Howard Q. Dee: My lamppost in peacebuilding

The author (right) with (from HQD (second from right) and his former staff at the Government Peace Panel, Dan Encinas, Carla Villarta (left and second from left, respectively).

It was at the Peace Commission in the late 1980s that I first came to meet Ambassador Howard Q. Dee, or HQD as we often refer to him. Fresh out of graduate school, I was a very diligent staff reporting to then Cabinet Secretary for Rural Development Edilberto De Jesus under the Aquino Administration.
I noted a simple, low-key person who would come by once in a while, sitting quietly in his office beside my cubicle. One time in December, he called me in and, to my surprise, handed me a gift check. Except for the usual polite greetings, we actually did not know each other very well then, so I was thrilled to be noticed and remembered by this generous man.
I fondly recall that moment when Dee joined us at the Peace Commission for a team-building activity at the IIRR in Cavite City. At the end of the day, the facilitator suggested for us to give away our rose to someone who had touched us in the course of the day’s sharing. Much to my surprise, Dee handed me his rose before he left. I was moved by his graciousness. This set in motion my own destiny in the next many years of working closely with Dee.
Our direct work engagement began during my work transition from OPAPP to the Peace Panel Secretariat. As the work in the course of the UNESCO Culture of Peace Summit began to overwhelm me, I found myself walking beside Dee at the PICC hallway. He overheard me talking to myself about quitting my job, and promptly invited me to transfer to the GRP Peace Panel Secretariat which was under his helm until 1998, the year he founded Tabang Mindanaw. When some newly-placed top officials in OPAPP were unable to reconcile why his Peace Office paid special attention to the lumads, Dee invited me to move to the Assisi Development Foundation where Tabang Mindanaw was hosted for the next 10 years.
For so many years working with Dee, it was the many daily conversations I had with him that would be part of my most treasured experiences. He loved to talk, to share his personal insights, his stories (even if they were often repeated). These conversations with a wise and humble man have instilled in my heart and soul core principles which I draw from during my own peacebuilding endeavors, particularly for the past 10 years that I have been working on my own. These encounters – at work, in his office and in our travels together (until mid- 2000s when movement was restricted due to health reasons), enabled me to witness very closely a great peacebuilder in action.
We visited rescued child soldiers from the NPAs in military camps; I had sat down with him in many confidential meetings with top government officials, bishops, foreign dignitaries and heads of mission. We visited IDP camps in Central Mindanao during the 2000-2003 all-out-war, and had walked miles to visit lumad communities.
When he could no longer travel as much as he wanted to, he would listen eagerly to my stories coming from the field. He supported every undertaking I had recommended, which made it possible for me to make firm decisions in the frontline and to follow through with these commitments.
In my own decision-making process, I would always ask myself, “How would the Ambassador decide in situations like this?”
Dee’s trust and faith in me was very crucial in facilitating my own management of difficult tasks and decisions for Tabang Mindanaw as I navigated more cautiously in the complex zones. Many times during my recent visits in Assisi Development Foundation, I would never fail to express my gratitude to him for honing me, making it possible for me to carry on with my modest peacebuilding initiatives as an independent peaceworker.
In sharing my peacebuilding adventures with Dee, he continues to reaffirm me. And he knows that all the peace mission work I do is my own tribute to him as my peace guru and mentor. On the two occasions that I joined the GRP Peace panel at The Hague for the peace negotiations, I recalled how, before we departed Schiphol airport, Dee would buy three bouquets of fresh tulips. One to bring home to Mrs. Dee, and the two others, for my friend, Carla (our Panel executive director) and myself. He would also distribute his per diem (government allowance in US dollars) to each of us in the Secretariat. What generosity!
Yet, his generosity is something nobody dared abuse. One time at the peace panel office, when I was already doing more work for the indigenous peoples’ concerns, whom Dee believes were often used as pawns in the armed conflict, he called me in for our usual conversation and later handed me what looked like a thick envelope.
He asked me to accept his cash gift in appreciation for the extra difficult work I had been doing. I was happily surprised, but refused to accept his gift and explained that my salary was enough for the work I was doing. Dee was quiet and did not insist. I was humbled by such recognition.
He is not only a significant lamppost in my life. He was a loving father. One time, he called me to his office to say he dreamt of me being so depressed and in tears. And I really was at that time. It was a spiritual communication between us through that dream. I remained quiet as he encouraged me to share with him any personal problems, and that he was around to support me in any way.
My 2008 captivity experience in the hands of the Abu Sayaff Group is a collective narrative of so many people who cared for me. Dee was among them.
My Assisi family constantly prayed the Holy Rosary for me and my fellow captive, my friend Espie. Many times, Dee consoled me in my dreams, leading me to the Blessed Sacrament to pray, reminding me that faith will save me.
He would share with me later, during his visits to me at the hospital after my release, that he would receive the Holy Communion for me in all his daily masses.
I felt strongly that I was never alone in my 61-day captivity given the spiritual bond with both the living and dead, whose spirits surrounded me across time and space. The prayers of Dee and so many people, known and unknown, protected me.
If I could capture the legacy that reverberates in my whole being – my mind, heart and soul – about Dee, they are these words of wisdom that light my way through difficult paths: “Follow where the Spirit leads you, Milet. Even if you are unsure or must err, we must do everything on the side of the poor and marginalized.” And in expressing my deep gratitude to him, he only has these beautiful words for me, “Anything given out of love need not be repaid.”
Ambassador Howard Q. Dee – my peace guru, my spiritual adviser, my father – is so much a part of my whole being – as these are expressed thru the modest work I do for the poor and marginalized. He has enflamed my heart with a passion and courage that is rooted in faith in God and love for Mother Mary.
He is a light in my special treasure box glowing in my heart.
I fondly recall that moment when Dee joined us at the Peace Commission for a team-building activity at the IIRR in Cavite City. At the end of the day, the facilitator suggested for us to give away our rose to someone who had touched us in the course of the day’s sharing.
Much to my surprise, Dee handed me his rose before he left. I was moved by his graciousness. This set in motion my own destiny in the next many years of working closely with Dee. Our direct work engagement began during my work transition from OPAPP to the Peace Panel Secretariat. As the work in the course of the UNESCO Culture of Peace Summit began to overwhelm me, I found myself walking beside Dee at the PICC hallway.
He overheard me talking to myself about quitting my job, and promptly invited me to transfer to the GRP Peace Panel Secretariat which was under his helm until 1998, the year he founded Tabang Mindanaw.
When some newly-placed top officials in OPAPP were unable to reconcile why his Peace Office paid special attention to the lumads, Dee invited me to move to the Assisi Development Foundation where Tabang Mindanaw was hosted for the next 10 years.
For so many years working with Dee, it was the many daily conversations I had with him that would be part of my most treasured experiences.
He loved to talk, to share his personal insights, his stories (even if they were often repeated). These conversations with a wise and humble man have instilled in my heart and soul core principles which I draw from during my own peacebuilding endeavors, particularly for the past 10 years that I have been working on my own. These encounters – at work, in his office and in our travels together (until mid- 2000s when movement was restricted due to health reasons), enabled me to witness very closely a great peacebuilder in action.
We visited rescued child soldiers from the NPAs in military camps; I had sat down with him in many confidential meetings with top government officials, bishops, foreign dignitaries and heads of mission.
We visited IDP camps in Central Mindanao during the 2000-2003 all-out-war, and had walked miles to visit lumad communities.
When he could no longer travel as much as he wanted to, he would listen eagerly to my stories coming from the field. He supported every undertaking I had recommended, which made it possible for me to make firm decisions in the frontline and to follow through with these commitments.
In my own decision-making process, I would always ask myself, “How would the Ambassador decide in situations like this?”
Dee’s trust and faith in me was very crucial in facilitating my own management of difficult tasks and decisions for Tabang Mindanaw as I navigated more cautiously in the complex zones. Many times during my recent visits in Assisi Development Foundation, I would never fail to express my gratitude to him for honing me, making it possible for me to carry on with my modest peacebuilding initiatives as an independent peaceworker.
In sharing my peacebuilding adventures with Dee, he continues to reaffirm me. And he knows that all the peace mission work I do is my own tribute to him as my peace guru and mentor.
On the two occasions that I joined the GRP Peace panel at The Hague for the peace negotiations, I recalled how, before we departed Schiphol airport, Dee would buy three bouquets of fresh tulips. One to bring home to Mrs. Dee, and the two others, for my friend, Carla (our Panel executive director) and myself.
He would also distribute his per diem (government allowance in US dollars) to each of us in the Secretariat. What generosity!
Yet, his generosity is something nobody dared abuse. One time at the peace panel office, when I was already doing more work for the indigenous peoples’ concerns, whom Dee believes were often used as pawns in the armed conflict, he called me in for our usual conversation and later handed me what looked like a thick envelope.
He asked me to accept his cash gift in appreciation for the extra difficult work I had been doing. I was happily surprised, but refused to accept his gift and explained that my salary was enough for the work I was doing. Dee was quiet and did not insist. I was humbled by such recognition.
He is not only a significant lamppost in my life. He was a loving father. One time, he called me to his office to say he dreamt of me being so depressed and in tears. And I really was at that time.
It was a spiritual communication between us through that dream. I remained quiet as he encouraged me to share with him any personal problems, and that he was around to support me in any way.
My 2008 captivity experience in the hands of the Abu Sayaff Group is a collective narrative of so many people who cared for me.
Dee was among them.

