Promoting a culture of peace goes beyond teaching concepts and frameworks inside classrooms.
For Prof. Estrella A. Cantallopez, the heart and soul of peace education is going out public to interact with people from the military, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). “There are many things you can do about peace but the most important thing you can do is to listen. People misunderstand each other a lot because they do not listen,” said Prof. Cantallopez. And this is what she does best. While she serves as professor in the undergraduate and graduate schools of Notre Dame University (NDU) in Cotabato City,
Prof. Cantallopez is best known for her contribution in giving hope to war victims.
She maximized her previous role as director of NDU’s Peace Center by initiating projects that help depressed and war-torn communities. After giving a peace education seminar in Barangay Pagangan, Aleosan, North Cotabato, Prof. Cantallopez saw the need to provide them with livelihood opportunities. She linked them with the University of the Philippines’ Seed Program, which later provided them training on organic farming. She also linked them with the United Nations Act for Peace program, which provided them two-hectare property that serves as their refuge.
Prof. Cantallopez juggles various responsibilities, including teaching in the undergraduate and the graduate schools, conducting research, serving as thesis and dissertation reader and adviser, adviser to academic organizations, conducting peace seminar-workshops, and working with communities. As peace educator, she has established peace building programs for the military, out-of-school youth and women under the Notre Dame Educational Association (NDEA). She also initiated and spearheaded dialogue programs and peace negotiations. Prof. Cantallopez said decades of being involved in peace and development made her understand the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious issues faced by society.
Prof. Cantallopez’s passion for peace and development is a product of her formative years. As a child, she would hear her father narrate war stories.
Her father’s job as a soldier made the family transfer to different places. So while her parents were originally from Camiguin, she was born in Sta. Fe (now Imelda) in Malangas, Zamboanga del Sur in Western Mindanao. But she went back to Camiguin after primary school, when her maternal grandmother brought her back to the island-province.
As young lady, she looked forward to her college education at the University of San Carlos in Cebu City. She thought that was the time she lived a normal life, far from violence. But Martial Law was declared in 1972 and her parents made her return to Mindanao.
The first bloody incident in Zamboanga del Sur is still etched in her mind—30 passengers were killed in an ambush in Buug, Zamboanga del Sur. The daughter of their neighbour survived. But the emotional trauma the ambush left on her was massive.
She developed a fear of military but she ended up marrying a soldier. Her husband was assigned to Cagayan de Sulu (now Cagayan de Mapun). She loved the place—no chaos, no explosion. It was a change of atmosphere for her. However, her husband was ordered to report to Jolo, Sulu where she again encountered several life-threatening episodes.
She transferred to Cotabato City and taught at Notre Dame University. Just when Prof. Catallopez was wondering about purpose of her life, Prof. Toh Swee-Hin, a peace educator connected with United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) visited the university to establish a Peace Education Center.
Prof. Toh served as Dean of Education at the University of Alberta where he received the 2000 UNESCO Prize for Peace Education.
At that time, Prof. Toh called on professors to attend seminars and workshops to join in the movement for peace and development. Prof. Catallopez said she expressed interest to join because of her previous experience. From there, her journey in the peace and development world became more strategic.
Today, she is teaching in the university’s undergraduate and graduate schools while balancing her role as mobile peace educator and conducting peace seminar workshops in Regions 9, 11 and 12. She also serves as facilitator, resource person for culture of peace seminars, consultant, mediator and peace researcher.
“The school is the most potent tool for social transformation as it has access to people of all ages and all walks of life. It is needed for systematic teachings so people understand the root cause of peacelessness,” she said.
Moving forward, Prof. Cantallopez said she still sees herself as a community leader, animator and peace educator in the years to come. Does she still wander and wonder about the meaning of peace? Not anymore.
She has found fulfilment in the communities she worked with, enabling her also to find inner peace. “The communities I have worked with have become resilient to the point of strategizing.
They have established peace houses and have held dialogues to resolve conflicts in the personal and community levels so rifts do not escalate to larger confrontation such as rido or clan wars,” explained Prof. Cantallopez. Real words spoken by war witness, who is now sowing the seeds of peace.
(Prof. Estrella Cantallopez was a finalist in the 5th Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc (RAFI) awards. This article was published in the 5th RAFI book. Published in Mindanao Cross with permission from RAFI