Q and A. Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus G. Dureza: “BBL will have to come ahead and federalism will be the end game”

Among the Cabinet members of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, his high school classmate Jesus Gestuveo Dureza is the “veteran,” having served as a member of the official family of Presidents Fidel Ramos, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and now Duterte.

Dureza, son of a bus driver, first met Duterte, son of the Governor of the undivided Davao, when the delinquent student from Davao City was ‘exiled’ to Digos, Davao del Sur, some 56 kilometers away, to finish high school at the Holy Cross Academy of Digos (now Cor Jesu College), where Dureza studied.

Both Dureza and Duterte became lawyers, Duterte serving as government prosecutor under martial law. Dureza would be among the first human rights lawyers in Davao City in the late 1970s when then Archbishop Antonio Mabutas condemned the killing of church workers in Catalunan Grande in the first pastoral letter against Marcos’ martial law, “Reign of Terror in the Countryside,” prompting Marcos to send his Defense Undersecretary to conduct a probe.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza tells MindaNews on 20 April 2017 that there cannot be one Bangsamoro law for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and one for the Moro National Liberation Front.  MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

They would both start their political career immediately after People Power 1986 that toppled the Marcos dictatorship: Dureza as 1st district representative (1987 to  1989; 1992 to 1995), Duterte as OIC Vice Mayor from 1986 to 1987 and elected mayor for 22 years (1988 to 1998, 2001 to 2010, and 2013 to 2016); 1st district representative from 1998 to 2001 and vice mayor from 2010 to 2013.

Dureza, who edited a newspaper in Davao City while studying Law,  was appointed Presidential Assistant for Mindanao by then President Fidel Ramos on February 1, 1998 until June 30 that same year. It was under the Arroyo administration (2001 to 2010) that Dureza would find himself serving in various capacities: as PA for Mindanao, government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Presidential spokesperson, Presidential legal counsel, chair of the Mindanao Development Authority.

During his Presidential campaign, Duterte refered to his classmate as “ever the peaceful man,” citing as example that during a hostage-taking in April 1989, he  was planning an assault to kill the hostage-takers but Dureza intervened by phoning then President Corazon Aquino who then called Duterte that she wanted the hostage-taking solved peacefully. In the August 1989 hostage-taking again by the same group of prisoners from the Davao Penal Colony, Dureza also opted for a peaceful resolution of the situation.

The “peaceful man” was among the first names Duterte mentioned to compose his Cabinet, as Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, a post Dureza had served under the Arroyo administration.

Dureza has seen through the “humps and bumps” (his favorite phrase in describing the peace process) under the Aroryo administration and now under the Duterte administration.

MindaNews interviewed Dureza on the progress of the Bangsamoro peace process on 20 April at his beach resort in Davao City.


Q. We only have three months to the SONA (State of the Nation Address) on July 24. Where are we really in the Bangsamoro peace process?
A. Well in the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) table, the work of the BTC (Bangsamoro Transition Commission) is already ongoing. In fact, yesterday our chairman Inday Santiago met with the BTC already and it is her assessment that things are moving now according to schedule. So we are looking at a possibility of a draft enabling law to be submitted to Congress in time for our internal timeline which is when the President goes to the SONA and the new Congress convenes, then we have already crafted the bill but that’s the best case scenario. Ultimately it will be the BTC that will determine the pace … depending on the challenges that they meet along the way and how they move forward in the process of crafting a new law

Q. They are supposed to submit the draft to the OP by May 18, May 15?
A. These are internal timelines so let’s not be transfixed with these dates. We’re looking at a possibility on a best case scenario that when the new Congress convenes, we are ready with a new bill that will be presented to Congress

Q. What about the Moro National Liberation Front. Where are we now? The MNLF and government implementing panels have not formally met? Informally. yes.
A. Informally but there’s a plan for that mechanism that engages the MNLF of chairman Nur Misuari and the government panel to officially even make a call on the President so that they get some marching orders from the President in accordance with the President’s peace roadmap

Q. When will this be?
A. There are two dates in early May that are proposed, depending on the availability of the President.

