IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD: What kind of development for the Bangsamoro?

PENANG, Malaysia (MindaNews / 6 Nov) – In Mindanao, we have had too many wars and too many development programs that we still continue asking ourselves, what kind of development should be implemented? During the time of President Arroyo’s government, the civil society was confronted with the debate on whether a peace agreement first needs to be fulfilled, or development first. The issue of development became highly politicised that it has led us to further question if the government does have the intention of resolving the conflict with the Bangsamoro people. I recall those debates. Having studied development management but with very little exposure on what actually happens in the poorest areas, I became more motivated to find the answers.

The journey of understanding what makes the Bangsamoro people underdeveloped took me across central and western Mindanao, and as far as the island of Simunul. It was not only a discovery of how ordinary Bangsamoro lives, but how affinities and cultural ties continue to be resilient among the people despite the complexity of politics and beliefs. It is very often that I hear outsiders, or even insiders, say how “defragmented” the Bangsamoro peole are, how fluid can alliances and allegiance can be, or how volatile and conflicting is the future that even among the people, nobody seems to have any vision of peace in sight.

Yet, beyond this hopelessness, I did see and understand how the poorest of the poor clearly envisions peace and development as their end goals. To them, just like all other Filipinos, they want to live a simple life of contentment and security, and to ensure that their children will continue to uphold the same values, culture and identity—and further, to have that opportunity to develop not only themselves but collectively as a community. Poorest and uneducated they may be, these same people do understand that their simple hopes and dreams will not be given to them overnight. They are also aware how the structures within society, government, and the economy need to be changed to accommodate the future that they want. And that the establishment of the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) as a result of the peace negotiations, is a good sign that their views will be heard and that they will be part of the development that they aspire for.

This is now where BDA’s challenge lies. Most importantly, can BDA fulfill the expectations of the poorest of the poor that it wants to serve?

BDA’s birthing pains in 2002 included the skepticism on how a public agency of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) can possibly do development? In as much as I shared similar doubts, I also viewed it with much interest that BDA is a very good opportunity for experiment, of proving things that have never been done. BDA’s own organizational development, although slow, has in fact been remarkable. While it continually struggles with sustainability and human resource issues, it has had an impact on the Bangsamoro communities as a trusted development entity. On the part of the donor and other international agencies, BDA has shown to be a good partner and project implementor. However, BDA has been envisioned more than an agency of projects. And this is where BDA has to carefully re-think its role and for the MILF to further develop BDA as an institution that can serve as a pillar of the upcoming Bangsamoro government.

My research on the kind of development framework that can be used in the Bangsamoro has also led me to propose that BDA can be the middle-level actor that is needed in not only undertaking development but also peacebuilding. The work of development can never be separated with peacebuilding if we want to ensure that the former will bring about peace—equally as part of a process and as an end. More precisely, I have proposed that sustainable human development and peacebuilding are the two important development frameworks that could effectively guide BDA in the process of the post-agreement phase. These two are joined together because they similarly espouse a human development based on the self-determination aspirations of the stakeholders—on which is the very same context that the Bangsamoro region is experiencing. This proposal has found acceptance among the Bangsamoro. The five years of research and attempt of theorizing a development framework for the Bangsamoro was completed very timely when in June 2013 the BDA has started to conceptualise the Bangsamoro Development Plan (BDP) Project. Recently, the BDA has adopted this Sustainable Human Development and Peacebuilding Framework for Mindanao[1] as the core component of the BDA Development Framework in undertaking the BDP Project. (Read more)

The Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) is embarking on a Bangsamoro Development Plan (BDP) Project as a preparation for bringing development to the Bangsamoro areas soon after the post-agreement phase of the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace process. This BDP Project was introduced in September 3, 2013 during the Donors Forum held at the AIM Conference Hall in Makati City. (Read more)  In pursuing the BDP, the BDA has adopted the Sustainable Human Development and Peacebuilding Framework for Mindanao, as the foundation of its development framework, together with the integration of the BDA Core Values System. The SHD and Peacebuilding Frameworks are not new and that these conceptual frameworks are already being used by the international development community. This time, however, the framework has been studied and explained in the context of Mindanao. Mainly, the framework attempts to address the ultimate question of how can development effectively bring about sustainable peace to the conflict affected areas in Mindanao. On the other hand, the BDA Core Values System is an indigenous innovation in inculcating the ethics and development culture and mindset among the conflict affected communities. This values system is envisioned to be the profound change that must happen among individuals and communities in order for them to fully participate in their own human development.

The newfound BDA Development Framework is a living framework. It will be tested and continually innovated to reflect the views of everyone who wants to be part of this journey of development in Mindanao. While I am equally anxious and excited on the future of this framework, I am optimistic that future developments in the Bangsamoro will be more fully driven by the communities. It is these communities who will ultimately provide the sustainability of peace that we all want for Mindanao, and with BDA showing the way.

(Ayesah is the coordinator of the Mindanao Peace Program at the Research & Education for Peace Universiti Sains Malaysia or REPUSM in Penang, Malaysia.)

[1] This is a framework introduced in the unpublished doctoral dissertation of Abubakar, Ayesah, Building Peace in Conflict Affected Communities through the Sustainable Human Development Framework: A Case Study of Mindanao (Penang: Universiti Sains Malaysia, 2013).