Embassy officers regularly met with representatives of all major religious groups to discuss human rights issues, including religious freedom. In addition, the U.S. government actively supported the government’s peace process with Muslim insurgents in Mindanao, which has the potential to contribute to peace and a better climate for interfaith cooperation.
Embassy officials maintained active outreach with NGOs. The embassy hosted meetings of political and opinion leaders from the Muslim community to discuss the U.S. role in Mindanao.
During the year, the Mindanao Working Group, which coordinates embassy-wide efforts in Mindanao, held a series of roundtable discussions with religious and civil society leaders during five assessment trips to conflict-affected areas. During these trips, representatives from several U.S. government agencies organized discussions with religious leaders of different faiths to promote mutual understanding.
In September the embassy’s public affairs section invited Muslim and Christian leaders from Zamboanga to its first iftar celebration in Mindanao. Attendees included the winners of an embassy-sponsored essay contest for university students to write about their faith and its meaning to them. The event featured a broadcast of President Obama’s iftar message of tolerance, a speech by an embassy official about interfaith dialogue, and speeches by local religious leaders. The ambassador concurrently hosted the annual embassy iftar dinner in Manila.
In October the public affairs section and the American Corner at Ateneo de Zamboanga University (ADZU) held a five-day Interfaith Youth Peace Camp for 50 high school leaders from conflict-affected areas. Professors from ADZU’s Peace and Culture Institute led discussions about religious understanding and conflict prevention, and Christian and Muslim alumni of American exchange programs served as moderators and counselors.
In December the embassy’s public affairs section funded the production of 10,000 interfaith calendars featuring the Gregorian Christian and Hijrah Islamic calendars through an NGO, Peace Advocates Zamboanga. The calendars were distributed to religious leaders, government officials, and civil society leaders living in conflict-affected areas.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) continued to provide assistance to many areas of Mindanao, including conflict-affected areas, in part to ensure USAID programs are responsive to the needs of Mindanao’s religious and cultural minorities. Programs included infrastructure development, vocational training, education and health services, employment generation, affordable energy, local government, and conflict-mediation projects. During the year, USAID implemented a project to strengthen community-based dispute resolution mechanisms in conflict-affected “barangays” (smallest administrative division in the Philippines) of Maguindanao, Tawi-Tawi, Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental, Davao del Norte, Saranggani, and Zamboanga Sibugay. More than 3,000 volunteers, including influential religious leaders, were trained in conflict analysis, mediation, and counseling. Close to 40 percent of the volunteers were women, a majority of whom were Muslim. The project's objective was to provide communities with means to prevent the escalation of disputes into violent conflict. During the year, these volunteers mediated more than 10,600 disputes, with a successful resolution rate of 85 percent.