DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 15 August) – Rodrigo Roa Duterte is the first Mindanawon to become President but the President who put Mindanao on the Philippine map of priorities was Fidel Valdez Ramos, a retired general who negotiated peace with Moro and communist rebels and championed Mindanao as he pushed for its transformation from the country’s “backdoor” to the “main door … to our ASEAN neighbors.”
Ramos knew, even before he became President in 1992, that peace was key to the nation’s economic development and addressing the roots of conflict in resource-rich Mindanao, the country’s food basket, would be a major step forward: he disappeared from public view during the Presidential campaign to visit Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, explaining later that he sought his help to get Nur Misuari, founding chair of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), back to the peace negotiating table.
It was in Libya where the Tripoli Agreement of December 23, 1976 was signed between the Philippine government and the then undivided MNLF under Misuari. But its implementation failed because, among others, then President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos, exercising his legislative powers under martial law, created two regional autonomous governments instead of one as agreed upon. Six months after Marcos was ousted by People Power in February 1986, President Corazon Aquino flew to Sulu against the advice of her security sector, including then Armed Forces Chief of Staff Ramos, to talk peace. Misuari agreed to go back to the negotiating table but no peace agreement was reached under her administration.
In October 1992, on the fourth month of the Ramos Presidency, exploratory talks were held in Tripoli which led to the resumption of formal peace negotiations in 1993, facilitated by the Organization of Islamic Conference (now Cooperation) and hosted by Indonesia. The talks ended with the signing of the Final Peace Agreement (FPA) on September 2, 1996.
By July 1997, the government would sign an agreement on general cessation of hostilities with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a revolutionary group that broke away from the MNLF in the late 1970s. The agreement marked the start of formal peace negotiations with the MILF that would be disrupted by an “all-out war” waged by the Estrada administration in 2000 and by the Arroyo administration in 2003. In 2008, the government under Arroyo and the MILF initialed the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain but the formal signing in Kuala Lumpur on August 5 was cancelled as the Supreme issued a temporary restraining order barring the government peace panel from signing the agreement.
The peace agreement with the MILF – the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro — would be signed in 2014 under the Aquino administration and the enabling law establishing the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) to replace the ARMM was passed and ratified under the Duterte administration.
“Malacanang of the South”
Newly-elected President Ramos wasted no time in focusing on Mindanao. Within his first week in office in 1992, he laid out his “Mindanao Agenda” or “Mindanao Peace and Development Agenda,” setting the tone for succeeding Presidents.
Mindanao’s economy by then had been stagnant due to its unstable peace and order situation. Mindanao was home to all Moro liberation fronts, it was second to Bicol in terms of armed strength of the New People’s Army, and the Abu Sayyaf, initially composed of disgruntled members of the MNLF, had just started to make its presence felt in Basilan.
Mindanao, the country’s food basket and supplier of raw materials, was also the country’s “war zone” and under the Marcos dictatorship, became even more heavily militarized as state forces launched campaigns against Moro and communist rebels.
When the Aquino administration took over (1986-1992) , her policy was to talk peace with the Moro and communist rebels to address the roots of the conflicts. But no peace agreement was reached during her time, as it was besieged by a series of coup attempts to topple her administration.
Mindanao leaders pushed for an equitable share of the budget for the country’s second largest island grouping, to allow it to catch up with Luzon and Visayas. In the late 1980s, then Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. in a privilege speech, lamented that Mindanao was “the country’s cash cow that gets only dog food.”
Under the Ramos administration, it may not have gotten what should really have been its equitable share of the budget but Mindanao received, for the first time, the full attention of the national leadership.
On July 5, 1992, his fifth day in office, Ramos issued Executive Order 7, creating an extension office of the President in Mindanao and Visayas and assigning a Presidential Assistant for Mindanao and another for the Visayas.
The EO provided that the PA for Mindanao will also chair the Mindanao Economic Development Council created through Executive Order 512 of President Aquino on March 19, 1992 – less than two months before the May Presidential elections – and implemented under the Ramos Presidency. Medco preceded what is now the Mindanao Development Authority.