HQD (second row, fourth from right) celebrates his 86th birthday with ADFI board members, together with the author (beside HQD) and John Ong (rightmost).
HQD with Espie Hupida (left) and the author


My Assisi family constantly prayed the Holy Rosary for me and my fellow captive, my friend Espie. Many times, Dee consoled me in my dreams, leading me to the Blessed Sacrament to pray, reminding me that faith will save me.
He would share with me later, during his visits to me at the hospital after my release, that he would receive the Holy Communion for me in all his daily masses.
I felt strongly that I was never alone in my 61-day captivity given the spiritual bond with both the living and dead, whose spirits surrounded me across time and space. The prayers of Dee and so many people, known and unknown, protected me.
If I could capture the legacy that reverberates in my whole being – my mind, heart and soul – about Dee, they are these words of wisdom that light my way through difficult paths: “Follow where the Spirit leads you, Milet. Even if you are unsure or must err, we must do everything on the side of the poor and marginalized.” And in expressing my deep gratitude to him, he only has these beautiful words for me, “Anything given out of love need not be repaid.”
Ambassador Howard Q. Dee – my peace guru, my spiritual adviser, my father – is so much a part of my whole being – as these are expressed thru the modest work I do for the poor and marginalized.
He has enflamed my heart with a passion and courage that is rooted in faith in God and love for Mother Mary.
He is a light in my special treasure box glowing in my heart.



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