Nonviolence is not a fluffy ideal full of rainbows and happily ever afters. It is also not a beautiful dream of the oppressors and oppressed singing Kumbaya together. It is a science that is carefully planned as much as an art that listens deeply to the Kairos moments. It digs deep into a sacredness bigger than myself.

Does nonviolence truly work?

What is our accountability?

The Peace and Reconciliation (PAR) Monitor who took this photo and who submitted this to our office was later declared missing and feared murdered. 

27 January 2015. A member of Dulangan Manobo tribe surveys a freshly bulldozed logging road cut through the old-growth forest of the tribe’s ancestral homeland by a predatory corporation. John Calaba, the Peace and Reconciliation (PAR) Monitor who took this photo and who submitted this to our office was later declared missing and feared murdered. But the tribe sent five more volunteers to be trained by PBCI as PAR Monitors. Peacebuilders Community Inc. (PBCI) continue to commit ourselves to walk with them. (PBCI ICT Team)

Our organization, Peacebuilders Community Inc., (PBCI) has been walking with the Dulangan Manobo for several years. This tribe has been struggling to reclaim its ancestral domain from DMCI Holdings, a private corporation. The government has given DMCI logging rights to the Dulangan Manobo’s land under Integrated Forest Management Agreement (IFMA). The full story is in the references cited below. The government, despite many nonviolent approaches used by the indigenous peoples including international solidarity movements, turned a deaf ear to their plight. In fact, several of the checkpoints supposedly to keep peace in the place were of the Civilian Auxiliary Forces Government Unit. This unit is paid by the government but often used as militia by private corporations or politicians. (Gil, 2016; HD Centre, 2011)

I was not directly involved with those who walked with the Dulangan Manobo but their story is echoed in every community that I go. Everywhere that I am confronted with the faces of injustice, I doubted many times if nonviolence truly works. The Dulangan Manobos are not alone in suffering from the greed of a few people owning mega-corporations backed by foreign investments.

In 2012, I met the tribes of Umayamnon and Manobo Pulangion in Bukidnon. They asked us to help them in their struggle to regain their ancestral land that was “leased” by a sugar company under the same forest management agreement given 50 years ago.

They invited us to their village and our team had several meetings with them. I saw that their living quarters were not fit even for animals, that I cannot call it a house. I have seen doghouses that were sturdier than their shanties. Their drinking water was brown with mud. I clearly remember one of them telling me while pointing to the tree-less land, “Look around you! If the agreement is for forest management, where did our forest go? Why is our land full of sugarcane and cows?” 

Many rural laborers are unjustly treated by big agro-businesses in the Philippines.

Much as I wanted to jump in their cause, I referred them to another organization because we did not have the resources to deal with ancestral domain claims that time. We lost contact with them and I just found out that their leader has been murdered in 2017. ( There are many more stories like theirs.

The same question arises, does nonviolence work? What does it mean for me as I lead our team? What do I do with these precious stories? What is my accountability as one who have heard?

Hannah Tsadik in her article “May I ask where is my reconciled heart” said that the normative trend in peacebuilding regarding monitoring and evaluation is about learning before, during and after implementation. But echoing with her question, I also ask myself if learning is enough to measure my impact as a peacebuilding worker.  

Tsadik identified four accountabilities to evaluate holistically: donor accountability (results and financial management), beneficiary accountability (outcomes, practice and policies), internal accountability (organizational mission, values, members and staff), and horizontal accountability (peers and other peacebuilding actors).

I am struggling with the beneficiary accountability. My logic says our organization cannot control the outcome and that we have done our best. Still, this accountability question resides deep within my heart.

Tribal advocate John Calaba and PBCI staff writer Jonathan Cranston in John’s hometown of Elem, Barangay Salangsang, Lebak, Sultan Kudarat.  