Ten days after he issued EO7, Ramos swore into office his Presidential Assistant for Mindanao, businessman Paul Rene Garcia Dominguez, at the Central Bank building here. A portion of the building became home to the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Mindanao (OPAMIN), dubbed “Malacanang of the South.”
Ramos was in constant communication with his assistant. “Constant” meant Dominguez had to install a fax machine in their dining area at home as his daily breakfast ritual would, until he resigned in late January 1998 to campaign for Renato de Villa for President, include going over Ramos’ faxed instructions to him or marginal notes on the day’s newspaper clippings on various Mindanao issues.
Under the Aquino administration, a Cabinet member was assigned a region – as Cabinet Official for Regional Development. Ramos went a step ahead: he set up a “Malacanang in the South” and designated a PA for Mindanao – Dominguez followed by Jesus Dureza from February 1 to June 30, 1998.
Ramos’ successor, Joseph Estrada, abolished the OPAMIN set-up and the CORD through EO 7 issued on September 30, 1998. In its stead, he appointed PARECOs or Presidential Assistant for Regional Concerns, initially two for Mindanao and later three, but their presence was hardly felt in Mindanao until his ouster in January 2001.
Estrada’s EO 7 ended the six-year period where Mindanao’s and Mindanao’s regional concerns, including disasters, were swiftly attended to by an office directly under the President.
“No longer the backdoor”
In October 1992, the same month of the exploratory peace talks in Tripoli, Libya, Ramos proposed during a meeting of leaders in the Association of East Asian Nations (ASEAN) the creation of a sub-regional economic grouping that would eventually be launched in 1994 as the BIMP-EAGA or Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area, comprising Brunei, East Malaysia, East Indonesia and Mindanao and Palawan in the Philippines.
BIMP-EAGA was a shared strategy among the four countries to “accelerate socioeconomic development of the less developed and geographically remote areas in the member countries.”
Ramos would be the first Philippine president to return to the country from a foreign trip via Mindanao, landing in Davao City from Indonesia in September 1993, where he declared Mindanao as the “main door” to the ASEAN.
“Starting today, Mindanao will no longer be the backdoor of the Philippines …but a main door… our door to our ASEAN neighbors with whom our future and destiny lie,” he said.
That 1993 statement, Dominguez said in August 1996, “continues to reverberate today because it is a major policy statement and we have seen so many follow-through policy changes by the national government in terms of implementing that policy.”
The Mindanao Development Authority noted that from 1994 to 1997, there was a surge of investments in Mindanao. Air routes within BIMP-EAGA opened: Davao-Manado, Davao-Kota Kinabalu, Zamboanga-Sandakan.
During this period, Mindanao’s first five-star hotel would rise – the 18-floor Marco Polo Hotel in Davao City which was inaugurated in 1998. It was Mindanao’s tallest building for several years. It ceased operations on June 15, 2020 due to the pandemic.
“Peace and security are the first urgent problem”
Ramos talked peace in his inaugural address on June 30, 1992 and gave more specifics during his first State of the Nation Address on July 27 where he declared “peace and security are the first urgent problem,” transmitted to Congress for concurrence his Proclamation 10 granting amnesty “to enable rebels to re-enter civil society as law-abiding citizens,” and stressed the need for a “comprehensive peace and unification process” alongside institution of “basic reforms to root out the causes of rebellion”
Ramos also announced that he had directed the Secretaries of Justice, Defense and Interior and Local Government to “review the cases of so-called rebels under detention or serving sentence” and to recommend as soon as possible who can be released through administrative action, granted executive clemency, or recommended for release under bail, “with the end in view of further creating a favorable climate for national unity.”
He also asked Congress to repeal Republic Act 1700 “so that the Communist Party of the Philippines and similar organizations will no longer be outlawed but allowed to compete freely, openly and peacefully in the political, economic and social arena instead of their following the path of the armed struggle.“
Two months later, on September 24, 1992, Ramos signed Republic Act No. 7636, repealing RA 1700.
“Peace is a process. And we must all join hands to bind and heal the conflicts that have so long divided and held us back,” he said.
National Unification Commission and Six Paths to Peace
Also mentioned in his SONA was the National Unification Council (NUC). On September 1, 1992, he issued Executive Order 19 constituting the NUC which was tasked to conduct a nationwide consultation process to develop a strategy for peace talks with the country’s various armed groups. He named the highly credible Haydee Yorac, University of the Philippines Law Professor and former Commissioner at the Commission on Elections, as NUC chair.
