COMMENT: Impact Overrated (2)

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II. Personal Testimony

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, April 14, 2014 – In the first part of this article, we cited some data from a paper at the University of the Philippines, the NSCB (National Statistical Coordinating Board and the MSDF (Mindanao Strategic Development Framework) 2010-2020, an economic development plan for Mindanao, showing that for the first 12 years of 2000 Mindanao has been constantly second to Luzon in GDP contribution and by 2012 its percentage growth showed a more robust economic development than Luzon without NCR (National Capital Region).

In this two-part article, we are presenting our view contrary to a prevailing perception that the CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro) must be fully supported since it is necessary for the lasting peace and economic development in Mindanao. By taking this view, we risk being labeled “inconsistent” for advocating in our MindaNews articles the establishment of the genuine autonomy for the Moros, yet, here we warn against overrating the impact of the CAB. In fact, we risk being counted among the “spoilers”.

As we have advocated the establishment of genuine autonomy for the Moros, we fully support the CAB as it is about to go through the wringer – the Congress and, perhaps, the Supreme Court. The Bangsamoro must be entrenched for the Moros and fully supported by the presidents after Aquino III until it is stable. The support must be based on reality not just on perception or political windfalls.

Tempering Perception

That peace – call it “stable” if “not lasting” – is necessary to economic development is not an issue related to the CAB. Is there economic development in Mindanao? What is the fact about the peace in Mindanao relevant to economic development? In our view, these are the questions that must be answered to temper perceptions about the CAB and put in focus the real reason for its being. Consider the premises:

1. The random data from the UP study, the NSCB and the MSDF 2010-2020 show the economic development in Mindanao. We are going to pitch in our observations since the late 1960s.

2. The troubles wrecked the Moro provinces. In the other parts of Mindanao, the troubles have affected peace in varying degrees according to proximity to the troubled Moro provinces. We will share our observations on the Mindanao economy to weigh the effects of the troubles.

[Aside: What are our credentials as an observer? From 1952 to 1996, we lived in Cotabato City with Moros as neighbors and friends. As a university professor, we occasionally discussed the Mindanao Problem with our Moro students. As a journalist – 22 years as editor of The Mindanao Cross – we have covered the “troubles”, interviewed top Moro, military and rebel leaders. In brief, we have the personal knowledge and experience. After returning to General Santos to retire, we have continued our contacts and immersion in the Moro Problem. – ppd]

Critical Years

By the late 1960s, the areas bounded by the northern boundary of the Allah Valley Settlement Project, the Liguasan Marsh, the Cotabato-Digos road and the present Cotabato City-Makar via Dalican road which Christian settlers opened right after World War II in late 1940s and early 1950s had become progressive communities — now the municipalities of Isulan, Esperanza, Tulunan, Mlang and Matalam and the city of Tacurong. Economically, they had surpassed their mother municipalities and others which were municipal districts in 1900 or earlier.

By this time, too, the Allah Valley and Koronadal Valley Settlement Projects of the National Land Settlement Administration, as South Cotabato Province, had separated from the Empire Province of Cotabato. General Santos which was created in 1957 as Buayan had already become a city – the more than four century old Moro village of Buayan just one of the barangays.

Until these years, there had been peace in the Empire Province of Cotabato. Under the blessing of peace Christian settlers had converted the wilderness into progressive communities.  Sad to note, the much older Moro communities had continued to stagnate. By this time, too, that peace was about to be shattered together with the Moro-Christian Brotherhood which the then leading Moro leader Datu |Salipada K. Pendatun prided in as the unity of Moro and Christian political leaders. The peace was the calm before that storm.

The issuance of the manifesto of the Muslim Independence Movement by Datu Udtog Matalam, immediate past governor of Cotabato, on May 1, 1968 triggered the Ilaga-Blackshirt atrocious war. This and the outbreak of the Moro rebellion on February 27, 1973 were the eruption of the long-pent up Moro grievances against the Manila government. Peace in the Moro region – the now ARMM – collapsed completely.

