A trained mediator is leveraging a tiny investment of US foreign aid to end violence and conflict in the Sarangani province of the Philippines.
The two women were hungry and tired—physically, mentally, and emotionally. The constant fighting and fleeing from the Philippine Army, and then from their “Lost Command” of the New Peoples Army, a Maoist rebel group, had worn them down. They wanted to leave the conflict behind. They wanted to again become a part of the community.
So they came to someone they could trust—Delia Salminang.
Salminang has that nurturing way about her. A mother of six, she is the one that people turn to in Glan, a municipality in the Philippine province of Sarangani, whether in need of some extra food or a listening ear.
They turn to her because Salminang has also known her own struggle. As a widow and without formal education herself, she, like many of her fellow people in the ancestral domain of the B’laan people, has toiled to provide for her own family over the years. This is made more difficult because life in the southern tip of the Philippine island of Mindanao was often marred by frequent violent skirmishes between the military and the New People’s Army (NPA).
When she heard of the Barangay Justice for Peace Project in 2010, Salminang decided to hone her counseling skills and enhance her role in the community. The project’s aim is to promote peace through settling disputes at the community level and prevent them from escalating into violence. Two Philippine non-profits, the Gerry Roxas Foundation and the Conrado and Ladislawa Alcantara Foundation, Inc., supported by USAID, trained Saminang and many others as peace advocates. Popularly known as Barangay Justice Advocates, they became certified in mediation and the local justice system.
“I could use these skills to improve the relationships between my tribe, as so many of them come to me to talk about their problems brought about by land [ownership] conflicts and infidelity. We [already] rely on each other in times of trouble,” Salminang said.
These skills were put to the test when the two combatants came to her in 2011 and shared their wish to lay down their arms. Salminang heard their concerns and desires for a more peaceful life and were assured of their sincerity to surrender. She then accompanied them to see the mayor, the Hon. Victor “Tata” James B. Yap, Sr., who would decide whether they could re-join the community. Mayor Yap heard them out and assured the two women that they could be reintegrated on two conditions: first, they must surrender their arms, and secondly, convince the other members of the NPA “Lost Command” to surrender as well.
Upon hearing his decision, the two women set off back up the mountain to find their former squad commander. Salminang went with them.
Walking hours through perilous mountain passes, they arrived at the two ex-combatant’s old camp in Bonbongon on June 24, 2011. Because of heavy rain, the three women stayed there for three nights. Over this time, Salminang spoke with and listened each of the others in the camp, 15 men ages 19-45. She learned that most of them joined the NPA because they had been abused, raped, or suffered injustices that they thought at the time could never be resolved in the Philippine justice system. As the rain wore on, Salminang enabled them to admit another very difficult truth—the path they had followed as “rebels” had brought them to a worse fate, one in which suffering came through denied opportunities to be part of loving families and for employment and education.
Once Salminang had counseled everyone, the group noticed that the rain had stopped. It seemed more than coincidence.
Salminang and the 17-member “Lost Command” walked down the mountain to regain their freedom. The talks continued and through the support of Mayor Yap and the government amnesty program, the “Lost Command” members have pursued new livelihoods and a chance to lead a better life.
By joining up with the Barangay Justice for Peace Project, Salminang became part of a network of thousands of citizen-volunteers across the Philippines built over the past decade or more. The Mindanao Development Authority, the government agency where Salminang lives, reports that the Barangay Justice Advocates have managed over 10,000 cases, with a remarkable resolution rate of 94 percent. The project has been cited for crime and conflict reduction in many parts of the Philippines, as well as improved local-level planning and budgeting.
This group, its rifles, shotguns, and pistols, and the military’s relentless pursuit of them, caused Salminang’s tribe to forego any semblance of normalcy for a very long time. When they surrendered, the violence that reverberated through Salminang’s ancestral land stopped. Delia not only enabled and accompanied 17 people to regain a new life; she also gave lasting peace and newfound hope to her beloved community.
Delia Salminang is now the Deputy Mayor of Glan, representing indigenous people in the municipality.
In recent years, the US government launched policy reforms that make US foreign aid more accountable to you, US taxpayers, and local leaders like Delia Salminang.
Aid works best when it supports local actors to take action and change the circumstances which place or keep them or their fellow citizens in poverty—supporting them to build a dream, build a business, support their family, or help their community.
That's why Oxfam America is working to deepen the US government's commitment to making aid more effective. They can do so by putting more US aid dollars directly in the hands of people like Delia Salminang.
Note: Oxfam America doesn't take federal funds, but we do support effective development programs. In 2012, the Aid Effectiveness Team conducted research to highlight effective uses of the 1% of foreign aid the U.S. government spends on poverty reduction and other life-saving assistance. The people featured in this series are not necessarily receiving direct assistance from Oxfam.