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War witness, soldier’s wife contributes to peace efforts

PROMOTING a culture of peace goes beyond teaching it inside classrooms.
For Prof. Estrella Alvarado Cantallopez, the heart and soul of peace education is going out in 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: listening.
CEBU. After spending decades in education, Prof. Estrella A. Cantallopez says schools hold the most potential for teaching people to understand why peace, for some communities, proves elusive. (Sun.Star Cebu)

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 made the most of her previous role as director of NDU’s Peace Center by starting projects that help depressed and war-torn communities.
After giving a peace education seminar in Barangay Pagangan, Aleosan in North Cotabato, Prof. Cantallopez saw the need to provide them with livelihood opportunity. She linked them with the University of the Philippines’ Seeds Program, which later provided them training on organic farming.
House of Peace
She also linked them with the United Nations Act for Peace program, which provided them a two-hectare property that serves as their refuge.
Prof. Cantallopez helped trained teachers to prepare proposals for books and computer donations. She also helped them build “Bahay Kalilintad” (House of Peace), where anyone is free to come and discuss community issues. It also serves as a center to settle individual disputes.
Prof. Cantallopez juggles various responsibilities, including teaching in the undergraduate and the graduate schools, conducting research, serving as thesis and dissertation reader and adviser, advising 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.
She also initiated and spearheaded three dialogue programs and peace negotiations between community people of Nuyo in Maguindanao and the Philippine Army; community people of Dualing in North Cotabato and a military officer; and the groups of Commander Karon of MNLF and Commander Jing Kaludtiag of MILF.
“When people experience hardships and pains, the first person to come to their rescue would always be welcomed. That was what I made them feel, that I could be there to walk with them, swim with them, and help them when they sink,” she said.
Seeing the big picture
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.

“These issues are not to be dealt with in isolation, but as pieces of a whole. They are interconnected with other problems related to peace and violence so therefore, they should be addressed as a whole,” she explained.
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.
“There I lived a regimented life, waking up at 6 a.m. I memorized the Spanish version of ‘Our Lord’s Prayer’. The sight of soldiers in our place was normal,” she narrated.
Her lola’s strict upbringing brought out the best in her, enabling Prof. Cantallopez
to graduate top of her class in elementary and high school.
She was uneasy with the presence of soldiers, she admitted.
Growing up, all she heard were stories of wars that she thought that the presence of soldiers only meant one thing: chaos.
As a young lady, she looked forward to her college education at the University of San Carlos in Cebu City. She thought that was the time for her to live 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 neighbor survived. But the emotional trauma the accident left on her was massive.
She developed a fear of the 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 explosions. It was a change of atmosphere for her.
There, she learned about the Notre Dame of Cagayan de Sulu, owned by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. She taught in the university, which gave her a productive venue to divert her attention from all the chaos. Life was peaceful with her career as a teacher.
This was short-lived. Her husband was ordered to report to Jolo, Sulu where she again encountered several life-threatening episodes.
Lights, fires and explosions were common to her.
She learned to live in an atmosphere of uncertainty. Wounded and dead soldiers were commonplace. Stories of engineer soldiers being ambushed while doing civic action for the poor and displaced were anticipated.
Just when Prof. Cantallopez was wondering about the purpose of her life, Prof. Toh Swee-Hin, a peace educator connected with the United Nationals Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), visited their university to establish a peace education center.
Toh served as Dean of Education at the University of Alberta. He received the 2000 UNESCO Prize for Peace Education. He was invited to give a talk at NDU. His visit was also aimed at building a peace center at the university, according to Prof. Cantallopez.
Going beyond campuses
At that time, Prof. Toh called on professors to attend seminars and workshops to join in the movement for peace and development. Prof. Cantallopez 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 has the most potential as a 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 causes of peacelessness,” she said.
Moving forward, 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?
She has found fulfillment in the communities she worked with enabling her to also find inner peace.
“The communities I have worked with have become resilient to the point of strategizing. They need not run to evacuation centers all the time. This could be the effect of all joint efforts in the community, not the lone impact of my peace-building work.”
“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 a war witness, who is now helping sow the seeds of peace.
(Prof. Estrella Cantallopez is one of five finalists for the Ramon Aboitiz Award for Exemplary Individual. The 5th RAFI Triennial Awards will be handed out on March 22, 2012.)
Monday, March 5, 2012 | SunStar.Com.Ph | Article Link


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