THE SMILING FOREHEAD : The Dureza Peace Formula for the Bangsamoro and its Implications in Sulu Archipelago

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/24 July) — Change is Coming. This is President Rodrigo Duterte’s promise that brightens us up and redeems the homeland and raayat of Bangsa Suluk out of the state of stupor and unhopefulness, and for some, behooving them to regain again their trust in government.

Various stakeholders from the roadside have been eagerly awaiting the presidential promise of this change, so that when the Office of the President’s Assistant for the Peace Process (OPAPP) came out with a press statement on July 18, 2016 announcing the presidential imprimatur on the peace and development roadmap for Sulu and Mindanao, it was the same excitement animated by hope and optimism that rippled through the coffee shops and betel-chewing hubs in the town of Jolo and in Zamboanga City when the news circulated.

Admittedly, the actual letters of alleged Dureza peace formula remains a mystery to most. Yet even as the roadmap for implementation lies hidden in obscurity, what the announcement made clear was that the president has approved the resumption of the continuity phase of the GPH-MILF process. But should the proposed “reconstitution” of the Bangsamoro Transitional Commission (BTC) be interpreted as a move toward inclusivity, many may be disappointed. The OPAPP news quoted the President saying that as this is already the implementation stage and the negotiations are over. This seems to warn other stakeholders and important political players sidelined and left-out and still hopeful to catch a last-trip in the process, to pull their breaks into a screeching halt. They can NOT harbor any hopes of further discussions anymore where they might interpolate and add-in their legitimate grievance if the space for ‘negotiation’ is already closed. If ‘Change is Coming,’ it looks unlikely to be any change in this roadmap.

The Dureza proposed strategy of implementing massive development on the ground while simultaneously working to implement agreements begs clarity. Rhetorical and sounding well-intended, the Development Plan for “massive implementation” is however as mysterious and veiled as the Dureza formula and map as a whole. One can only guess if this must be the development plan he refers to the one already laid down by the MILF’ Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA). And/Or is it a BTC-crafted development agenda? It can be recalled that a team of MILF luminaries was in Kuala Lumpur recently to sign the terms of reference and to get the signatories to approve the downloading of funds allocated, and they did just that in the nick of time before the previous administration stepped down.

If this peace and development agenda is yet to be crafted by the BTC, that, though being a “reconstituted” version of the all-Moro body, is not quite inclusive; then this could only mean politically-motivated development interventions that could but succeed to mirror the scheme of “demobilization and normalization” provided for in the Comprehensive Agreement.

Learning from lessons of the MNLF-GRP Final Peace Agreement and the ARMM, the so-called development package would most likely consist of rehabilitation and reintegration programs for rebel returnees. In such unfortunate case, the people in Sulu archipelago and the Bangsa Suluk communities will once again be brought into risk of being in the receiving end of fall-outs, and becoming collateral damages of failed projects and experiments. Sadder still, those who have fought and struggled in 1970s and are now exiled in diaspora would forever be forgotten. If we have been thinking that Change is Coming, we might do good starting unthinking those thoughts now.

The prospect of a new and inclusive enabling Law in lieu of the butchered and shot-down Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to be refiled in Congress may at first instance seem reassuring. But the mechanism tasked for its drafting sounds spurious.  An “all-Moro” body is a fascinating scenario that tickles the imagination. If it refers to all political organizations bearing the “Moro” in their name, or if it refers to those defined as the “Bangsamoro”, only the legal interpreters can tell and it can be cause for everyone’s hallucination.

A reconstituted BTC is supposed to be inclusive to be represented by the MNLF, MILF, ARMM, all subjects and principals of past agreements and commitments. But given that the play remains within the table of the GPH-MILF, there is hardly any elbow room left for “representatives” substantively representing unless they are willing converts having already submitted their will to the CAB and the annexes agreements and, of course, having the same and exact interpretations of their makers. Again, no change is to be expected for other political stakeholders not included in the previous negotiations. In which case, the claim to inclusivity is a mere token.

With the above-mentioned point-by-point hurdles, the caveat inviting for an “input” for the form of federal government sounds more of an after-thought, a palliative that nonetheless leaves a sour and bitter taste in the mouth that like chewed-up betel pulp must be spat out hard and far with sputum, phlegm and all.

At best, the Dureza Peace roadmap appears to prescribe a peace formula for Sulu and Mindanao that is sadly captive to the caprices of political belligerent players. And if participation of other political stakeholders should come only through this table, thanks, but no thanks, it is not promising of change at all for the domain of the Sultanate and to the raakyat.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Hadji Al, 46, is a young Tausug entrepreneur, partly owning and managing a famous café and watering hole Dennis Coffee Garden in Zamboanga City. He is an active member of the Jama’ah Tableegh and considers himself a jester in the court of Bangsamoro politics)