Troubles and Development

In the early 1970s, land travel in and out of Cotabato City was restricted. No restriction was imposed. But commuters considered the Ampatuan-Maganoy-Dinaig portion of the Cotabato City-Makar road unsafe after 4 p.m. Of the Cotabato City-Davao City road, the Nuling portion was considered unsafe after 6 p.m. These did not start easing until the 1990s. This slowed down or virtually froze commerce in Cotabato City. Many big business firms opened branches in Cebu City, Cagayan de Oro City, Davao City and General Santos City.

Bordering Christian and Moro municipalities were on red alert if not on war footing. Christian mayors strengthened their Civilian Home Defense Forces as the first line of defense against possible rebel intrusion. The Moro communities, hemmed in, were economically paralyzed. In Christian communities, peace varied according to their proximity to the trouble areas; but economic activities and progress went on. The wide gap of the economy in the ARMM and that in the rest of Mindanao today speaks louder than statistics.

Travel by bus or car would give a bird’s eye view of the economic and social disparities. Even now, passing through Datu Odin Sinsuat adjoining Cotabato City to Datu Sangki bordering Esperanza, South Cotabato (once Dinaig-Maganoy-Ampatuan) on the Cotabato City-Makar road and Sultan Kudarat (Nuling) then Pikit and Pagalungan on the Cotabato City-Davao City road would hardly give an appreciable view of economic progress despite improving peace conditions since about 2005. It was worse before that from 1970s.

In the Christian portions of the same routes could be seen as far as the eyes can see agricultural farms, plantations and industries and progressive town centers including the four new cities of Tacurong, Koronadal, Kidapawan, and Digos. The same appreciable view can be seen in the hilly and mountainous Malungon on the General Santos City-Digos road. These did not take place overnight, a testimony of steady progress despite the Moro rebellion. The same can be said of the other Mindanao regions outside of the ARMM.

Four Cities

The four cities of Cotabato, General Santos, Davao and Cagayan de Oro are most revealing. In 1960, Cotabato and Cagayan de Oro were about in the same class, Davao at least a class higher. Founded as Buayan in 1947, General Santos was a low-class 13-year old municipality. It can be said now that in 54 years, Cotabato has just inched forward while the three had galloped to be highly industrialized – Davao a metropolis with General Santos just behind Cagayan de Oro.

In summers of 1960 to 1967 and the full academic year of 1967-68, I was in Cagayan de Oro for my masters studies at Xavier University. By end of the decade, the widening socio-economic gap between the two cities had become noticeable. I have not visited Cagayan de Oro recently but by the account of my niece and her husband who now reside there with their family, the skyline I can imagine dwarfs what I can remember of the place in the 1960s – the same with the coastal towns of Misamis Oriental which I had the chance to frequently commute through then.

While my visits to Davao were in long intervals, they provided clear observable gauge of the pace of development of its economy. How would Cotabato compare to Davao? It’s creeping turtle to the leaping and bounding hare. The same can be said of Maguindanao in particular and the ARMM in general compared to Region XI.

General Santos is my home place. During my 44 years in Cotabato, I had home visits at least twice a year – in fact, more frequently. While Cotabato was in survival mode, General Santos boomed. The Dole Pineapple Plantation in Polomolok, the Stanfilco Banana Industry through the 1980s, the tuna industry, the fish canneries (seven of the eight in the Philippines) the opening of the Cotabato City-Makar road and the development of the Makar Port fueled the boom which in turn attracted more domestic investments.

Stagnation and Progress

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Linik and other beaches of Dinaig (now Datu Odin Sinsuat) and of Upi along the Moro Gulf provided swimming resorts for residents of Cotabato City and the neighboring municipalities. These closed when troubles started. Now, well-off city residents motor to General Santos City or Davao City to spend a night or two in beach or inland resorts there. Samal Island of Davao or Island Garden City is tourist destination, Entering Sarangani Bay, one sees Glan to the right and Siguil Point to the left; beach resorts abound along the bay between the two points.

Branches of firms from Cotabato City established in General Santos City in the 1980s or earlier are flourishing. Maranao and Maguindanao vendors have flocked to General Santos City central market. The Ampatuans, for example, invested millions of pesos in Davao City instead of using their capital to develop Shariff Aguak or Maguindanao.

