PEACETALK: Challenges (and Hopes) in the Post CAB Bangsamoro: From the third eye

(Delivered at The Consolidation for Peace for Mindanao seminar-workshop in Hiroshima, Japan on June 23).

The Agreement and Bottlenecks

The Bangsamoro is a work in progress. But the Signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) is definitely a major milestone in the 14-year old peace process. The final birthing of the Bangsamoro will come after a plebiscite in 2015. Many things still can happen in between. The boxing experts say, dont judge boxing in the first round. The losing boxer is waiting for the opportunity to throw the final one big knock-out jab. This happened in the MOA-AD (Memorandum of Agreement on the Bangsamoro of August 2008).

Meantime, the CAB is yielding various reactions and thoughts from different groups and individuals.

Many are the hopefuls (the re-affirmists) but there are also the doubtfuls (the uncertains) and the pessimists (the rejectionists). I am sure most of the people in this room belong to anyone of those categories.

What the CAB offers:

The hopefuls believe that:

  1. The CAB offers a political framework that is largely seen as reflective of the Bangsamoro’s long aspiration and quest for self-determination and development;
  2. They see it as a key framework in pushing the process of achieving a more durable solution to the conflict in the Bangsamoro which presents an important opportunity to transform violence to peace;
  1. A framework that enshrines the Basic Rights of its people and provides adequate political authority to the Bangsamoro to govern and to explore, exploit and manage economic resources;

4. The CAB provides the venue for the Tri-people in the Bangsmaoro to work together to chart their collective development and welfare; and

5.   It opens an opportunity to improve the relationship between the National government and the BM towards national unity and reconciliation.

Towards this end, the hopefuls expect

1. The congress to pass a Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that allows the Bangsamoro the legal framework to exercise their right to self-governance and development;

2. Additional territories that will expand the areas of the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARRM);

3. A Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) that is able to build the foundation for meaningful reforms in the Bangsamoro;

4. A regular Bangsamoro government that is responsive to both the short and long-term aspirations and needs of its people.

These are the positions and expectations of those who support the CAB

But the curious minds and the doubtfuls have to ask questions including the constitutionality of the BBL.

  1. What happens if the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as a party to the negotiations finds the Basic Law passed by Congress not responsive to their right to self-governance?
  2. What will happen if in the plebiscite, other territories in the present ARMM, will opt not to join the Bangsamoro?
  1. Will ministerial form of government be a good alternative to what we have today?
  1. What happens if in the post-agreement elections the MILF is politically excluded? Will they still pursue the agreement on normalization, particularly the decommissioning component?
  1. Can there be two claimants of ancestral domain in the Bangsamoro?

Still many questions from the doubtful minds.

The pessimists on the extreme hand simply dismiss the CAB as another exercise in futility citing among others how the Congress in the past watered down the Tripoli Agreement of 1976 and the Final Peace Agreement of 1996 as well as the alleged non-compliance of government to previous agreements.

These are not simple questions but also challenges that require serious thoughts.

Going back to the question of political exclusion, this issue to me poses serious thoughts and challenges.

In a study contained in a monograph entitled “Committing to Peace” by Barbara F. Walter, it was found out that one of the reasons why combatants return to war is when they are marginalized in a post-conflict government. When they became politically excluded in running the new the government. The study suggested that there should be credible commitment that the combatants shall have governmental power when they relinquish their military forces and political power.

In recent years, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) while holding the helm of power in the ARMM did not bother to complain about the alleged non-compliance of the government of the FPA of 1996. Only after they lost the ARMM and lost government power did they complain of having been cheated and short-changed and became politically excluded, thus many of them went back to war.

The same study also showed that in many civil wars, willingness to negotiate and to strike a bargain, like what happened to the 1996 FPA, are not really the difficult parts in resolving conflicts but it is in implementing the agreements. That is why the role of the third party guarantee is very crucial.

I hope the situation mentioned will not happen to the post-CAB government.

This means to say that assuming the BBL passed by the congress is acceptable to the MILF, the latter shall make it a point that they get elected in the new Bangsamoro governmentto ensure that they will not be politically excluded. They must at this early learn the art ofwinning in elections. This is because as the study shows, “even if truly democratic institutions are established and free and fair elections held, it is unlikely that these institutions are going to be effective overnight.”

The challenge therefore is for the MILF not to be politically excluded in the post-BTA era. It is not enough to hand over the key of the new government to just anyone. The hard-earned political gains of the long peace talks shall be sustained and the expression of self-determination manifested through government services.

The role of the MILF in overcoming potential bottlenecks that can undermine the successof the Bangsamoro and to sustain the gains of the peace process is crucial that they should have legitimate government power

Power-sharing is a good guarantee and important assurance of successful post-conflict agreement.