Q. And they also have a deadline of a month or so?
A. We don’t impose deadlines. They have to work on it in accordance to their own pace but our best case scenario that we want is that the output of the implementing panel of the MNLF of Chairman Nur Misuari can also come up with their own draft in time for the convening of the new Congress in July.

Q. The MNLF wants to amend RA 9054 to further enhance, to strengthen the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The BTC on the other hand is crafting a draft law that will pave the way for the creation of a Bangsamoro that will eventually abolish the ARMM. So how do you get out of this very problematic
A. I don’t think it’s a problematic situation because I know for a fact that all factions of the Bangsamoro would like to see a more empowered governance unit for the Bangsamoro. So if the convergence of all these to-be-crafted draft bills can all the more provide and respond to this so- called aspiration of the Bangsamoro which up to now — we still get their messages that under the present existing law that it has not fully responded to their aspiration as a Bangsamoro people — then an output of what could come out of this convergence of these two tracks that will hopefully converge somehow — in Congress — will come out in a better and a more responsive law to govern the Bangsamoro.

Q. At this stage they’re saying that the two tracks — draft law to create Bangsamoro and draft law to amend RA 9054 — are actually parallel and parallel tracks don’t meet.
A. They will have to meet somewhere in Congress. Because there’s no other way but Congress to enact the implementing law. So we have two tracks because we have two factions that cannot yet reconcile with their differences, personally or in principle. We’d like to see how that is going to be resolved in the end but there is no other way but when Congress acts on outputs coming from the MNLF or from MILF peace tables. There’s no other way but to converge it because Congress cannot pass a law for the MILF and another law for the MNLF. It will have to be one law, best case scenario.

Q. The President also cannot certify two Bangsamoro bills as urgent.
A. He can certify what can be a consolidated version. So there must be at this stage — although there are two tracks — for both sides to already submit to the President’s roadmap that there can only be one law that will come out of all these efforts.

Q. Should it be Congress doing the convergence because some Moro leaders are saying that letting Congress do the convergence will be disaster?
A. They should give more credit now to members of Congress and respect. That statement would probably emanate from the fact of how it was done in the previous Congress but I see that the new Congress will be able to do this decisively and in the most proper way.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza shares updates on the peace processes on 20 April 2017. MindaNews phtoo by MANMAN DEJETO

Q. Senator Pimentel I asked him – and Speaker Alvarez – this question on the convergence. Senator Pimentel said that if the two tracks – if the leaders of these revolutionary groups do not agree with each other then let the Office of the President or Congress converge or harmonize. Speaker Alvarez on the other hand said kaya mo yan, Dureza can do that
A. (laughs)… No I am only an errand boy here of the President in doing this. I have my own experience and I know also the terrain where I travel in doing this roadmap but I think the main moving spirit and who will make the difference here where we said before is the persona of the President. So I trust that he will be able to make that judgment call at the proper time and I’m sure he will be doing this in an inclusive manner for all Bangsamoro. If the leaders don’t want to converge themselves, then we cannot be held hostage by these leaders who refuse to decide what is good for the whole Bangsamoro.

Q. I asked the President this question last week and he said yes, if he was going to call on the revolutionary leaders to a meeting not separately but together
A. There will be a time for that definitely. I think we will have to hold that one but when it will be, when it is timely, when is the strategic moment, we’ll just have to make the pieces fall as they should now and then at some point in time the President may call for everyone. So he gives them his own vision of what should be under his leadership.

