Bangsamoro insider mediators inspire Asia-Pacific peacebuilders

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 30 December) — The world cheered the crowning of a Filipina as Miss Universe in Bangkok, Thailand on December 17, 2018 but unknown to most, in that same city a day earlier, the world of peacebuilders also cheered Filipinos – the delegation from the Bangsamoro in particular – who took the center stage to share their experiences as Insider Mediators.

Chetan Kumar, Senior Advisor on Peacebuilding at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) told MindaNews the sharing by members of the Bangsamoro Insider Mediators during the conference on “National Experiences on Insider Mediation in Asia-Pacific: Enhancing Skills, Knowledge and Collaboration” in Bangkok on December 15 to 16, 2018, inspired delegates from other countries.

Chetan Kumar, Senior Advisor on Peacebuilding at the United Nations Development Programme. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

“In fact we had a delegation from Maldives, from Cambodia and from Beijing who are all undergoing political transition … Cambodia has some issues with labor, business for example, they .. already requested to exchange systematically with the group from the Philippines and also Thailand, the host country, expressed interest in understanding more the experience and how it can be useful for the peace process in southern Thailand which is the other major processes right now in Asia that is still ongoing,” Kumar said.

The Insider Mediators is a platform for Bangsamoro men and women from various sectors who try to work within their respective organizations to achieve a wider consensus on major Moro Issues such as the Bangsamoro basic law, federalism and Marawi rehabilitation.

The potentials for insider mediation and Insider Mediators like those coming from the Bangsamoro, are immense. “I think this potential for the group to contribute systematically. I think in doing so, it will also improve their own self confidence and their own capacity because they themselves felt inspired in the way they had evoked the interest from other countries,” he said in an interview on December 20.

Kumar explained that if we look at any process of dialogue in any country around the world, “we find that whether the dialogue was a peace process or a constitution-making or some kind of national dialogue, it has been successful and the results implemented if insider mediators have played a role.”

He said insider mediators “could be senior intermediaries, senior advisers to principals, people with influence because of their backgrounds, their antrophy, their profession, those who can intervene among stakeholders and bring about the adjustments, sometime attitudes, sometimes behaviors, sometimes trust and confidence that are necessary to implement and bring or make any dialogue a success beyond the formal process.”

Kumar said there is a need for insider mediation and this has been the experience in the UN system and of other partners. Since 2012, the UNDP has been supporting insider mediators in countries whether as an effort to build peace or achieve a national transition.

In the Philippines, the concept of insider mediation was formally introduced only in September 2016, in the first months of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, the country’s 16th President and first Mindaawon to lead the nation.

Kumar explained that the UNDP’s initial partnership with the European Union focused on countries in the Middle East following the so-caled Arab Spring and Africa where there are a number of prominent peace processes. He said Asia was the next phase and “of course in Asia right, now the most significant peace process after the one in Nepal in 2006 is the one in the Philippines.”

The Comprehensive Agreement of the Bangsamoro in 2014 between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) “is the first major peace agreement not just in Asia but globally” since Nepal in 2006, Kumar said.

In the Philippines, several batches of Insider Mediators from the Bangsamoro have undergone training.

In the Bangsamoro, IMs coming from various sectors and disciplines came together to work on three major issues: the Bangsamoro peace process, the rehabilitation of Marawi and Federalism.

According to Kumar, the most important thing to understand about insider mediation is that “the capacity for insider mediation and the roles of senior intermediaries put in together informally but in a very systematic way” can be applied in different settings on any national issue that requires bringing people together, any issue that requires cooperation.

In the Philippines, he said, insider mediation was very helpful in achieving consensus on the Bangsamoro Organic Law in Congress, in getting actors to work together and respond effectively to Marawi or on bringing people together around the federalism question, or creating a convergent position among the key actors.

(L to R). Lawyers Jose Lorena, Omar Yasser Crisostomo Sema and Naguib Sinarimbo share the experiences of the Bangsamoro Insider Mediators during the Asia-Pacific conference in Bangkok, Thailan, on 16 December 2018. Photo courtesy of ROSS ALONTO

IMs Naguib Sinarimbo, Jose Lorena, Omar Sema, and Drieza Lininding, shared their experiences as Bangsamoro IMs in the Bangkok conference.