The NUC’s recommendations provided the framework for a comprehensive peace process through EO 125 issued on September 15, 1993, which also paved the way for the creation of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) that same year.
EO 125 tasked the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process with the management and supervision of the comprehensive peace process. The functions and responsibilities of the PAPP are enumerated in Memorandum Order No. 163 dated August 25, 1993.
The NUC consultations, according to Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, “legitimized and validated the long-existing demands of social movements and progressive sections of civil society: the need for comprehensive reforms to address structural inequalities and achieve lasting peace.”
“Despite shortcomings, including both the diffuse nature of the consulted groups and the exclusion of others, the NUC’s report was groundbreaking in recognizing poverty and inequality as the primary causes of conflict and in setting out the ‘Six Paths to Peace’ that became the operational framework for government peace policy,” Ferrer said in an article in Conciliation Resources’ Accord 13 in 2002. Ferrer would become a member of the government peace panel negotiating with the MILF in 2010, became its chair in late 2012 after chair Marvic Leonen was appointed to the Supreme Court, and signed the CAB in March 2014 with MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal.
The Six Paths to Peace which are “pursued in a simultaneous and integrated fashion” are: “pursuit of social, economic and political reforms; consensus-building and empowerment for peace; peaceful, negotiated settlement with the different rebel groups; programs for reconciliation, reintegration into mainstream society and rehabilitation; addressing concerns arising from continuing armed hostilities; and building and nurturing a climate conducive to peace.”
JASIG and CARHRIHL
Significant agreements were reached under the Ramos administration between government and the National Democratic Front (NDF). Both parties signed the Hague Joint Declaration of 1992 on September 1, to hold formal negotiations to attain “a just and lasting peace.”
On February 24. 1995, the government and NDF signed the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees for NDF negotiators and consultants and on March 16, 1998, the Comprehensive Agreement to Respect Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.
The Makabayan bloc in a statement on August 4 said Ramos “was a leader who understood that for our country to prosper we need peace based on justice and that it can only be attained by addressing the root causes of armed conflict.”
“Pres. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. would do well to follow his example on the question of peace,” it added.
In a statement also on August 4, the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) said Ramos’ legacy as a soldier who heeded the clamor of the people at EDSA and “his subsequent commitment to attaining true and lasting peace through principled negotiations during his presidency will always shine as bright honors to the Filipino people.”
“We mourn the loss of an outstanding statesman for peace. An individual who would always welcome peace advocates to his office, an advocate who would travel and give time to speak to venues near and far about peace, and a kind humble human being who lived and dreamed to see peace prevail throughout the Philippines,” it said.
Dominguez, in his tribute to Ramos on August 8 at the Heritage Park, recalled how in the aftermath of the sacking of Ipil in April 1995, Ramos asked him to organize peace and development summits in key cities in Mindanao, and the President attended these not just to deliver his opening remarks but he “stayed the entire conference, sat in on a number of the workshops, received the outputs of every single conference in six months and in so doing, not only wiped out the impact of the Ipil raid but piece by piece built up the support and advocacy for peace and development in Mindanao in spite of that terrible effort to derail it.”
Mindanao as “focus of our concerns”
In August 1996, a few days before the singing of the Final Peace Agreement between government and the MNLF, Dominguez described Mindanao’s economy as stagnant from 1975 to 1992.
“Between 1975 and 1992, that’s a 17-year period, Mindanao practically did not grow… Since 1993, we’ve put together three solid consistent years of growth.”
“We have just completed the turnaround. We have just turned the corner and we are beginning to steadily accelerate,” he said.
In his speech during the signing of the peace agreement with the MNLF on September 2, 1996 in Malacanang, Ramos said the agreement “falls squarely into our aspiration of total peace and development for all, especially the millions of poor and destitute masses in our southern regions.”
“That we have made Mindanao the focus of our concerns fittingly demonstrates its vital role in the overall enterprise of nation building. We must forge the peace first in Mindanao because it has suffered the most and harbors many of the most depressed communities in the land,” said Ramos, who in 1995, became the object of wrath of those opposing a peace settlement with the MNLF. At one point, during a Mindanao visit, protesters threw tomatoes at him but missed their target.