Q. The President has been consistent and Moro revolutionary leaders including civil society representatives are optimistic actually that under the Duterte administration mare-resolve itong Bangsamoro Question right? The expectations are very high
A. Right. So manage your expectations

Q. That’s the next question – how do we manage the expectations particularly of people in the conflict-affected areas.
A. It’s too early yet to make a projection. Peace building is something that we do one step at a time and what is important is that as we move towards the end game, that we must get the public and the stakeholders on the ground who suffer from this situation, to see that there will be some benefits to them. It can be temporary in the meantime and that is the reason why I always emphasize the aspect of peace building coupled or enhanced by the development for us in the ground is something that is very important. People must see and anticipate the so called dividends of peace but you cannot keep that hanging for long to them and just awaiting the final judgment calls of their leaders. The communities must benefit. That’s our reason why as you see in our work in the Bangsamoro right now, the other day we had a big event, the 11th year anniversary of the Mindanao Trust Fund with the World Bank as lead together with the Bangsamoro Development agency and OPAPP. And we have also announced we’re also moving towards a bigger facility from this when Mindanao Trust Funds ends in 2019 effectively and that is to say that while we are still doing the political part of our work in crafting a law that will entrench the new Bangsamoro governance unit, it is very important that we are way ahead in doing development on the ground.

Q. Mindanao trust fund is until 2019?
A. Yes. It has already expired as a matter of fact but we have extended it and we have extended it some more I directed for another year up to 2019.

Q. What is this expansion?
A. The new facility is as you know the Mindanao Trust Fund is solely devoted to the Bangsamoro. The new facility if we ever finally put that together and put it, operationalize (it), will cover even the areas that are not Bangsamoro in the Mindanao area. That means it can also cater to the areas of the

Q. NPA areas?
A. CPP NPA NDF. I’d like to announce immediately that when we presented the format of a development for the CNN (Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army – National Democratic Front), they immediately welcomed it. In fact, they have created their committee headed by Louie Jalandoni, the former chair, and on the part of the Philippine government, I volunteered to head it myself because I feel that while negotiations are ongoing which is the political track, very important that, even if not at pace with or in step with the political aspect, we can even be ahead in the development aspect

Q. The ceasefire with the CNN is not yet in effect right? Because the ceasefire committees have yet to meet?
A. We had unilateral ceasefire and there were no guidelines so it can be called off anytime. We’re now working towards a bilateral agreement to undertake a ceasefire arrangement but since we have not yet agreed on guidelines on the details and on other mechanisms .. we cannot make that effectively as yet.

Q. But when are the ceasefire committee going to meet?
A. They are meeting already this month in April. I think there are four meetings scheduled and then in May about six meetings so while we are here in the country prior to the 5th round which is scheduled end of May first week of June, hopefully, the committees handling ceasefire and also the committee handling socio economic reforms under the so called CASER (Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms), they’re also meeting here. Most of the meeting will done in the Norwegian embassy in Manila, without prejudice to other venues that they will agree on.

Q. The next venue will still be in Netherlands?
A. Possible. There was talk that it should be in Oslo but we have to also consider for example, Joma Sison who has not been well for some time. But last meeting he was well and moving around and participating actively.

Q. Kaya ba within the year ang CASER?
A. In fact yun ang timeline ng dalawang grupo and it comes even from Joma himself that ‘we can finish this in a year.’ I was even surprised. So if we move quickly on these substantive issues especially CASER kasi it’s soul of the whole effort and in fact the bilateral ceasefire agreement will have to be calibrated as to how we have moved in the CASER negotiations.

Q. Ganon yung usapan?
A. Hindi ganon yung parang – hindi usapan, ganon yung parang tingin namin they would like to see a substantive movement in the CASER negotiations.

Q. Because in fact there were statements from Joma and Agacaoili that they want the CASER signed first before the bilateral ceasefire
A. That is what they say but you know it’s a negotiation in process.

Q. The President is also waiting for substantive progress in the CNN talks because he has not named the 25 members of the Consultative Committee di ba, yung sa shift to federalism. There are also proposed amendments coming from the Bangsamoro peace process and the CNN.
A. Whatever possible socio-economic, even political reforms that will come out of the peace tables will be inputted in the constitutional amendments that will take place if you move towards federalism eventually. So these are watersheds also that would be good sources of amendatory provisions and can also show that whatever we agree on in the negotiations table are going to happen.

