Senior American journalists who recently visited Manila and Mindanao to engage with peers, experts and other stakeholders on US-Muslim relations found the exercise useful, saying the study visit from 11-16 August 2011 offered them a first –hand opportunity to examine the complexity of religious, ethnic and economic diversity in the Philippines.
In an evaluation of the program, Jason Scanlon of FOX News Channel wrote, “I was surprised by the many varieties of and differences between countries in the way they practice Islam. It makes it clear that no one political size will fit all in terms of U.S. relations with Muslim majority countries.”
Their positive evaluation was part of the final report that the East-West Center, Hawaii, organizer of the study visit under the 2011 Senior Journalists Seminar program, prepared after all participants met for a final dialogue session in Honolulu. ACFJ helped East West Center organized the Manila leg of the visit that included, among others, a dialogue with the Ateneo academic community on 16 August 2011.
During the study visit in the Philippines, the American journalists were briefed on the on-going peace negotiations by the key officials from the Philippines government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front as well as officials from the military and NGOs. They also had the opportunity to examine the linkages between religion and policy-making and visit ‘social transformation’ projects.
These included a session with the founder of Gawad Kalinga, who highlighted community efforts to be inclusive and bring prosperity to the poorest poor. The American journalists toured a Gawad Kalinga housing community and meet with residents. They also visited a school built and operated by the Philippine Christian Foundation, which provides education, food, health care and skills training to families living in the poorest slums of Manila, including Smokey Mountain.
After their visit to the Philippines, the journalists proceeded to Bangladesh and to New York City where they engaged with Asian journalists who also had first-hand opportunity to meet with religious and inter-faith leaders, government and business leaders, academics and community leaders in America.
One of the Asian journalists in the US leg under the 2011 Senior American Journalists Seminar was Ana Maria Pamintuan, executive editor of The Philippine Star, who wrote, “There is even more religious diversity in the United States in this world than I thought, which makes it all the more important to promote better understanding and build tolerance with programs like the Senior Journalists Seminar. The media also has a large role to play.”