace, and reconciliation” as a way of expressing God’s love among the Indigenous Peoples, and as a practical testimony of our commitment to follow Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

The members of East Zorra Partnership Team who have accompanied us in Mindanao are: Larry Kropf, Tracey Kropf, Caleb Leis, Dale Leis, Elaine Leis, Greg Leis, Staci Leis, Ray Martin, Sue Martin, Dan Matthews, Gwen Matthews, and Tyler Swartzentruber.

Listening to, and praying with, the Obo Manobo elders

The highlight of the day was worshipping the Creator with the Obo Manobo elders as one circle—respecting each other’s spiritual expressions. It was Datu Damaso Bayawan himself, the chairman of the tribal council, who invited all of us to visit their sacred place and there we prayed together.

Datu Teodoro Bangkas, one of the Obo Manobo elders, invited our group to his coffee farm in Barangay Balabag. There, our Canadian partners experienced picking coffee cherries—leftovers after a major harvest. “Their visit and commitment to this coffee partnership,” Datu Bangkas said, “gives us hope to go back to our normal lives.”

Our visit in these earthquake-affected IP communities in Barangay Ilomavis and Barangay Balabag in Kidapawan City concluded in a mutual commitment to continue with an inclusive development partnership through coffee entrepreneurial initiative among the following organizations —

  • Madadma Tribal Council;
  • Energy Development Corporation;
  • PeaceBuilders Community; and, 
  • Coffee For Peace Corp.

Celebrating with the Bagobo Tagabawa community in Binaton

At 1,055 meters above sea level in the southern foot of Mt. Apo, we were welcomed by the joyful sounds of gongs played by the Bagobo Tagabawa youth. Bai Jerlina Owok, the tribal chieftain in the area, along with the Tribal Council, welcomed our Canadian partners. A tribal spiritual leader led us all in indigenous prayer to submit the whole celebration to the Creator. Then, they invited Pastor Ray Martin of East Zorra Mennonite Church to pray for them. Bai Jerlina told the Bagobo Tagabawa folks to personally welcome each of the guests from Canada and each of the staff members of PeaceBuilders Community and Coffee For Peace.

“The mutually respectful greetings, handshakes, and hugs between the two groups from two different cultures touched me deeply,” said Tracey Kropf, congregational chair of East Zorra Mennonite Church, during our debriefing session.

It must not be forgotten that most families in this joyful community in Barangay Binaton, Digos City are affected by a series of strong earthquakes. Their homes are mostly damaged and are declared by authorities as unsafe to live in. They now live in makeshift tents.

The PBCI-CFP Inclusive Development Team have just formalized a coffee social business partnership with this particular Bagobo Tagabawa community. Coffee for Peace bought an initial amount of green coffee beans to open an account with them. This is in response to Bai Owok’s invitation through a YouTube video to help them develop their tribe as quality coffee producers. Coffee will just be one of the products, among others, that would help towards economic-ecological balance, and that would help them attain food security and sustainable livelihood.

Strategic peacebuilding dialogue with Datu Vic

Last 25 January 2020, we visited the Talaandig Ancestral Territory at the Municipality of Lantapan to consult Datu Migketay ‘Vic’ Saway on some issues affecting our peacebuilding strategy.

Datu Vic is a respected leader among the Indigenous Peoples of Mindanao. He is the Spiritual Leader of the Talaandig Tribe of Bukidnon Province—a first nation occupying their ancestral territory around Mount Kitanglad. Datu Vic is also the administrator of the Apu Agbibilin Community, Inc. and a member of the Council of Elders of the Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus. Our PBCI-CFP Inclusive Development Team consults him on our strategic decisions especially when IP issues are involved.

Our conversation with Datu ‘Vic’ Saway and the Talaandig First Nation helped us —

  • understand their vision and strategic approach towards food security which is a significant factor towards the realization of the self-determination of the Indigenous Peoples in Mindanao;
  • understand their peacebuilding perspectives regarding the struggles of Indigenous Peoples in protecting their ancestral domains from extractive corporations, and the social, political, ecological, and economic violence brought about by this reality; and,
  • respect their counsel and advice for international, faith-based peace-and-development organizations, like PeaceBuilders Community and Coffee for Peace, as they interact with Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines.

We are grateful to our staff in Region 10, Clay and June Rojo, who made all the social and logistical arrangements for this visit.

We appreciate the smart leadership of Sihaya Ansibod, our Director of Field Operations, who regularly plans the mission trips, gives instructions to our staff and volunteers on the ground, and coordinates with the key leaders from among our partner communities to make sure our field objectives are effectively and efficiently achieved.

Avoiding doing harm while intending to do good

We hope that through this on-going listening and sharing of hearts and minds with our partner communities —

  • we would avoid doing harm while intending to do good;
  • we could model together a new, genuine, international, and inter-worldview partnership and cooperation free from the religious, cultural, political, and economic-ecological colonialism and imperialism of the past — which, sadly, is still happening even at the present.

Thus, we will keep on knocking on their doors with utmost respect, transparent intentions, teachable attitudes, and sincere gratitude.

This 10-minute video captures the highlights of our recent field visits. We were accompanied by our sisters and brothers from East Zorra Mennonite Church in Tavistock, Ontario, Canada.