Sinarimbo, a lawyer and UNDP consultant and co-convenor of the Bangsamoro IM is also secretary-general of the United Bangsamoro Justice Party; Lorena and Sema, both lawyers, are members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission that drafted the Bangsamoro basic law; and Drieza Lininding is convenor of the Moro Consensus Group based in Marawi City.

Learn from the Philippines

Kumar recalls that in the regional meeting, IMs from other countries – Myanmar, Maldives, Nepal , among others, offered a broad range of experiences – on formal peace processes, peace agreements, technical cooperation issues like normalization “but we have not had the opportunity with these intermediaries who played such vital informal roles and actually come together and sharing experiences about how they are helping their own countries.”

“What is dramatic is that the Philippines experience was very well received and was inspiring to these intermediaries (who) have done important work but have not organized themselves in a way the Philippines organized themselves in a platform that’s very systematic, has a schedule of activities, has wide capacities for its members and explains a wide variety of roles,” Kumar said, adding “now they want to learn from the Philippines.”

Members of Bangsamoro civil society from Mindanao and Manila, among them members of the Insider Mediators, and Manila-based peace advocacy groups gather at the EDSA Shrine in Quezon City for an interfaith rally on 11 July 2018 to urge the Bicameral Conference Committee meeting in nearby Crowne Plaza hotel to come up with a final version of the proposed Bangsamoro law that is compliant with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. The CAB was signed by government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in March 2014. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

Kumar said the head of the government negotiating team or the peace process in Southern Thiland and their staff and associates did not contribute during the sharing because “they’re still in a learning mode but they learned very actively and they asked a lot of questions and we certainly think that they will try to apply some advice and on the margins of the meeting, they expressed to us that they would really welcome a more systematic exchange with the Philippines on how insider mediation started.”

He said the Philippine model is very interesting to them because it means tapping capacities within Thailand and using people who are influential but informally.

Kumar notes that the best work in the Thailand political processes is often done in private space, informally. So it’s very interesting for them that work can be done quietly and in a way that supports the government initiatives without undue outside interference

Uniquely Asian process

What makes the Philippine IM experience interesting?

Kumar has a quick answer: “Because the process has been very systematic. It has been multifaceted, it has been applied in different situations. I think that’s interesting. I think the second thing is that it’s a uniquely Asian process if I may say so. We have insider mediators in many countries, in many context but unlike in some other context whether the more formal public peace process may dominate the space, in many Asian context, sometimes the key decisions are made in a quieter setting, sometimes there are more people who wield influence but not necessarily holders of formal positions and do something that’s suitable for other countries in the region.”

“We’re talking here about the process that complements the negotiating table, that extends the participation of the mike, that extends the inclusion of the connectors but also there are times when those who are sitting formally at the table, maybe they need an additional space to have an additional conversation or bring in others whom they cannot bring into the table because often the number of interests is greater than that can be sitting at the same table formally and we find that in many countries in Asia, this is the situation but then the Philippine experiences is very relevant,” he said.

In the Asian context, Kumar said the informal and the formal “can have equal spaee” because there are traditional leaders or elders who are respected, who may not sit at the formal peace table but who can nevertheless play a role and move forward any process of dialogue or peace making.

The Thailand delegation is interested to learn because like the Bangsamoro peace process, the Southern Thailand process is very complex, has many actors, and the parties themselves have many interests “so the complexity of that means we need intermediaries because not everyone can sit at the table,” he said.

Kumar explained that a peace process involves formal negotiations between the government and the leaderships of the two major armed groups, at least two formal agreements, perhaps three and bringing them together and implementing them but at the same time the implementation right from Day One involves so much broader universal actors.

In the Philippines, he cited Congress as an example and how the peace negotiating panel of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) “has only a certain ability.”

“They can make presentations for Congress but they cannot go out of their way to influence them. Then you have of course the implementation on the ground which involves the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao), it involves the transition which is very complex. It involves a number of stakeholders, representatives of different interest groups and to carry all that along and to make them feel included and to have them contribute means that we need a systematic panel of intermediaries who can extend the process,” he said.

The Bangsamoro IM, he said, is a substantive but informal extension of the peace process.

“It’s just a group of intermediaries who through their various coordinated roles — I think that’s the most important element – you always have intermediaries but in this we have coordinated intermediaries and increasing the impact of assistance from within Philippines itself, the broader Philippine community, the broader Moro community to the peace process so we can make sure that the participation is there and the impact is there when put in together,” Kumar added. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)