GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 6 Feb) – Jeremy Simons of “i-Emergence / Initiatives for International Dialogue” – coordinator of the Bangsamoro Cultural Advocacy Project, an instructor at the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute and Restorative Justice Consultant – wrote in MindaNews (February 2, 2014: PEACETALK: Bring the FAB home: Weave the Amakan Annex) his comment on the “Annex on Normalization” of the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB). Adversarial, the comment pointed out the less emphasized aspect of “normalization”.
He visualized “balanced normalization” using the metaphor of “banig” (mat) and “amakan” (sawali) to backdrop his opening question on the Annex: “[D]id anyone notice the challenges facing implementation, especially in Tribal Communities?”
In the mat or sawali, horizontal and vertical strips of reeds or buri palm leaves (for mats) or thin bamboo splits (for sawali) are interwoven. Citing analysts, Simons said metaphorically that in normalization “the horizontal reeds and fibers of community reconciliation must be effectively integrated in order to hold together the vertical accomplishments of peace weaving, otherwise the whole thing falls apart”.
What have analysts noted relative to normalization according to Simons? Two inter-related conflicts are being solved – the “vertical conflict” and the “horizontal conflicts”. The first, which is “the armed political struggle of the MILF against the national government”, is necessarily interrelated with the second as being “the primary manifestation of inter/intra-cultural, land-based and social conflicts in local communities”.
Simons concludes: “Thus, the success of the vertical political settlement by the high level negotiators is somehow related to the capacity for social reconciliation and restoration of trust in the communities of the Bangsamoro at the horizontal level.” That is, if the two aspects – vertical and horizontal – of normalization are balanced and properly interwoven, success of normalization is the consequence.
Simons observes: “Judging by the amount of text dedicated to policing and security aspects, one could be forgiven for assuming that living peacefully is primarily about guns and rifles. This shows the limited capacity of the parties to concretely include Tribal (Indigenous) Peoples’ and other cultural communities in the development of the security aspect.” The assumption implies that less emphasis on the “social reconciliation and restoration of trust” aspect of normalization underlying the lot of the gunless IPs and other cultural communities makes the Annex imbalance.
Read the article. Much of it highlights serious concerns, challenges, and issues relating to the IPs and other cultural communities as a result of what they see as failure of Government and MILF to give proper accommodation to cultural identity, social reconciliation and restoration of trust in the peace process particularly as an aspect of normalization. This is perceived imbalance not only in the Annex on Normalization but on the whole peace process.
As Simons has discussed, there are positive steps but are not full steps:
- The FAB provides “reassurances of inclusivity”. Yet, the “grass-roots peacebuilders and community leaders … are more and more concerned about culture in the peace process. … Until now, these reassurances have been mostly text in the FAB and annexes … but there is no clear mechanism that will address these interlocking issues.”
- 2. The FAB addresses the “process of community healing and reconciliation” which “involves the restoration of human relationships and rebuilding of trust”. However, “sadly, the Normalization annex provides limited guidance for this process. That is because the majority of the annex – 7 of 11 pages – consists of a disarmament plan for the armed forces in the Bangsamoro”.
- The Annex on Normalization “makes little mention or reference to the deeper and durable cultural aspects underlying normalization – social reconciliation and resolution of land conflicts via conciliation, cultural healing and restoration”.
- 4. “Where the Annex mentions a ‘transitional justice and reconciliation commission’ – it provides only three paragraphs in less than half a page. And rather than looking deep within the vast leadership resources of Mindanao, the chairperson for this commission is to be an ‘international expert,’ presumably, a foreigner.”
The article concludes: “The question, therefore, of how socio-cultural dynamics are engaged in the Bangsamoro transition process, is crucial. If these cultural confidence building mechanisms can be implemented, it would be a very welcome and [very welcome, too, would be] concrete sign of the inclusivity needed for genuine reconciliation in the Bangsamoro.”
Fulfillment in Question
Who will disagree with Simons’ position that “social reconciliation and restoration of trust” is crucial to the success of the peace process in Mindanao? That this has not been given the proper space and emphasis in the normalization aspect of the process should be looked into and the errors rectified.
There are IP leaders who have hailed the peace agreements as the hope for the IPs. Simons, however, has pointed out that the “reassurances of inclusivity” are only up to the text. Meaning, what have been promised may not be fulfilled. There are other critics who share this view even if in relation to concerns other that the IPs.