A Dulangan Manobo asked, “Where are you in our crisis? Have you abandoned us? Will you stand by and watch while we are destroyed?” (Cranston, 2015)

In my mind, I know that I am limited and so is my organization. We are not saviors but it still does not stop the grief that arises when I see the suffering of my people. I look back again to nonviolence, hoping to seek an answer.

I imagine nonviolence in my mind and I picture a dove with the cunning of a snake flying into a den of wolves. Like what the Bible said, ‘Be wise as a serpent and meek as a dove.” And in going to a den of wolves when it could fly away, the dove with a serpent’s cunning know that there are costs. In multiple books chronicling nonviolent movements, violence done to nonviolent proponents are a reality. (Payne, 2007; Engler and Engler, 2017; Cullors, 2019) It is in the backdrop of violence when nonviolence stands in stark difference, making it more effective. In this context, nonviolence is a strategic plan of action to challenge unjust and oppressive systems. In Gene Sharp’s list, there are 198 ways of nonviolent actions. These actions collectively called nonviolent resistance have a higher batting average than violent revolutions in changing policies and relationships between nonstate actors and state actors (Stephan and Chenoweth, 2008). But what makes nonviolence stand out even more is when the dove chooses to remain a dove even when the wolves tear it apart.

Nonviolence then is not a fluffy ideal full of rainbows and happily ever afters. It is also not a beautiful dream of the oppressors and oppressed singing Kumbaya together. (Engler and Engler, 2017) It is a science that is carefully planned as much as an art that listens deeply to the Kairos moments. It digs deep into a sacredness bigger than myself.

And for the most oppressed to choose to remain a dove means actively rewriting realities crafted by the powerful oppressors (Freire, 2005) because it does not play with the oppressor’s rules.

For now, I sit with all of these concepts, choosing nonviolence again a little longer. It did not answer all my questions nor did it answer the pain of the people facing oppression. But until there is a better alternative to what Freire says as “bringing back the humanity of the oppressor,” and in keeping with my faith tradition that says “love your enemies,” I will choose nonviolence while wailing out against injustice.


Armed Violence in Mindanao: Militia and Private armies. (July 2011). The Institute of Bangsamoro Studies and the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue. Retrieved from

Cranston, J. (2016, August 08). VOICES FROM THE DULANGAN MANOBO FILE. Retrieved from


Cranston, J. (2015, April 21). Dulangan Manobo: A Tribe Besieged. Retrieved from

Dulce, L. (2015, June 5). DMCI: Deforestation, Mining, Coal, and Injustice. Retrieved from

Engler, M., & Engler, P. (2017). This is an uprising: How nonviolent revolt is shaping the twenty-first century. New York: Nation Books.

Freire, P. (2005). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. (30th ed.). New York, NY: Continuum Publishing.

Gil, E. (2016, September 22). The Philippines must get rid of its militias now. Retrieved from

Khan-Cullors, P., Bandele, A., & Davis, A. Y. (2019). When they call you a terrorist: A black lives matter memoir. Edinburgh: Canongate.

Lumibao, R. (2017, December 06). ‘Terrorism’ | Soldiers kill 8 Lumad in South Cotabato. Retrieved from

Payne, C. M. (2007). I’ve got the light of freedom: The organizing tradition and the Mississippi freedom struggle. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Philippines – Assassination of Indigenous Rights Defender Renato Anglao. (2017, May 27). Retrieved from

Phil. House. (n.d.). (A. B. Casilao, C. T. Zarate, E. A. De Jesus, A. L. Tinio, A. D. Brosas, F. L. Castro, et al., Authors) [H.R. Res. 527 from 17th Congress Cong., First Regular Session sess.].

Stephan, M. J., & Chenoweth, E. (2008). Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict. International Security,33(1), 7-44. doi:10.1162/isec.2008.33.1.7

Tsadik, H. (March 2008). May I Ask Where is my Reconciled Heart? Overcoming the Accountability Imbalance. New Routes,13, 7-10.

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