Q. Both Pimentel and Alvarez said ipauna na lang yang BBL kasi medyo hindi pa sila nag mo-move sa federalism
A. Ganon talaga ang sequence. BBL will have to come ahead because we have always been saying that the federal, the government’s unit and the territory that will come out of a new BBL will probably be even a pilot or test bed for federal state but it’s going to be uniquely for the Bangsamoro because of certain situations, so BBL will have to come ahead and federalism will be the end game.

Q. In the meantime they are still drafting the law paano naman yung recommendations —  I asked this question before — of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission?
A. We are now in the process of submitting to the President already a proposed EO that will already institutionalize the Commission on Transitional Justice. You know very well that in any peacemaking effort and work worldwide, there are certain issues that will have to be tackled and it is more of removing the trauma that conflict has brought to the people so it is very important that a transitional justice set up must have to be installed even early on because it helps also exorcise many of the maladies that they place in a conflict situation.

Q. Well, particularly because this is also the only President who has repeatedly said he wants to address the historical injustices di ba pero parang ang bagal nung response doon sa recommendations. Bakit ganon?
A. Hindi man, dahil hindi mo naman, especially when you craft a Commission and an EO, it goes through a process. There was already a drafted EO for the Commission but you know government, it has to go through the process. It’s not simply as saying the President will sign immediately then it’s done. You have to merge and mesh gears with  all agencies of government. Remember in the transitional justice work there are certain quasi judicial bodies that have to be in place. There is a need for some wrongdoings done during the time of conflict that there must be an acknowledgment of responsibility and sometimes in the other experiences in the other parts of the world like Colombia where I studied a little bit what they did, it may not be a traditional penal system that will be applied but there must be a way of acknowledging of guilt and responsibility by those who have committed certain atrocities. if you may call it, during the time of conflict. You have to exorcise this.

Q. Some of them are still alive
A. Many of them are alive, not only some. Many are alive. You know even their generals in Colombia have gone to the extent of acknowledging responsibility.

Q. Will that even happen here?
A. Why not, why not?

Q. Sure?
A. Well, if you doubt it then

Q. No, no, I mean are they open to this? In your talks with the generals and with the
A. I have not yet discussed this because … that’s why the proposed EO will have to go through the rounds, it will go through all the agencies, some will be affected.

Q. At this stage ano yung shape nung Commission because the report of the TJRC was really just recommendatory di ba?
A. Of course and then we’re taking serious look at their recommendations but we’d like to also see what, because some of those though will not work here. Those that may work in Colombia may not work here or vice versa those that work here cannot work in Colombia. So right now, in fact there’s an effort now to take a look at the best practices or bad practices in other areas so we learn from them.
Kaya sabi ko nga eh, dapat walang, hindi tayo masyadong magmamadali. It’s sabi ko nga, it’s one step at a time, building on it but if we wish that is going to happen immediately, then it may even result to more disastrous effect because there will be no acceptance. It’s very important that when you process and set up a new commission, although it has its own mandate, it may have to go through the process of people to understand why and it takes a lot of work to engage, especially the stakeholders. That’s why we are still in the process of still meeting and organizing the peace tables – the different peace tables – because some of those things that we download to them is this idea of Transitional Justice Commission.

Q. May nag co-compare na doon daw sa NDF na peace process, mabilis yung release ng political prisoners samantalang dito sa Bangsamoro wala
A. Saan man anong political prisoners sa

Q. Sa normalization kasama iyong amnesty etc. Maisabay kaya iyan sila
A. You are comparing apples and oranges. There should be the basis for comparison. We are going to move in accordance with the pace that its situated where it is. For example if you look at the ceasefire agreement that we had with the Bangsamoro, now that it has already matured already been institutionalized, we are still at the early stage in the CPP NPA NDF so there is no point of comparison but I think

Q. No only in terms of amnesty, release of political prisoners kasi nasa annex ng normalization yan but swift yung movement sa CNN di ba na release ang kanilang consultants?
A. Those were needed in the peace negotiations. This did not happen really… in the MILF negotiation remember because all those participating in the peace negotiation were not in jail at all whereas the principal workers in the negotiation of CPP like the couple Benny and Wilma Tiamzon and all the rest were in jail. They have to be made available.

