Malacanang to MinDA: take full charge of ‘bakwits’ but what happens to HELP-CM?

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/05 May) — The Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) was tasked by Malacanang on Tuesday to “take full charge of assisting thousands of internally displaced persons who are still in evacuation centers, mostly in Maguindanao,” a press statement from MinDA said.

The statement noted that President Arroyo directed MinDA chief Jesus Dureza during a Cabinet meeting, to “head a group that will coordinate and integrate work for the IDPs by national agencies, local government units and humanitarian groups from both local and foreign donors.”

Dureza reported to the Cabinet that there are still 84,000 IDPs in about 56 evacuation centers in conflict-affected areas, especially in Maguindanao.

As the newly-designated national focal person, Dureza “will lead in crafting a comprehensive framework and action plan for IDPs.”

The order was issued six days before election day.

Dureza said assistance to evacuees “should not only be just providing relief like food but covers early recovery program that  will assist them how to start normal lives anew towards a development stage for sustainability.”

“An enabling environment to live peacefully is also part of  the program,” the press statement said.

No other details were made available in the press statement sent as a two-part text message. The story about the new task is not reported by the Philippine Information Agency or the Office of the Press Secretary or the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.

The report does not also say if Administrative Order 267 has been revoked.

MinDA’s Romeo Montenegro, who sent the press statement shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday  told MindaNews Wednesday morning that “the HELP-CM and DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) –led  NDCC (National Disaster Coordinating Center) Task Force will now work under the National Focal Group as the overall coordinating body.”

But an overall coordinating body had been created mid-year last year by President Arroyo, to be convened by the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process with the government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF as chair.

President Arroyo signed AO 267 on June 29, 2009 but the AO’s copies were made available only on July 15. The AO provided for the creation of  HELP-CM which stands for Health, Education, Livelihood, Progress Task Force-Central Mindanao.

Section 2 on Core Mandate says that HELP-CM Task Force “shall be the mechanism for convergence, i.e. enhanced cooperation, coordination, policy consistency, adoption of a common framework, information sharing and problem-solving activities of the different agencies in the MILF(Moro Islamic Liberation Front)-related conflict-affected areas in Central Mindanao” to achieve the four goals below:

1. “Forging a peaceful, negotiated, final political settlement with the MILF, including the effective implementation of ceasefire, development and monitoring agreements;

2. “Addressing the concerns arising from continued armed hostilities, the protection (of) civilians and non-combatants, especially from lawless MILF renegades (sic);

3. “Reducing the impact of the conflict on the communities in the conflict-affected areas, especially the internally displaced persons (IDPs);

4. “Pursuing ‘humanitarian offensives’ to address the root causes of conflict, i.e. poverty and exclusion from access to education, employment and livelihood.”

The AO said that the Task Force, “to be convened by the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, will be chaired by the government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF.”

HELP-CM is composed of 12 offices: the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process; Presidential Adviser for Mindanao; Chairman of the Government Peace Panel negotiating with the MILF; Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao; governors of the province of Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat; Executive Officer of the National Disaster Coordinating Council; Region XII director , Department of Social Welfare and Development; Eastern Mindanao Commander, Armed Forces of the Philippines; 6th Infantry Division commander, Philippine Army; and the ARMM director of the Philippine National Police.

The government peace panel’s secretariat, which will also serve as the HELP-CM secretariat,  “shall provide the necessary technical and administrative support” and shall also serve as “repository of all documents and records of the HELP-CM Task Force.”

The President allocated P10 million “for the operational and project expenses.”

According to its whereases, HELP-CM was set up because there is a “need for different government efforts, i.e., peace, security and development, in dealing with internal armed conflict with the MILF to be pursued simultaneously in a coordinated and integrated fashion;” that conflicts in Central Mindanao “revolve around the atrocities perpetrated by three lawless MILF renegades (sic) known as Commanders Kato, Bravo and Pagalian and military pursuit to bring said MILF renegades;” that different “key government agencies operating in Central Mindanao can benefit greatly from increased coordination and cooperation;” that the “structure of such coordination and cooperation can be patterned after the Health Education Livelihood Progress (HELP) for Basilan and Sulu Program.”

“Central Mindanao” is actually the old name of Region 12 or Southwestern Mindanao which comprises Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat, North Cotabato, South Cotabato and the cities of General Santos, Tacurong, Koronadal, Kidapawan and Cotabato City.

But “Central Mindanao” in the AO, based on HELP-CM’s composition, covers only Maguindanao which is part of the ARMM, North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat.

The other conflict-affected area of Lanao del Sur does not have a representation but will likely be represented by the ARMM governor.

The province of Lanao del Norte, neither a member of Region 12 nor the ARMM, is not represented, even as some of its towns were among the hardest hit by MILF attacks in August last year.

Sarangani, another province with some towns that are conflict-affected, is part of Region 12 but is not among the areas included in the HELP-CM.

Lawyer Camilo “Bong” Montesa,  OPAPP undersecretary told MindaNews in July last year that  HELP-CM is a government effort precisely “to address the present situation in the conflict-affected areas.”  He said HELP-CM gives the peace panel chair a better handle on the situation on the ground. “We are going into negotiations soon (with the MILF),” Montesa said, adding, that government efforts towards addressing the “peace, security and development” concerns should be coordinated. “We have to be on the same page,” he said.

The government and MILF peace panels had, in 2001, signed agreements on two of three agenda items in the talks – security, rehabilitation and ancestral domain.

Under the agreements on security and rehabilitation, mechanisms had been set up: the joint monitoring bodies on the cessation of hostilities (Joint Coordinating Committees on the Cessation of Hostilities or Joint CCCH), the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) which is tasked to go after criminal elements in so-called MILF areas, and the International Monitoring Team (IMT) led by Malaysia which is also the talks facilitator.

Under the Tripoli Agreement on Peace signed on June 22, 2001 in Tripoli, Libya, by the Philippine government and MILF peace panels, the MILF  “shall determine, lead and manage rehabilitation and development projects in conflict affected areas, except when public funds are involved, in which case Government procedures and rules will be observed.” The MILF thereafter created the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA).

Montesa said the creation of HELP-CM will not affect the functions of the BDA since HELP-CM is a mere coordinating body of government.

Dureza’s new role as “national focal person” for the IDPs, is in addition to his being Minda chair; the Philippine senior official to the Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines-East Asian Growth Area ; ex-officio member of the National Economic and Development Authority Board and the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority Board.

RA 9996, the law creating MinDA approved earlier this year, supplanted Executive Order (EO) 512 as amended by EO 244, which created the Mindanao Economic Development Council (MEDCo).

Under Section 3 of the law, MinDA was created to “promote, coordinate and facilitate the active and extensive participation of all sectors to effect the socioeconomic development of Mindanao.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)