Peace and development summits in Mindanao, a regular feature in the Ramos administration, continued to be organized tafter the signing of the peace agreement to help the people understand it.
On November 29, 1996, the Mindanao Bishops-Ulama Forum (now Conference), was organized through the help of the OPAPP, to help in peacebuilding and protecting the gains of the peace process.
In March 2000, Ramos’ successor, Joseph Estrada, waged an “all-out war” against the MILF, displacing nearly a million residents and setting back the peace process. The MILF disbanded its peace panel in August that year.
In April 2002, Dominguez told a civil society forum in Davao City that “the present value of the economic cost of a never-ending conflict would be at least $2 billion over the next 10 years,” estimated to be 30 million pesos a day at the exchange rate then, based on ‘very preliminary’ findings of a World Bank study which cited the ‘hidden costs’ of the conflict, including profits made from investments in south-western Mindanao that were reinvested or spent in other areas; defense budgets used to mobilize troops for war rather than for modernization; and social services repeatedly disrupted by violence.
Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who took over as President in January 2001 after Estrada’s ouster, waged an “all-out peace” but waged yet another war against the MILF in February 2003.
Mining Act, Mt. Apo Geothermal, UP Mindanao
While the Ramos administration was busy addressing issues raised by communist rebels and the Moro liberation fronts MNLF and MILF, the extremist Abu Sayyaf started making its presence felt initially in the island province of Basilan.
The Abu Sayyaf would later be blamed for sacking Ipil in Zamboanga del Norte (now part of Zamboanga Sibugay) and be among 13 groups designated as Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the US Department of State on October 8, 1997, along with Al Qa’ida and Hizbollah.
Under Ramos, the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 was passed, opening mineral-rich Mindanao to investors. Mining operations in Mindanao became sources of employment but also became sources of conflict.
In the energy sector, Ramos at the start of his term in 1992, named a young Mindanawon development banker, Guido Alfredo Delgado, as member of the Board of Directors of the National Power Corporation (Napocor) representing Mindanao and in 1994, appointed the then 36-year old Delgado as its President.
Under Ramos’ term, several power-generating projects were launched to address the power shortage, among them the Mt. Apo Geothermal power plant which was unveiled and inaugurated on December 14, 1996 and was fully synchronized to the Mindanao grid on December 23, 1996.
In the education sector, Mindanao finally had its own University of the Philippines in Mintal, Davao City in 1995, nearly 50 years after UP Visayas in Miag-ao, Iloilo was established in 1947.
Republic Act 7889, the bill creating UP in Mindanao was signed into law on February 20, 1995.
Ramos and Duterte
Duterte opened his inaugural address on June 30, 2016 by thanking Ramos for making him President. “Sir, Salamat po sa tulong mo (Thank you for your help) for making me President.”
In speeches before the security sector in July 2016, Duterte recalled that in a three-hour meeting at the Marco Polo Hotel months earlier, Ramos asked him to run for President. “It is time that Mindanao will have a president,” he quoted Ramos as saying.
Duterte flew to Metro Manila from Davao to pay respects to Ramos at his wake in the Heritage Park in Taguig City on August 4. He told reporters there that Ramos, who passed away on July 31, “was the first one to push me to run and the first one to contribute money.”
But Ramos was also among the first to be disappointed in Duterte. In his column at the Manila Bulletin in October 2016, Ramos said the first 100 days of the Duterte administration was a letdown.
“We find our Team Philippines losing in the first 100 days of Du30’s administration – and losing badly. This is a huge disappointment and let-down to many of us,” he wrote.
Ramos said Duterte could have addressed better priority issues such as poverty, national security and the environment if Duterte wasn’t “stuck in unending controversies about extrajudicial killings of drug suspects and in his ability at using cuss-words and insults instead of civilized language.”
Ramos resigned on October 31, 2016 as Duterte’s Special Envoy to China.
Duterte stepped down as President on June 30, 2022. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)
TRIBUTE: FVR built piece by piece the support and advocacy for peace and development in Mindanao
by Paul G. Dominguez