Q. How are we ensuring that the Lumad for instance in the CNN process will their voices will really be heard?
A. That’s why we have as I said and I go back to that mantra that we are going to engage peace tables. The Lumad will be properly heard in fact when the BTC now starts going there rounds and meeting with the different affected stakeholders the Lumad sector would be a very important sector.

Q. Meron din man silang representation.
A. Meron silang representation but yung representation kasi hindi mo maasahan yan eh kasi some will say ‘why is he representing us, ibang tribo kami.’ Actually in the composition even of the BTC, it’s just to get some eminent persons who can convene this peace table. It is not really to represent their own tribes. That was it. The whole concept because otherwise you have a problem ‘bakit siya yang ano na yan hindi yan siya member ng Sultanate namin but walang myembro ang Sultanate namin diyan sa BTC.’

Q. Bakit wala nga pala ang Sultanate di ba originally kasama supposedly yung Sultanate sa representation.
A. Yeah but strongly now we’re going to listen to the Sultanates because you know there is also this problem of several Sultanates and you can choose only one and if you choose one from one Sultanate the other Sultanate will say ‘why not us also?’ Di ba ganon ang problema natin eh. and then we have only a limited number of seats for example in the BTC so I have to really go out of my way to really explain to everyone that anyone of those members there do not represent your sector by the way, they are there only to help facilitate and probably be an eminent person, not to represent your tribe or your sector.

Q. Ibalik ko lang yung managing the expectation because you know this is the first Mindanawon President, the Congress leaders are all Mindanawon, the peace adviser is a Mindanawon and the Moro people are optimistic that something really will happen this time. On the other hand, we have already finished how many– four peace agreements in four decades — and ang problema nito, some people are saying especially the Moro youth na bakit kami susunod sa inyo — those who are being lured into violent extremism — the peace process is not really attractive in a sense that there have been four peace agreements in four decades ang hanggang ngayon hindi pa rin fully implemented so how do you, what do you tell the Moro youth, how do you get them on the side of peace?
A. Contrary to the thinking of everyone, they thought that we have magic formula, that if we come up with an agreement, then lo and behold everything is well and okay. It doesn’t work that way. It takes a lot of progression, it takes a lot of confidence-building and of course the matter about violent extremism is something that we should even hurry on addressing because that creates a big impact also in the security of many areas especially in the remote areas.
We hope that we are able to craft some kind of a framework for peace that slowly each one will see that there is no need to resort to violent extremism but that doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a long period like there is even a feeling amongst younger generation of those Muslim commanders who had fought government, they feel that up to now there is still a continuing struggle for their parents so they’re more attracted towards this very attractive concept of violent extremism and .. the problem there is you have to address the enabling environment. You cannot solve it by military action. Military action can only be a component so you have to address the environment that provides a fertile ground for these people to shift to this kind. That is the biggest problem that we have.

Q. The President is launching all these military action against
A. Right because that is an important component… You have to also show to the whole world especially the matter about the the ISIS daw looking at Mindanao as their next sanctuary. But if you start getting bombs dropping in your areas, that may slow them down and say ‘uy mahirap pala doon sa Mindanao dahil hindi pala tayo pababayaan doon talagang hahabulin tayo.’ These are calibrated actions but the overall approach should not only be just military action.

Q. Meron ba talagang, is the ISIS really in Mindanao?
A. I don’t think so. May na-attract doon sa concept na yan at may sumusugal but saying that they have already established their own caliphate here, no, I doubt very much.