Western Mindanao State University took the lead in bridging conflict-stricken areas in Mindanao through information and technology with the involvement of the United States Embassy through US Ambassador to the Philippines, Hon. Philip S. Goldberg on November 14, 2014 at the WMSU Gym.
Secondary students and out-of-school-youth took part in the advocacy that aimed to cut the distance barrier and make miracles happen in communicating with students and OSYs in Mindanao, thereby becoming a huge part of the Mindanao Peace Process. The campaign called EPIC – Empowerment of Peace through Information and Communication – proves how all Filipinos have so much in common, if not all the same. Mindanaoans are all people, whether they are Bajau, Tausug, Yakan, Sama, Kolibugan, Zamboangueños, Teduray, Maguindanaon, Maranao, Iranon, Cebuano or Ilonggo. And since they are all equal, they all deserve a better future—a future of opportunities.
This activity instigated a greater opportunity of coming together and shaping Mindanao’s and the youth’s future with the aid of the internet, especially in the fast-pacing change in technology.
Students and OSYs came all the way from the provinces of Basilan, Sulu and some schools in Zamboanga City to WMSU, where they formed a human chain and joined hands as they sang together the song “This is Our Way” in a simultaneous video conference with WMSU’s counterpart in Cotabato City, the Notre Dame University.
Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg, in his motivational speech said that the song reflects how distance is not a barrier, and it doesn’t matter who you are because with the help of technology and the internet, everyone can come together and unite through videoconferencing.
Goldberg expressed how this can be a great tool for building a better future, and challenged the students and OSYs to grasp the opportunity, walk away from the conflict, join hands and walk forward.
“The United States is behind every one of you,” remarked Goldberg.
Dr. Milabel Enriquez-Ho, University President of WMSU led the Zamboanga community while Notre Dame University’s President Father Charlie Inzon, OMI took the first step in building a better future through EPIC in Cotabato.
Participating schools and communities that came over to WMSU were from Zamboanga City, Basilan province (Cities of Lamitan, Isabela, Al-Barka, Sumisip, Tipo-Tipo, Ungkaya Pukan, Mohammad Ajul, and Hadji Muhtamad) and Sulu province (Cities of Jolo, Patikul, Indanan, Tawi-Tawi, Bongao, Languyan, Simunul and Sitangkai).
On the other hand, participating schools for Zamboanga City’s counterpart, Cotabato were Cotabato City National High School Main Campus, Datu Siang National High School, J.Marquez National High School, Notre Dame Village National High School and Notre Dame University High School Department.
Following the video conference with partner schools in Cotabato was some talks on the impact of conflict in Mindanao with some speakers who were involved and greatly affected by the clashes in Mindanao. These speakers from different sides of the conflict provided a better understanding of the conflict in Mindanao. They were Master Sgt. Emilio Hemongala, a marine wounded in an armed conflict in Mindanao; Edmund Gumbahali, a man who has been part of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) for most of his life, later kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu; Monica Ocampo, held hostage during the Zamboanga Siege; and Major Singagandal, a guerilla fighter who has been a member of the MNLF since he was 12 and later became the Vice Chairman of the MNLF for Sultan Kudarat.
As the discussion ended, opposing groups concluded that amidst the differences, these groups share one common vision for Mindanao and that is towards the achievement of peace.
The activity was made possible by the US Embassy, through PeaceTech Inc., a non-government organization responsible for the use of information communication technology in promoting peace. PLDT-Smart Foundation also took a major role in providing the high-speed connection that made the videoconferencing possible.
Other partners were the Western Mindanao State University (WMSU), Notre Dame University (NDU), Peace and Human Security Institute (PHSI) of WMSU, United Youth of the Philippines-Women (UnYphil), Mindanao Youth for Development (MYDev), Civil Peace Service and GIZ, and Silsilah Dialogue Movement.
The ultimate message that the advocacy was trying to convey is that whoever we are and wherever we may come from, WE ARE ALL THE SAME. (Mandy Dalugdug, PAO WMSU)