Datuan Magon is not your typical young person living in Mindanao, the Philippines.
The 33 year old is the Deputy Secretary General of UNYPAD (United Youth for Peace and Development), the largest Muslim youth organisation in the Philippines registered and accredited by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of the government.
A strong believer in peaceful approaches to violence in his region, Datuan has worked in a number of roles to convey and spread that message over the last decade.
In recent years, Datuan’s work has focused on organising youths to become members of UNYPAD for what he describes as “reawakening of the Bangsamoro people”.
It was through this work he crossed paths with Conciliation Resources, heading UNYPAD’s project with us focusing on building peace in Mindanao through public participation and governance. Conciliation Resources provided training on conflict management, which he continues to use.
One of my main assets is that I speak more than 10 languages here. If we went to Western Mindanao, I could speak Tausug and when we went to Lanao, I could understand them because the project was very regional at that time.
Leading security work in the community
He is based in Maguindanao, which he refers to as the centre of the conflict between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
UNYPAD conducts humanitarian as well as peacebuilding work. They have developed trusted relations with people across the conflict divides, which allows them to focus on community security.
At present, in our engagement with Conciliation Resources, we promote dialogue and settlement of long lasting and violent family feuds. Secondly, we have established a pilot community security working group, which is very important so that we have a model of how communities can engage with a future Bangsamoro community police force.
Datuan has attended many of the consultations in this working group and he says security sectors, traditional leaders, community leaders and local officials are all united.
They are working, they are coming together and planning … We are empowering communities. In our area for example, we are gradually establishing linkages between MILF traditional leaders, women leaders and our policemen, and that this is how a future Bangsamoro should look like.
This is a tough job, a very difficult job. But the one thing that we are proud of is that the Joint Normalization Committees of the MILF and the Government endorse our work. We have a close working relation with them through Conciliation Resources.
Speaking to radicals about peacebuilding
Over the years Datuan’s work has seen him cross paths and challenge the views of radicals. Datuan explains:
There are many disciplines that add to my knowledge, especially how to approach a situation and how to approach strategically. I can also argue with some of the radical groups using Islamic perspectives.
They use the Qu’uran as justification and in arguing with them I also use Islamic perspectives. For example, the Prophet said, ‘Every generation must adjust to the political realities of their generation, or the situations that they are built in’. And I tell these extremists, or radicals, ‘We could say that conflict management at this point in time is different to 1400 years ago. For example, we have the United Nations and third party interventions ... now this is the most applicable.’ These are the simple arguments I have.