Amid the continued threats of violent extremism and terrorism in many parts of the Philippines, hundreds of young leaders representing indigenous groups, Christian and Muslim communities, and other backgrounds mobilized on Saturday in a powerful showcase of peace through the Panaghiusa Grand Peace Conference held at the Tagum City Historical and Cultural Center.
Funded by the European Union (EU) and supported by the Kofi Annan Foundation (KAF), the non-profit organization Kristiyano-Islam Peace Library (KRIS), and the local government of Tagum City, the Grand Conference is the culminating activity of the Extremely Together Philippines – Panaghiusa (ET Philippines) program which aims to prevent violent extremism and promote peace through youth leadership in the Philippines.
“Violent extremism is like a pandemic that we can cure through unity and education. This is why we are working to educate, empower, and inspire young people to become peacebuilders who can strengthen the resistance of their fellow youth against terrorism,” shared Paula Gendrano, co-project lead of ET Philippines.
“With our Grand Conference, we are celebrating the accomplishments of the ET Philippines program since we launched in 2020. This is a milestone we’re sharing with our partner youth leaders from Tagum City, Zamboanga City, Marawi City, Luzon, and other areas where we’ve held our activities. At the same time, it is a call to action to strengthen the unified efforts of young Filipinos towards peace as we face the challenges of the pandemic, poverty, inequality, and more,” she added.
Reaching over 150 youth representatives from diverse backgrounds from Tagum City and Davao del Norte in the physical conference and nearly 1,000 more young leaders through Zoom and Facebook Live, the Panaghiusa Grand Conference featured stunning cultural performances from the Tagum-based Dilaab youth dance crew, presentations from members of ET Philippines from all over the Philippines, and expert discussions led by Kabataan Party-List Rep. Sarah Elago, Leonard Faustino of Global Peace Foundation, and One Young World Ambassador Amor Paredes.
To tackle peacebuilding from the lens of different advocacies, breakout sessions were also held on the topics of: good governance by GoodGov PH founder Dexter Yang; mental health by psychology educator Niel Steve Kintanar of Love Yourself, Inc; diversity by Youth for Peace Movement President Loigie Sewo Onda; environmental security by Lemuel Alcantara Alagon of the Department of Agriculture Multi-Purpose Cooperative; and partnership by Baihannah Pangalao of the Youth for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence in Mindanao (YOUCAP) program of GIZ.
“With today’s rampant poverty in our country together with the economic problems we are facing – including problems on drugs and violent extremism – we need youth development not only for today but also in the future. This can be achieved through the active participation of the youth. We must create the definition of youth as the boldest, bravest, most imaginative, and innovative in order to impact positive change,” stated Tagum City Mayor Allan Rellon in his opening address.
Remarking on the local city government’s commitment to youth development through partnerships such as the Panaghiusa Grand Conference, he also said, “All of us – may it be in the government or private sector – must enable the capacities of the youth. We must put our optimism and confidence in them as leading agents of sustainable development.”
The grand conference follows the training and peacebuilding activities of ET Philippines which has built the capacities of over 500 young leaders on preventing violent extremism, reached thousands of Filipino youth through various digital webinars on peace, and provided a total of nearly half a million pesos in seed funding to 20 youth organizations with promising projects for peace in different communities.
These projects include campaigns for peace education and good governance; social enterprises and livelihood opportunities for vulnerable groups such as for displaced persons in Marawi and for former combatants in Tagum; an eco-tourism destination in Zamboanga that has been hit hard by violent extremism; sustainable farming initiatives; and more.
Following the training events, trainees have also gone on to form the ET Philippines network which has, since March, mobilized to collect and distribute books to rural communities, raised funds for educational materials and equipment for a far-flung public school in Basilan, and contributed to numerous community pantry and outreach operations in Mindanao.
ET Philippines is part of the Kofi Annan Foundation’s global Extremely Together initiative present in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Launched in 2016, the worldwide network of young leaders has produced a toolkit on preventing violent extremism, trained and engaged thousands of youth and advocated for the inclusion of young people in peace and security internationally.