Looking at foreseeable challenges and bottlenecks

Distribution of power in Governance

The question is how will power be shared among the major stakeholders in the post-conflict government? In the CAB, the Bangsamoro will elect their leaders — a free for all election — in 2016. This is going to be a case of “the winner takes them” all. What assurances are there that the revolutionaries will not be politically excluded and disenfranchised in the post-agreement government?

Is there a guarantee that in the regular Bangsamoro government, there is a distribution of specific quota of power, a guaranteed distribution of key ministries or shared control over executive positions?

Will the MNLF, other stakeholders be given political share in the BTA and in the BM government after 2016?

The security bottlenecks

1. The multiple armed groups operating inside and outside communities i.e., the private armies of political leaders, disgruntled members of revolutionary groups can still pose direct threats in the BM territories.

A study revealed that the   region (ARMM) includes at least six major non-state armed groups, and a number of militia units.

2. The deep divisions within the Moro rebel groups leads to fears that if one rebel group gains concessions from the government, the other groups will be marginalized;

3. Mindanao (ARMM-BM) has the highest level of violence in Asia and lowest level of development in the Philippines. The above situation shall be reversed if we want a smooth war-to-peace continuum.

4. Political Dynasty and clannish social structure in the Bangsamoor is a big challenge to democracy where the doctrine of check and balance is most often than not set aside. Change politics will always be challenged by the “business as usual” norm. Political dynasty, while it is true everywhere in the country, is more pronounced in the Bangsamoro where you see practically the whole clan running the government in local government unit. I call this clan political enterprise or clan-inclusive government. In many instances, local politicians are the most resistance to change.

To diffuse the concentration of political powers and economic resources in the hands of the few is a big challenge for the Bangsamoro.

5. Rido, the second source of displacement next to insurgent-based violence, is everywhere, too, but most prominent in the Bangsamoro.

We need political leaders who would wield political will to change these state of affairs in the Bangsamoro. We can only hope that the program of normalization which is the heart of the autonomous government will invest extra efforts to make things happen.

The Socio-eco bottlenecks

The socio-economic fundamental contradictions within the Bangsamoro can trigger and sustain horizontal violence. The social gap, landlessness vs land monopoly, political monopoly and feudal relationships are among the social structural problems within the Bangsamoro. The challenge for the Bangsamoro is that: Having a good political framework or anexcellent development plan is one thing, running a government or implementing the plan is another thing. Having abundant sources of economic wealth is one thing, distributing them is another thing.

The presence of multinational corporations when unbridled will deprive the Bangsamoro their right over important mineral resources within its territories. A situation that undermines the very essence of the right to self-determination.

The proliferation of shadow economies, e, g., kidnapping, business on illegal drugs and human smuggling among others, also poses big challenge to the Bangsamoro government.

The Bangsamoro must be able to address these issues both in the short and long-terms. There is no quick fix and easy way to reforming a heavily ruined system and society. But they say, it is not only ideology and the resilience of the insurgents that sustain their struggle but the inability of the government to uproot the causes of violence and the contradictions. The future Bangsamoro government is faced with this big challenge.

The CAB has provided basic measures and guarantees to many of these issues and concerns, but there are no assurances that will narrow the structural social gaps between the many poor and the very rich within the Bangsamoro. There is a need to reconsider a genuine rural-based agricultural program to improve the life of 80% of the Bangsamoro populationwho live in the countryside.

Strategically, the key to achieving the long-term goal of peace in the Bangsamoro requires both vertical and horizontal reforms. Vertically, the existence of the Bangsamoro government shall usher in opportunity for national unity and reconciliation between the Bangsamoro and the national government. Horizontally, the unity and solidarity of the major stakeholders of the Bangsamoro, the Moro, the Indigenous Peoples and the settlers, shall be the pushing factor in achieving major reforms in the Bangsamoro.

Having said that, let me summarize in few words what I consider

The immediate and long-term extra-challenges

  1. For the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law that is acceptable to the Bangsamoro. This is the best case scenario;
  2. A Bangsamoro Development agenda that will respond to both the immediate , short and long term needs of the Bangsamoro;
  1. Bangsmaoro political leaders who have the political will to change the business as usual mentality in the Bangsamoro; The right leaders with the right values to the right job
  1. Building the foundational platform for reform that can lead to overcoming potential or actual bottlenecks, especially the basic contradictions within the Bangsamoro;
  1. The MILF and other combatants to have place in the new government;
  1. A more inclusive and equitable distribution of power among other major stakeholders in the Bangsamoro.
  1. A more inclusive and equitable distribution of the dividends of peace to all the people in the Bangsamoro.
  1. Building the culture of peace, justice and reconciliation to resolve sectarian divide, among others. The commission on Transitional Justice and Reconciliation can be a good platform to these initiatives.

Indeed, the challenges ahead are great. But if we work together in the spirit of inclusivity, we can make the changes we want. This work in progress will end up in prosperity. At the end of the line, the indicators of a successful Bangsamoro are good governance, peace and security, more inclusive economic development and social cohesion. (Guiamel Alim is chair of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society)