It was the second quarter of 2020, the start of the nationwide quarantine due to COVID-19. While Moro communities were observing Ramadan, the quarantine restrictions had made it more challenging for the Bangsamoro people to get by every day. On top of this, their lack of awareness and access to correct information on COVID-19 has led to widespread misinformation and disinformation, which aggravated the local transmission in communities.
To help address these issues, the Coalition of Moro Youth Movement (CMYM) and the Lanao del Sur radio group leaders launched risk communication and community engagement initiatives among Moro communities. With support from the Australian Embassy in the Philippines, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and in partnership with the Bangsamoro Youth Commission (BYC), the CMYM led online and offline campaigns to spread accurate and updated information on COVID-19, especially in the geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas.
Bayanihan to reach the unreached
“Our youth movement was tapped by the BYC Chairman Marjanie Macasalong to help the Bangsamoro Government reach out to more Moro communities. Since we have chapters and volunteers in different provinces and municipalities within the Bangsamoro Region, we were able to leverage this network to ensure that the Moro households will be given assistance during the pandemic,” said Hassanodin Ali of CMYM.
For communities who have access to internet and social media channels, the Moro youth movement maximized the use of its Facebook page to roll out a series of online conversations that discussed advisories and responses to frequently asked questions on COVID-19, as well as updates on the pandemic in Lanao del Sur and BARMM.
This social media campaign was complemented by distributing printed materials in local dialect and information dissemination through local radio announcements in order to reach far-flung areas with limited internet connectivity.
The Moro youth movement also collaborated with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members, faith-based leaders, and local government units in their COVID-19 prevention and response efforts. Together, they distributed 700 sets of hygiene kits among frontline workers in 54 villages in Lanao del Sur province. Among the recipients were members of Barangay Peacekeeping Action Teams and Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams. This initiative instilled the importance of observing proper hygiene practice to prevent the spread of the virus among health care workers and other sectors working in the frontline.
When asked what inspired these initiatives, the members of the Moro youth movement highlighted the Maranao value of kapamagogopa (Maranao term for “bayanihan” or sharing or helping one another in the spirit of unity and volunteerism) and kalilintad (Maranao term for “peace”).
“In these trying times, the Maranao traditional concept kapamagogopa, is all the more necessary to realize the peace that we envision in our area,” said CMYM Project Officer Annas Deriposun.
Bayanihan for peace and development
It was also this value of kapamagogopa that moved the proponents of the Federation of Lanao Two-Way Radio Groups for Peace and Development to come together and unite their efforts in communication and advocacy for peace and development in the province.
Two-way radios might be too old-fashioned for some, but for the remote communities in BARMM, it is one of the main communication lines to get the most updated information. It is a safe space for delivering crucial information especially in this time of pandemic.
The Federation of Lanao Two-Way Radio Groups for Peace and Development was formally organized to facilitate communication with government institutions and collaborate in cascading information to the grassroots level.
To provide accurate, relevant and updated messages on COVID-19 prevention and response, as well as peacebuilding and development to the most remote areas of Lanao del Sur, the Federation convened to identify ways to combat misinformation, disinformation, stigma, and discrimination among communities affected by COVID-19 and intergroup conflicts and violent extremism. They believe that these efforts will help alleviate social tensions, clarify misunderstandings that could potentially lead to conflicts, and bridge the relationship between leaders and local communities.
“Organizing the Two-Way Radio Groups of Lanao del Sur and Marawi City into a Federation is also an important step towards our quest for responsible radio operation and news reporting,” said Sultan Ansary P. Maongco, organizer of the Federation.
Since the formation of the Federation, the radio group operators and the Provincial Government of Lanao del Sur have continued to work together in the true spirit of kapamagogopa (bayanihan) and kalilintad (peace). Now, Moro communities in far-flung areas are able to access accurate and updated information about the pandemic through radio, which serves as their primary means and source of communication during the pandemic.
Since 1996, Australia has been helping Mindanao’s conflict-affected areas towards achieving long-term stability, security, and development. We continue to support the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) for a more inclusive and responsive governance in Mindanao specially in this time of pandemic.
This story was first published under the Australia-Philippines 75th Anniversary Mateship and Bayanihan campaign: https://mateshipandbayanihan.com/75stories/creating-a-safe-space-for-communication-in-the-time-of-covid-19/