(Conversations with lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, co-convenor of Bangsamoro Insider Mediators, on 9 November 2018 at the Panorama Summit Hotel in Davao City where the Insider Mediators met to discuss the Bangsamoro Vision. Sinarimbo was former Executive Secretary of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao from December 2011 to December 2013. He served in the legal panel of the MILF peace panel and was consultant to several UN projects in the Bangsamoro).
Q. Why the need for a visioning when you already have the Bangsamoro law. For what is this visioning?
A. There’s a need to undertake the process of visioning because there’s an admission that even among the Bangsamoro, there are various differences in terms of organization, in terms of what needs to be achieved. And so if we are to achieve in a shorter period of time but lesser resources, what needs to be achieved with the Bangsamoro, perhaps to .. at least have common vision, where everyone agrees that this is were we want to be in a Bangsamoro of the future. If we do that, we are also in a way trying to learn a process maybe where we can have a conversation, we can debate issues, where we can agree on what steps need to be agreed (upon) for purposes of achieving a vision.
Q. So about how many people are involved in this visioning process. I understand there are about 13 or 12 clusters
A. There are at least 16 clusters and we divided the geographic areas of the Bangsamoro into seven, plus we allowed separate consultations with the Moro revolutionary groups – the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), the two factions of the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) – and there is a consensus among the Insider Mediation group to also have a separate visioning exercises because in essence, in the Inside Mediators group, you have different kinds of people with different interests across different areas of the Bangsamoro coming from different groups in the Bangsamoro and different sectors also; so in a way you have a microcosm of what a Bangsamoro is
Q. So what is this Insider Mediators in specific terms. Can you give us a background or history?
A. Two years ago. The group was triggered by actually a shift, an experiment at the level of the United Nations. What is a traditional mediation concept of the UN (is) UN sends someone from the outside as the mediator but there has been a discussion inside the UN about how effective actually is mediation undertaken by someone outside of the conflict. So there was workshop conducted in the Netherlands and I was invited as one of the participants. In the workshop, I presented the case of the Bangsamoro, a diagnosis of what appears to be a conflict not just (between) the Bangsamoro and the Government but also within the Bangsamoro because of different sectors, groups and during the presentation, one of the lecturers in the workshop in the Netherlands took interest in the case of the Bangsamoro and asked us if we can actually roll out the program because it’s a new program in the UN and they wanted to test it in different areas including Africa.
In the Bangsmaoro, we took the initiative of trying to work out the system of mediating the internal conflict between the Moros and the Philippine government and also inside the Bangsamoro, among us. So as we trained individual Bangsamoro, we make sure that we get people from different organizations, not just one. So in the case of the revolutionary groups for instance, in the initial list of people who will be trained for mediation, we choose people from the MILF, MNLF’s two factiosn, and from different groups so that we can have a group with the same kind of training, essentially with the same kind of skill. In a way, you level the playing field and then paint a platform where these individuals (who have) been trained in mediation would be able to discuss very important issues affecting the Bangsamoro. So that was the beginning of the Insider Mediation group. So as we trained, we also included them in the platform that we painted. We call it now the Bangsamoro Insider Mediators.
The group grew from the initial number of 30 to now I think over a hundred and we continue to deliberate on very important issues that affect the Bangsamoro, including the peace process and how do we go about if we succeed in setting up the Bangsamoro government, what do we do, what actually needs to be done so that we don’t just get a government but that we also make sure that this government delivers on its promise to improve the socio-economic conditions of the Bangsamoro.
Q. But how it is like to be part of the group considering that you come from a diverse backgrounds and may at times have opposing or divergent views. How do you, I’m trying to figure out how that works
A. That’s exactly the challenge. The first challenge you need to surmount as a member of the Insider Mediation group is that you need to make sure that you keep yourself as part of your group. So we do not intend to bring you out in your group because you need to be in your group as an insider. And – you should be brave enough to come out of your group and then engage with some other groups and some other people .. coming from different background, different organizations and momentarily in a way suspend your prejudice against another group and be not judgmental about other groups and engage other people coming from other groups and other sectors in a manner that is respectful and you are able to listen to what other people are actually saying and so you need to be loyal to your group without intending to leave your group because you’ll not be effective as an insider.
Q. You will not be an insider anymore
A. You will no longer be an insider. That’s not what we want. We want you to be an insider that you exactly know what the dynamics inside what the problems are, how this problem can actually be resolved and how your group can actually view the problem.
