Strengthening partnerships and capacities is key in the journey to peace

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By Patricia Mirasol

Strengthening partnerships and capacities is key in the non-linear journey to peace, according to Steve Muncy, an American humanitarian worker and this year’s awardee of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, which celebrates greatness of spirit and transformative leadership in Asia through its annual awards.

“The journey from conflict to development and peace is seldom linear,” he said at a Nov. 17 virtual lecture, as he noted the importance of local stakeholders. “It will succeed if those who live in the area that are adversely affected… also play active roles [in it.]”

Mr. Muncy, who is also the Executive Director of humanitarian organization Community and Family Services International (CFSI), said his takeaway from partnership discussions can be summarized in three words: We. Listen. Learn.

“The next nexus calls us to listen, and listen well, to those affected. It’s essential for trust-building.”

CSFI’s Philippine projects focus on people affected by natural disaster and armed conflict in Visayas and Mindanao, such as the 2017 Marawi siege.


Ariel “Ayi” C. Hernandez, whose Balay Mindanaw Foundation Inc. (BMFI) has been involved in Mindanao peace-building and development work for 15 years, acknowledged the complexity of implementing peace agreements.

“Establishing trust with MILF leaders is not easy,” BMFI’s corporate treasurer said at the Nov. 17 event. “You have to respect boundaries, perspectives, mechanisms. Steve’s group was able to handle this very well.”

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is the largest militant organization in the country and seeks autonomy for Filipino Muslims.

A peace agreement is only a piece of paper if it can’t be implemented, added Amina Rasul-Bernardo, former chair of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation and president of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID), which was founded on the idea that addressing the problems of Muslim Mindanao “should include and occur within the context of democracy.”

“This can only be implemented if you have partners like CSFI and Balay Mindanaw… [and if you have] trust given by the national government and the local community,” she told the audience of the virtual lecture. “In this case, it’s the MILF. With trust comes credibility, and then you can have implementation of that important piece of paper.”


Development, according to Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen, must be judged by its impact on people – not only by changes in their income, but by the more general terms of their choices, capabilities, and freedoms.

Given its long-term goal of lasting change, development work tends to transcend changes of administration.

“The environment may become complicated and partners may change, but the needs remain the same,” Mr. Muncy said. “The interventions need to continue over a long period of time.”

The determining factor are partnerships that are continually strengthened, added Mr. Hernandez, noting that Mr. Muncy might be already thinking of second-liners – individuals who are next in line to sustain CSFI’s passion and dream.

“As they say, the dream will outlive the dreamer,” he said.