Until 1970, there were 15 cities in Mindanao. The next four cities were chartered in 1998. Three years after that eight more were created.  None of the twelve are in the ARMM; only one, Isabela in Basilan, is in Region IX while the eleven are in Caraga (2), Region X (2), Region XI (4), and Region XII (3). If the conversion of a municipality to a city is an indicator of economic progress this speaks much about the disparity between the ARMM and the rest of Mindanao because of disparity in peace and order conditions.

The overall picture is that of stagnation and progress.

The Realities

The April 1 Inquirer editorial reveals the perception that the economic progress outside of the ARMM is not “progress”; the investments, not “investments”; and the prevailing peace, not “peace”. Only seen are the “troubled peace” in the ARMM and its effect, absence of economic progress.  The ARMM is seen as Mindanao; so there is no economic progress in Mindanao.  As Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Balisacan sees it, the successful implementation of the CAB will make Mindanao boom since the only restraint to economic progress is the peace condition.

Is this correct? Yet, it appears to motivate much of the present campaign for the support of the CAB: “What is there for us?” and “Here’s what’s for you.” It’s true it’s easy to get support for a program, a project or a movement if shown that it benefits all. Should solving the Bangsamoro Problem be viewed this way? Must the support for the CAB be on this basis?

In the CAB, Government and MILF agreed what is for the Philippines, for the Bangsamoro and for the Moros, the Lumads and Christians in the Bangsamoro. The Annexes on Power-Sharing and on Wealth-Sharing are between the Philippines and the Bangsamoro. They are intended to bring peace and economic prosperity to the people of the Bangsamoro. The BBL based on the CAB is for “the higher interests of the GPH and MILF to have peace and development in the Bangsamoro”, MILF Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal emphasized at a CAB kanduli and rally.

The CAB is for the Bangsamoro to catch up with the five regions that have continued prospering in peace while peace and economic development in the ARMM had been stifled by the rebellion. The leaders of the five regions should understand the Bangsamoro bias of the CAB and not ask, “What is there for us?” The campaign should truly focus on this.

The Congress should deliberate on the BBL draft based on this focus. The Bangsamoro bias must be justified in the light of the prosperity of Mindanao outside the ARMM. As its constitutionality is guaranteed by the Philippine peace panel and the President, it must be presumed constitutional until proven to contrary – not just according to the letter of the Constitution but to its liberal and liberating spirit. The Supreme Court, if asked to intervene, should consider the BBL also from this focus.

The Crucial Questions

What will spoil the CAB?

The vehement opposition of the leaders of Zamboanga City and others like them in the other parts of Mindanao and Manila will not. Ignore it; the CAB lives. Zamboanga City, the rest of Mindanao outside of the ARMM and Manila will continue progressing without the CAB. On the contrary, the CAB is life or death to the Bangsamoro and its people.

The protests of MNLF Chair Nur Misuari, other Moro rebel leaders and the Lumads and the wait-and-see stance of other Moro leaders will not. They must not be ignored. But just go on to entrench the Bangsamoro and make it succeed. That will eventually unite the Moros.

The adverse opinions in the media will not. While they agitate, dismiss them as the usual anti-Moro bias. Let the Bangsamoro succeed. That will change or silence the tunes.

What will really spoil the CAB?

The watering down of the BBL by the Congress to satisfy the “What is there for us” and “Here’s what’s for you” and to tailor it to the present letter of the 1987 Constitution will. The very strict interpretation of the Constitution by the Supreme Court will not only spoil the CAB but abort the BBL.

What will make the Bangsamoro succeed?

The advocates of the Bangsamoro from Day One of the peace talks – especially the legions in the campaign for the support of the FAB, later CAB – are heroes. But after the entrenchment of the Bangsamoro, what more can they do?

What will are:  (1) the enactment of the BBL as drafted according to the CAB; (2) the proper transition of the Bangsamoro by the BTA as tacitly agreed – three years after the turnover of the ARMM to the BTA and adequate fund and technical assistance; (3) the adequate and sustained support of the Bangsamoro until it can stand alone; and, (4) in the long run, the unity of the Moro leaders and people together with the Lumads and Christians in the Bangsamoro. The [2] and [3] will go beyond the Aquino III administration and must be provided in the BBL Transitory Provisions.

Overrating the impact of the CAB will not; on the contrary, it can spoil. [“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You may e-mail your comments to [email protected]]

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