Upi, a third-class mountainous municipality, with a population of 51,141 at the time of the 2000 survey by the NSO, had seen much blood shed in the conflict between its three groups of inhabitants: the majority Teduray Lumads (comprising 44% of the population); the Maguindanao Muslims (23%); and the Christian settlers (33%).
The conflict has many roots, and one is cultural. Among Tidurays, conflict is settled through their kefeduwan, or council of elders; among Muslims, through their kokoman, or Muslim council; and among Christians, through the Katarungang Pambarangay, or barangay court.
When the conflict crosses culture or tribe, settlement becomes difficult. The tribal way of settling conflict does not apply. In the past, settlement sometimes took Mosaic form an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Enemies, sometimes involving families, were physically eliminated. Violence induced more violence. The conflict seemed to never end.
But the road to progress demands peace. With 65% of Upi's population living below the poverty threshold for ages, the need to promote peace is urgent. Thus, Mayor Ramon A. Piang, Sr., a Teduray, held a series of consultations with elders of the different tribes. On August 25, 2001, he issued Executive Order No. 4 creating the Mayor's Council and, thus, started the program called "Tri-People Way of Conflict Resolution."
The council's primary function is to amicably settle cases arising among Upi residents, or between Upi residents and outside parties. It has prepared a set of rules and procedures for settlement. For equal representation, the council is composed of six representatives, two from each inhabitant group. The representatives are respected in their communities and are chosen by the people through a consensus. This ensures that the decision taken by the council will be recognized and respected.
The program is designed in such a way that the traditional methods of resolving conflict are still used, including the awarding of damages. If the conflicting parties are both Tedurays, the case is resolved before the kefeduwan, and if both Muslims, before the kokoman. If the case is cross-tribal, the Mayor's Council sits en banc. Unresolved cases are endorsed to the police authorities for proper filing.
The program incorporates the old customs of sealing a resolution or an agreement, such as cutting of rattan and scrapping of fingernails among Tedurays.
The Katarungang Pambarangay was strengthened since the Mayor's Council would not hear or settle cases unless they passed through the barangay court. Barangay officials, or the lupon tagapamayapa, hear the cases first. Only unresolved cases are elevated to the Mayor's Council, with accompanying written endorsement.
Since 2001, the Mayor's Council had heard 20 cases, of which 17 were resolved and 3 were endorsed to the police. The cases involved acts of lasciviousness, attempted rape, marriage problems, deaths due to accident or murder, gun toting and firing, family feuds, quarrels, land conflict, stabbing and physical injury, and commodity or trading problems. It also reduced cases filed with the police by 35%.
Overall, the program has provided a conflict resolution structure that is affordable to the marginalized sector who seeks justice. It has also helped to improve harmony among tri-people residents and to avoid the rigors and prohibitive costs of court litigations.
The program is sustained as an executive agenda of the office of the mayor. It is approved by the sangguniang bayan, or municipal council. An NGO, the Saligan Mindanao, has helped codify the Tedurays' "Adat" (customary laws and traditions) and "Tegudon" (penal code) for consistency in deciding on Teduray cases.
The program has attracted notice from various groups and institutions. It has been mentioned in a book on people's participation in governance prepared by the Philippines-Canada Local Government Support Program. In a Community-Oriented Policing System seminar in Davao City, it has been suggested for replication in other municipalities of Maguindanao.