Q. This might work as far as the Bangsmoro is concerned on the aspect of the peace process. Will it work in any other issue that the Bangsamoro is facing?
A. We tried it for instance in Marawi where there is a challenge about making sure that what government actually is saying and doing is exactly communicated to people and at the same time where you are able to bring people who’d been affected by conflict in a way that they can still reasonably argue and present their case because often the challenge in situations where people are really affected is they cannot be very rational. The issues and the problems are layered by emotions. Instead of the issue being crystal clear, it is in a way overshadowed by emotions
Q. So how do you do that? I mean you involved the
A. We asked people affected by conflict so you have people who are part of the group of the insider mediation group who are actually victims also, so we were able to listen and discuss with them and you have people coming from the government specifically local government, also members of the Insider Mediators group. So in a way, there is a conversation that is honest and respectful to each other’s view.
Q. What has Insider Mediators done for Marawi?
A. For Marawi, there are people in the insider mediation group who actually participated in the emergency response. There also people who’d been part of the planning process and there are also people who’d eventually engaged some government officials so as to understand exactly what the government is intending to do and what people actually don’t like about what government is doing
Q. What is this planning process for the rehabilitation?
A. Yeah. The planning for rehabilitation of Marawi. There were several members of the insider mediation group who were part of the planning process of Marawi.
Q. What about federalism because I understand you also included federalism in
A. Because there’s a big debate within the Bangsamoro society about whether we should pursue the peace process and altogether isolate the issue of federalism with the rest of the country and we don’t participate. There are others who feel that we should in fact abandon the peace process and concentrate more on federalism because this is a more radical change that will change the entire legal framework of the country and in a way affect the organic law or the Bangsamoro agreement
Q. So what were the compromises of sorts?
A. The sort of compromise that was arrived at in the base, in the insider mediation group, is we will participate in both and in fact some of the members indeed became members of the Constitutional Committee that reviewed the Constitution to (propose) recommendations on how do we shift to federal system. Some of us who feel that there’s a need to ensure that what we already secure in the peace agreement will be carried forward to the federalism track … so we made a representation with some of our colleagues in the insider mediation group to carry that agenda in the federalism track so that compromise is to participate in both … to ensure that the peace agreement is implemented and at the same time part of the peace agreement which cannot be implemented without carrying the framework, the national legal framework is carried in the federalism track and therefore when a change in the national framework is undertaken, the peace agreement is still protected?
Q. Can you share with us exactly what the IM did in the run up to the passing of the Bangsamoro law?
A. Several levels actually. One level is that we wanted to bring together the MNLF track which is the 1996 peace agreement (into the) MILF track. Some of our colleagues who are with the MILF actually inputted some provisions into the BOL or before the Bangsamoro Basic Law some of the provisions in the MNLF through the insider mediation was carried into the draft. Also, inside the MILF for instance, some of us provided the legal input in the decision-making of the MILF — what provisions need to be in the organic law, how do we manage some of the changes proposed by government. We provided technical advice, the legal advice
Q. To the central committee?
A. To the central committee. So we did some presentation to the Central Committee to manage the fallout because of the changes being proposed by government. Managing that one was an input coming from us. The other level is that when the organic law was already submitted to Congress and to the senate and ultimately to the bicameral conference committee, many of us tried to work through their corrections (to) members of the Bicameral Conference Committee. For instance, there are members of the insider mediation groups who’d worked with the left, the progressive bloc in the House and the Senate and have therefore connections with Senator Hontiveros and some other members of the senate and the congress. We used that to carry some proposals that we wanted retained in the organic law. Also, some of us have worked with some senators and we used these networks so that we can protect some of the provisions through he connection with some of the senators and second to deliver the legal argument on how we can actually defend the organic law and some very specific proposals actually on, for instance, a compromise proposal on Lake Lanao, a compromise proposal on the block grant and the system, the provision on how do we defend the constitutionality of the Shari’ah system and Shari’ah court, how do we defend the constitutionality of granting very specific powers to the Bangsamoro, so we worked through this network.
Q. If the Insider Mediators were not around, would that have happened? All those changes have been instrument.
A. To be very frank, a lot of provisions would have been lost in the bicam if we did not intervene and advocate very specific provisions during the bicam. It was essentially the senators and members of the Congress who are members of the Bicameral Conference Committee who dealt with the specific provisions, altered it, changed it or retained it.
