Col. Stephen Cabanlet one of the Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos 2022 awardees (WESCOM photo)
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Colonel Stephen L. Cabanlet, the assistant chief of the Unified Command Staff for Operations (U3) of the Western Command (WESCOM) in Palawan, has been selected as one of the 10 awardees of the 2022 Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos

Cabanlet, who belongs to the Philippine Marine Corps (PMC), will receive his award, including a P1-million cash prize, on September 5.

He was nominated by Alagang Kapatid Foundation executive director Menchie Silvestre.

Cabanlet graduated from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) in 1996. He was posted in Mindanao during the all-out war campaign in Camp Abubakar after graduation.

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Football clinic, one of the activities of the Football for Peace program that started in Mindanao and was recently held in Puerto Princesa City. (PN photo)

He was subsequently deployed to other provinces in the area, where he finally established the Football for Peace initiative after seeing the need for an alternative way to bring peace and development.

He was chosen among several candidates for his services to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) projects for peace and development.

Cabanlet, who understood the need to change the military approach in bringing peace and development in Southern Philippines, particularly in Sulu province, but did not have enough capacity to explicitly implement a new approach, didn’t mind the challenge of achieving the Football for Peace advocacy program.

Football encourages children and teenagers to choose appropriate conduct rather than being persuaded to become renegades.

Last July 15, a panel chaired by Senator Grace Po conducted his last interview for the award.

Three military members, three police officers, and four teachers were chosen from more than 100 contenders for this year’s honor. The Metrobank Foundation will provide each awardee with a P1 million cash incentive, a golden medallion, and “The Flame” trophy.

Cabanlet said that with the Football for Peace initiative, he was able to engage communities in Sulu through civil military operations, earning their confidence in order to introduce other government initiatives to them.

“Hindi siya actually Football for Peace lang kasi ang lagi kong sinasabi, ang football is just a tool, siya yung weapon ko in order to engage the community. Ibig sabihin, mayrong mga projects na kailangang gawin sa community. Una, football softens the ground. So pag na-engage ko yung community, yung mga bata and mga parents nila, nakukuha ko kung ano talaga yung hinaing ng mga tao para hindi sila ma-recruit, hindi na kailangan ng mga baril,” Cabanlet stated.

He also recalled a specific occurrence on Pata Island, when 118 army personnel were killed in a massacre on February 12, 1981, which stigmatized the island’s residents.

Cabanlet said that when he visited the island in 2017, he saw that it seemed to have been completely abandoned, adding that the 1981 event left an imprint in the minds of the locals that troops are labeled as an undesirable part of society.

He acquired the people’s trust and confidence via football, and as a result, he learned and was able to solve their needs and issues in the community.

“Introducing football sa kanila, I was able to engage people, I was able to engage them where they told me stories, what happened, what is in their hearts and in their minds about military, about the government. Mataas ang rate ng family feud, walang development, walang iskwelahan, walang health services, so in general wala talagang basic services. So I asked ano ang dapat gawin? Sabi nila sa akin, gusto nilang magpa-register para makaboto sa election, kailangan nila ng wharf, angdami talaga nilang needs. So sabi ko, I will not promise but I will deliver something na pwede nyong magamit,” Cabanlet narrated.

“Since nararamdaman ko yung sakit at trauma nila doon sa 1981 incident, ang una kong ginawa is pinaayos ko yung mosque nila kung saan nangyari yung massacre, para in time of healing. Then at the same time, gumawa kami ng memorial marker dedicated to the people of Pata and sa mga sundalo na namatay. So ang ginawa ko to have a healing and reconciliation, in-engage ko sila so nakapunta ako doon para maalis yung takot nila, through football,” he added.

Since then, the island has gained the expansion of a national high school, a health facility, and a daycare center, all of which were built via the Football for Peace network, which people gave to and supported.

“Two or three months ago, may nagbigay ng solar panels. Ngayon may water system na pino-propose so marami nang pumapasok na development at mga tao doon,” Cabanlet said.

The program also led to several residents surrendering their firearms and other weapons, and other former members of the Abu Sayaff Group also surrendered.

“In 2018 nagsusulputan yung hand over ng loose firearms sa Sulu, I was the one who started that in Pata Island. They handed over cruiser weapons and high-powered firearms to me. Sa battalion ko pa lang, almost 300 firearms kasama na yung mortar, .50 caliber, rocket launchers,” he said.

Since its inception, the Football for Peace program has evolved. Aside from football clincs, the program also now brings other humanitarian services such as medical, surgical and dental services, and community outreach programs.

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