PEACETALK: Bring the FAB home: Weave the Amakan Annex

Jeremy Simons (i-Emergence/Initiatives for International Dialogue)

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/02 February) – With all the fanfare and back-slapping surrounding the release of the annex on Normalization, did anyone notice the challenges facing implementation, especially in Tribal Communities? 

Judging by the amount of text dedicated to policing and security aspects, one could be forgiven for assuming that living peacefully is primarily about guns and rifles. This shows the limited capacity of the parties to concretely include Tribal (Indigenous) Peoples’ and other cultural contributions in the development of the security aspect.

The resulting deep sense of abandonment was already clear in their Limud Baglangan Declaration of December 15, 2013 where they decried the “shocking news to the poor marginalized IPs” that their rights had been ignored. They asked, “what happened to the Free Pior and Informed Consent (FPIC) provisions of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA) and UN Declaration on the Rights of IPs (UNDRIP)?” As one Timuay expressed in private, are tribal communities headed for a “second wave of assimilation” in the Bangsamoro?

This question reveals gaps and challenges facing implementation of the agreement that relate not only to Tribal Peoples, but to all cultural stakeholders in the Bangsamoro. At a fundamental level, IP or Tribal communities are the original “holders” of Filipino culture and territory – wellsprings and sources of the cultural norms and practices for the peoples of the Bangsamoro – and the entire Philippines. In other words, beneath the unitary Filipino national political identity is the plurality of tribal and cultural affinity and land rights (including Ancestral Domain) assertions. Concerns over cultural identity, boundaries and inclusivity are being expressed not just by IP’s, but by Christians, women, youth and Muslim residents in the Bangsamoro. Even in Muslim tribal communities, there is a diversity of practice and so deep concern that traditional ways would be declared “un-Islamic.” How these concerns are addressed will provide a litmus test of how Bangsamoro processes will deal with culture and community in general in the new political entity.

As analysts have noted, the armed political struggle of the MILF against the national government (a “vertical conflict”) is the primary manifestation of inter/intra-cultural, land-based and social conflicts in local communities (“horizontal conflicts”). Thus, the success of the vertical political settlement by the high level negotiators is somehow related to the capacity for social reconciliation and restoration of trust in the communities of the Bangsamoro at the horizontal level. If we imagine this process to be like weaving banig or amakan, the horizontal reeds and fibers of community reconciliation must be effectively integrated in order to hold together the vertical accomplishments of peace weaving, otherwise the whole thing falls apart.

Thus, grass-roots peacebuilders and community leaders on the ground in Mindanao are more and more concerned about culture in the peace process, in spite of the reassurances of inclusivity in the FAB. Til now, these reassurances have been mostly text in the FAB and annexes about respecting the rights of individuals, consoling IP communities and affirming “legal pluralism” of civil, Sharia and Indigenous justice systems – but there is no clear mechanism that will address these interlocking issues. Especially concerning are issues at the intersection of religious and cultural diversity and identity, foremost being land and natural resources that were inadequately addressed in the Wealth Sharing Annex. A failure to address these – culture, governance, land and resources – could destroy the entire process through diminished security as identity groups revert to arms to protect their interests and identity. The unraveling of a “successful” peace process as we have seen recently in South Sudan should be a wake up call to the risks of inadequately addressing these issues even when guns are supposedly put “beyond use”.

Since this process of community healing and reconciliation involves the restoration of human relationships and rebuilding of trust, sadly, the Normalization annex provides limited guidance for this process. That is because the majority of the annex – 7 of 11 pages – consists of a disarmament plan for the armed forces in the Bangsamoro. Perhaps this reflects a response to the failure of the MNLF peace accords to include disarmament that lead to the Zamboanga debacle. Yet it makes little mention or reference to the deeper and durable cultural aspects underlying normalization – social reconciliation and resolution of land conflicts via conciliation, cultural healing and restoration. In fact, it seems weighted toward sweeping these issues under the rug through amnesty and pardon (section J “Confidence-Building Measures”). Where the Annex mentions a “transitional justice and reconciliation commission” – it provides only three paragraphs in less than half a page. And rather than looking deep within the vast leadership resources of Mindanao, the chairperson for this commission is to be an “international expert,” presumably, a foreigner.

Nonetheless, Section J on Confidence Building also mentions, “other available processes” and so this international chairperson and his/her assistants, has the opportunity to recommend mechanisms and processes that maximize indigenous local leadership and define the cultural processes needed for restoration and deep justice. Who better than the existing traditional elders, tribal mediators and community leaders of Mindanao to provide the human capital and socio-cultural expertise for these processes? They have already been doing this – quietly and without the fanfare bedecking the staterooms of Kuala Lumpur – mending fences, solving land disputes and re-weaving the social fabric of their communities long before the suited negotiators arrived on the scene.

Based on extensive consultation with cultural and traditional leaders in the core territory and surrounding areas over the past few months, the following actions, if done decisively and proactively, could help begin establishing the trust needed to gird up the process of restoring peace, justice and reconciliation. Local restorative leaders, long sidelined in the process, are waiting and watching for concrete actions by the principals that will validate their role and build upon their innate cultural capacity. Thus, cultural confidence building measure could include the following to restore trust of cultural stakeholders:

1) Cultural Restoration – Return the formal negotiations to Mindanao with IP leaders as direct participants and sign the comprehensive agreement in an IP community as an updating and affirmation of traditional cultural peace pacts. The GPH should return agongs and other cultural artifacts as symbols of reconciliation to IP and Moro traditional leaders and communities and all parties should include a comprehensive section on Culture and Community in the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

2) Affirm Indigenous Leadership – “Save or salvage” the remains of IPRA, especially components, like the confirmation of Indigenous Political Structures and Organization and preliminary ancestral domain delineations to be adopted into the new political entity. The ARMM regional government and BTA should place a TRO on any new land conversions in the ARMM so other interests don’t have unfair advantage since the Tribal Ancestral Domain delineation is on hold.

3) Culturally Appropriate Development – Consult with IP leaders to develop and create an Indigenous economic development process, framework and mechanism to guide socio-economic programs and the engagement of investors in the Bangsamoro. That would include guidelines of Free Prior and Informed Consent as well as a multi-stakeholder land right resolution commission lead by traditional leaders and mediators.

4) Third Party Verification – Convene a Cultural Communities Commitment Team composed of national and international indigenous, religious or cultural organizations to accompany and sign off on the final implementation of the FAB in relation to Tribal and minority Christian communities and traditional culture in the new political entity.

The question, therefore, of how socio-cultural dynamics are engaged in the Bangsamoro transition process, is crucial. If these cultural confidence building mechanisms can be implemented, it would be a very welcome and concrete sign of the inclusivity needed for genuine reconciliation in the Bangsamoro.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Peacetalk is open to anyone who wishes to share his/her reflections on the peace processes. Jeremy Simons is coordinator of the Bangsamoro Cultural Advocacy Project, an instructor at the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute and Restorative Justice Consultant living in Davao City. He can be reached at