CONVERSATIONS with Chetan Kumar: “Now they want to learn from the Philippines’ Insider Mediators”

(Conversations with Chetan Kumar, Senior Advisor on Peacebuilding at the United Nations Development Programme on the Bangsamoro Insider Mediaors on 20 December 2018 in Davao City, Philippines)

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

Q. Can you please tell us what this Insider Mediators is all about?
A. If you look at any process of dialogue in any country around the world, going back to the end of the world war for example, the past 30 years, 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 and these insider mediators are let’s say people who (are) senior intermediaries, senior advisers to principals, people with influence because of their backgrounds, their anthropy, their profession, who can intervene (among) these 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, we need insider mediation and this has been our experience in the UN system. It has also been the experience of other partners. And so from 2012, UNDP has supported Insider Mediators in countries whether as an effort to build peace or achieve a national transition

Q. 2012 but the Insider Mediators in the Philippines, in Mindanao started only in September 2016. Why is this so?
A. Because the initial partnership that we had with the European Union to support mediation which started in 2012 focused initially on countries in the Middle East and Africa. In the Middle East, there was the Arab Spring and Africa there were a number of prominent peace process that were on emphasis at that time so that was the initial emphasis and then in the next phase we moved to Asia 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

Q. Really? Is it considered that way?
A. In fact … the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in 2014 is the first major peace agreement not just in Asia but globally since the Nepal peace agreement in 2006

Q. … I understand of course that since 2016 they’ve been involved in not only in the formal peace process but in issues like Marawi rehabilitation and Federalism and I understand also that you were in Bangkok for a regional conference. Can you tell us about this regional conference and what the Philippines or Mindanao’s role in that one?
A. 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, is that it can be applied in different settings. So any national issue that requires bringing people together, any issue that requires cooperation, this can be held by insider mediation so as you correctly said here in the Philippines, the same capacity that was useful in achieving for example consensus on the Bangsamoro Organic Law in the Congress, can also be applied in getting actors to work together and respond effectively to Marawi or can be applied to bringing people together around the federalism question, or creating a convergent position among the key actors. So this is very useful in the Philippines. And it is in this context that the Philippine delegations in the Insider Mediators group took part in the regional meeting where Insider Mediators from other countries in the region for example from Myanmar, from the Maldives, from Nepal and so (you have) a broad range of experiences from Asia. And the people who participated were of course similar kinds of intermediaries sharing their experiences. Now we’ve had a lot of sharing of experiences around formal peace processes, formal peace agreements or 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. They have done important work but they 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 explain a wide variety of roles. So now they want to learn from the Philippines.

Q. We’ve set an example somehow?
A. Absolutely. In fact we have 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. 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 left inspired in the way they had evoked the interest from other countries

Q. Drieza was talking about this chief negotiator of Thailand talking to them, to the Bangsamoro Insider Mediators. What was this all about?
A. We had the head of the government negotiating team for the peace process in Southern Thailand along with some of their staff and some of the associates in a meeting and they did not contribute 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 mediations started. I think the model is very interesting to them because it involves using capacities within Thailand and involves using people who are influential but informally. The Thailand political processes often the best work is 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.

Q. What makes the Philippine IM experience interesting considering that it’s been there for only two years?
A. One, 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 so something that’s suitable for other countries in the region.

Q. We’re talking here about a process beyond the negotiating table
A. 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 interest 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 experience is very relevant.

Q. It is very Asian in that context I mean
A. The informal and the formal, let’s say, can have equal space because we have people for example in Asian context who are traditional leaders or elders of people who are respected but they have wisdom, who may not sit at the formal peace table but who can nevertheless play a usual role and moving forward any process of dialogue or peace making. We also have these people of the society, sometimes the legal context or the official context will be given the only billing and then if others can play their roles, they may, but it’s not the same level. And I think the reason that Thailand delegation for example has been interested is because the Southern Thailand process is very complex. It has many actors, the parties themselves have many different let’s say, interests… And so the complexity of that means we need intermediaries because not everyone can sit at the table…

Q. You’d been following the Bangsamoro Peace Process since you were assigned here
A. Formally for two years but working in the Philippines since 2012

Q. What makes this group of Insider Mediators, why does it work in this situation in the Philippines in the Mindanao context, in the Bangsamoro context.
A. Perhaps I can answer with respect to the peace process. So the peace process involves formal negotiations between the government and the leaderships of the two major armed groups. It involves 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. So the first instance, we have the Congress. But the formal parties, in this case the government and the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) negotiating teams, have 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.

So the Insider Mediators group 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.

Q. This is in relation also to the Bangsamoro peace process. Since 2012 that means … this was before the signing of the comprehensive agreement. I know that people outside the country are looking at the Bangsamoro Peace Process as an example of how peace processes should be but considering that you have an Insider Mediators now and you also had an International Contact Group … do we still need an ICG for instance when you already have an insider mediators?
A. It depends on which part of the peace process we are looking at. So there’s still a number of formal elements of the peace process that need to be implemented. There is the ongoing monitoring and the ongoing, well, hopefully ongoing data machine process as the BOL is ratified. So these are formal elements that need to be implemented. There are also the recommendations from the Transitional Justice And Reconciliation Commission that require an implementation framework as well so some elements of the formal peace agreement, the CAB, that need to be implemented. There are other elements now that would be taken over by the Bangsamoro Transition Authority as it is constituted and there will be this broader process of political and governance transition in Bangsamoro.

So for me we will need whatever engagements the Philippine side thinks is useful, international monitors and international observers for those formal elements. For this broader governance transition, I think the role of groups like the Insider Mediators is going to be vital because their interface between the formal and the broader panoply of stakeholders needs to be involved so we will need this capacity for the broader transition but it depends on which side you look at.