Q. What makes the IM different from all the rest of the Moro groups?
A. One, it’s informal and therefore there’s greater flexibility for people to be in the insider mediation. We refuse to formalize the group so that it does not become another faction of the Moro society, so we’ve refused to formalize. Second we’ve been very open about … our group and what we carry as an advocacy and we are open to debating. While we personally believe in some of this (we) are also willing to look at what’s the perspective of the other groups. The other thing, when you sit in the insider mediation, you do not expect to gain respect because you’re senior or you have a position. When you sit inside the insider mediation group, you are just anybody, whether you are 20 something, in your 30s, you’re an executive, you are a government official or an elected mayor. Once you sit inside the insider mediation group, you’re just like anybody.
Q. Let’s go back to the visioning. Even the groups that you’ve consulted from the visioning come from different backgrounds right? How can groups coming from various persuasions be able to come up with a vision for the Bangsamoro?
A. We believe there is a sufficient motivation for most Bangsamoro to think about the future. Where do we want to take the Bangsamoro? So there is a lot of interest in it. People are willing to take some sacrifices so that we can, they can contribute into imagining what we should become in the future. The other one, important of all, is the more technical — trying to organize consultations, bringing a lot of people with different persuasions and at the same time ensuring that there is still a way of being able to consolidate the outcome and at the same time make the outcomes one readable understandable and can be communicated to people so that’s the more technical challenge. The next level of course is about if you have this vision, how do you sell it to the bigger constituents?
Q. Where will you submit this vision? I mean after this exercise, what’s the next step
A. There are two or three remaining steps actually. One is to be able to consolidate it and then come up with a paper that practically reduces all these ideas into an understandable vision. If we have that, we will subject it to a regional consultation and a validation process so we will organize another set of consultations that bring about mixed groups, coming from those who were earlier invited and at the same time people who have not been invited to the earlier consultations. If we submit the output and there is confirmation, one from those who been previously consulted, second from those who have not been consulted, that means they are able to validate the results, meaning it’s not just about the people who have been part the consultation that can identify with this vision, but also people who may not have been part of the consultation. If we achieve that, we will submit it informally to people we consider to be leaders of the Bangsamoro. The leaders of the Bangsamoro need not be leaders of government, leaders of revolutionary fronts but there will be a part, leaders of the Bangsamoro … who are not necessarily government officials or leaders of the revolutionary organizations but whose opinion is respected by Bangsamoro so they will still be treated as leaders of the Bangsamoro who deserve to be consulted.
Q. Who will these be?
A. I am imagining, for instance, Justice Dimaampao, the highest ranking justice of the Moro in the judiciary. For now, I am imagining some religious leaders in the Bangsamoro … whose opinion matters to Bangsamoro.
Q. When is this going to be?… Before the plebiscite on
A. Before the plebiscite. We will certainly provide the MILF leaders, the MNLF consulted, if this vision is reflected, what do you think is vision for the Bangsamoro. If they all agree, then we will convene a Summit of Leaders where the leaders of the Bangsamoro will affirm the vision
Q. Is there a date already?
A. We are looking at first week of January as the date of the Summit of Leaders.
Q. Could have it made a difference if the IM had been around during the Aquino administration
A. I think we were around towards the end of the Aquino administration but we will also then try to start as a group. In a way … if we exerted the same effort as we’ve exerted in the current push for the organic law, there may be some influence but I don’t think we can change the outcome. I mean I think the outcome of the Aquino administration had been pre-determined essentially by people who were in a powerful position then, who’ve never agreed about a need for organic law or Bangsamoro basic law
Q. Can this IM work in the GRP-CPP-NDF peac process?
A. If there are people I mean sufficient number of people – people in position in inside NDFP for instance and GPH who may be (able to) influence the process, I think it can work
Q. What is the IM’s age range?
A. Medyo diverse ha. Merong 20s merong 60s, merong 60 plus. But tingin ko medyo konti pa yung mga bata. We will try to increase the number of young in the group
Q. And women
A. And women yes. You have women inside the group that are really powerful. Powerful in terms of the ideas they’ve raised and the integrity they carry — which is your capital in the insider mediation group. It’s not your position. It’s the idea you bring and the credibility and the integrity
Q. It’s still a predominantly male IM
A. I understand and there’s of course conscious effort to bring in more women and to bring in younger people, all this belief in the Insider Mediators group. It’s not your gender, it’s not your civil status, it’s not your position either or your wealth that matters. It is your idea and the integrity that you bring that matters.