Fr. Eliseo “Jun” Mercado, O.M.I., a noted peace advocate keyed to the Moro Problem, in his article, “Peace with the MILF – Nearing the Finish Line…?” (GMA News Network, February 2, 2014) commending the expanded range of the Annex on Normalization, poses: “And the real challenge for Government and the MILF would be their CAPACITY to put these into the Basic Law and Implement the Law once enacted and approved in a plebiscite called for the purpose.”
Manny Valdehuesa, in his column article, “Object lessons” (MindaNews, February 4, 2014), sees Bangsamoro as a model in moral integrity but asks whether its leaders would not succumb to the temptation of accepting “pork money” for its development. His exhortation, “To be corruption-free and a model of good governance for the rest of Philippine society must be the Bangsamoro’s highest ideal!”, sets the lofty goal. Yet, some may raise fulfillment at issue.
Reflections on Simons’, Mercado’s and Valdehuesa’s pieces focus in our mind’s eye the “CIU Affliction” – “CIU” for “Conflict in Us”. The “Affliction” is a reality long with us. We set lofty plans and goals but because of conflicts in us – mostly within our control – we end up half below our goals, much lower, or in complete bust.
Item: Solving the Moro Problem to have peace in Mindanao has been pursued since 1976 – or a quest in its 37th year, starting 1977 since the Tripoli Agreement was signed in the last week of 1976. But peace negotiations crashed after takeoff, aborted or left stranded; agreements were scuttled or controversially implemented – all because Government and Moro rebels could not reconcile their conflicting priorities and interests; and so with Moro rebel factions and leaders.
Item: The ARMM under R.A. 6734 and R.A. 9054 and, before it, the CNI (Commission on National Integration) could have solved the Mindanao Problem. But Government could not provide adequate funds and the Moro leaders involved could not sacrifice their personal and political priorities and interests for the welfare of the Moro and IP masses.
Item: As early as the 1960s, Government had conceived “massive economic development” of Moro and IP communities as the ultimate solution to the Mindanao Problem. While it could have preempted the Moro rebellion, it has remained a concept. Manila repeatedly offered it to appease militant Moro leaders. President Aquino III anchored the reform of the ARMM on it. It was the core of the “3 for 1 Proposal” to MILF. The concept remains a promise. Funding to give life to the concept and sustain it conflicts with the funding of national primary development projects.
Turn the focus beyond the Mindanao Problem.
Item: Just start with President Manuel A. Roxas of the Second Republic. Every President had grandiose short and long range economic development plans. The Philippines could have been the Eden of Asia. Why have we gone from the most developed country with clean government down to the least progressive and one of the most corrupt in Southeast Asia? Look into our society! The answer is in how the rich have grown richer and the powerful have become more powerful.
Item: We believe – and rightly so – that the people have the power of suffrage to elect honest and competent officials to reform government and society. But elections after elections, the same crooks – their tribe increasing – have been returned to power. Why? Conflicting values in voters.
Item: President Aquino III enhanced his Cory-based popularity with his good governance platform – slogan-wise, “Daang Matuwid” (Straight Path) – to win by a landslide. Yet, more than half-way past his six-year term, the “daang matuwid” still has to prevail. Some of Aquino III’s appointees are involved in or lukewarm to or tolerant of the re-emerging corruption. The ideals and norms of “daang matuwid” yield to pragmatism – the desire for gains and profits no matter the means and the cost.
Simons deplores the preference of a foreigner to a Mindanao leader to head the transitional justice and reconciliation commission. That, too, is a strain of the CIU affliction. We take pride in the Filipino or in the Moro or in the IP. Yet, we readily cast aside that pride to satisfy necessity.
Let’s look into contemporary realities.
Could the Government-MILF and the earlier GRP-MNLF peace negotiations have succeeded if not for the facilitation of foreign governments and assistance of international groups?
Much of development of Moro and other Mindanao conflict-affected areas have been, and still are, with the assistance of foreign government and international aid agencies. Among the provisions in the Annex on Normalization is the attraction of foreign donations and grants for the economic development of Bangsamoro.
Since the Marcos era, foreign countries have been providing employment to Filipino workers who not only earn for their families but also boost the dollar reserve of the government.
Filipino activists and nationalists cry, “Yankees, go home!” Yet, we send “S.O.S.” to the Yankees for military and calamity assistance. Among the top items in the agenda of any Filipino President after taking power is to get an invitation from the White House in Washington, D.C., for a state visit to the United States and a meeting with the U.S. President.
Our CIU affliction is chronic. It cries for cure.
(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)