Again, I have some unsolicited thoughts to inflict on everyone. Just thinking aloud on how to move forward. Please consider the following, take it or leave it. But I believe it's high time now that we consider some paradigm shift by changing the discourse from political to development.
TRACK ONE -- With the debacle brought about by Mamasapano, there is an urgent, compelling and indispensable need of re-engaging the public and the stakeholders, especially of Mindanaoans. This can be done by regional peace summits and/or focused group discussions (FGDs) to exorcise the public mind of the negative spectre spawned by the tragedy and to restore the lost or eroded trust and confidence of the public on the BBL while Congress does its job. Simply, "consulting" with and "listening" to the people. This will also allow the voices of the affected sectors heard loudly rather than be dominated by discordant voices of the "unaffected gallery" or those who are remotely affected by the outcomes. This was done by President Ramos in the 1996 Final Peace Agreement with the MNLF and by President Arroyo after the MOA-AD debacle. I see no reason why this will not work this time.
TRACK TWO -- While BBL is in Congress, it may be best to make the proposed law more "inclusive" and bring in all together other Bangsamoro sectors who appear to be "excluded" or "sidelined". One way is to consolidate into one road map for all Bangsamoro the new Comprehensive Agreement of theMILF (CAB), the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA) with the MNLF and the IPRA law of the indigenous peoples.
a) To insure that MILF is put in the loop and will not "walk away" and turn its back to the settlement, a discreet effort by Congress to "vet" with the MILF the proposed changes be done. That means opening up quietly a backchannel " negotiating table" between Congress and the MILF as deliberations in Congress are going on. This will be the mechanism that will explain to the MILF the reasons for the enhancements to the BBL and also to preserve their "maratabat" (pride) that they are consulted along the way and that they have "ownership" of the outcomes.
b) The pending "tripartite review" (GRP, MNLF & OIC) of the 1996 peace agreement with Misuari's MNLF, which is unfinished but abandoned byOPAPP, be resumed and the output of the review can be inputted or consolidated in the new BBL. This may remedy or address the position of Misuari who has since reverted to his call for "independence" due to his perception that his MNLF is being sidelined or excluded from the peace process.
c) Pertinent provisions of the IPRA LAW can be consolidated in the new BBL to arrest the apprehension of the IPs that their own ancestral domains will be jeopardized by the BBL.
All this can bring about either a NEW BBL or an ENHANCED OR AMENDED ARMM LAW (RA 9054)
SCENARIOS -- There are 4 possible scenarios facing the BBL:
a) delay in the approval of BBL
b) MILF rejects the final version
c) delay in the Supreme Court if a petition is filed
d) Supreme Court rules its unconstitutionality
TRACK THREE --- Considering the above 4 possible scenarios, it may be best to look at Plan "B" or other alternative options. One possible alternative for this interregnum or possible debacle and in order to address the high expectations of the Bangsamoro -- or in a "best case scenario", soon after a new BBL is entrenched -- MASSIVE DEVELOPMENT MUST BE DONE IN THE BANGSAMORO AREA. (akin to the so-called Marshall Plan done in Europe after the World War destruction). The donor community (World Bank, JICA, AUSAID, USAID etc) and the foreign countries that have always been supportive of the peace process must be prepared this early to help the Philippine government for this massive development plan.
MILF SINCERITY --- First, allow me to help disabuse the minds of many questioning the "sincerity" of the MILF in seeking a peaceful settlement. Take it from me. I have worked with the MILF leadership headed by the late MILF Chairman HASHIM SALAMAT starting in 2001 until 2003 when I assumed as government chief negotiator and more especially with now MILF Chairman KAGI MURAD who was then my counterpart across the negotiating table as MILF chief negotiator. Subsequently, I also headed OPAPP. I could tell MILF's intentions were clear: to find a peaceful but principled settlement to the Moro problem. They have transitioned from struggle for independence to enhanced empowerment. I can cite many examples but I'll mention only one. For example: to the credit of the MILF, they have agreed early on (during my "watch" as chief negotiator) to do development on the ground while negotiations were still going on. Hence the formation of a "Mindanao Trust Fund" (with the World Bank as lead) with the MILF organizing its development arm called "Bangsamoro Development Authority" (BDA). It should be noted that this was never done before in any peace negotiations anywhere in the world. The purpose was to "capacitate" them (from combatants to development workers) and to start a modest template of development partnership and to find "comfort zones" with the donor community and the government's development agencies. The original plan was that after the final peace agreement is done, then a massive development fund can be put together with the MILF taking the lead on the ground to improve the lives of the Bangsamoro.
CAPABILITY --- While my experience with the MILF convinced me of the leadership's sincerity, the issue of "capability" however kept bothering me ever since. Unlike our AFP, the so-called command and control of MILF's forces by its leadership were -- and still are -- not that tight as we normally expected. Moreover, their communities host all sorts of armed groups (kidnap for ransom, criminals, private armed groups (PAGs) and it is too much to expect the MILF to have full operational control over all of them. Mamasapano is a stark example. Truth is, MILF numerically is a minority but they somehow showed they are carrying the torch for the Bangsamoro. The expectation was that if it is bestowed some level of authority, the MILF can eventually put some semblance of order to the disparate and challenging environment. But leveling of such expectations have some factors to consider. Reality dictates that MILF , even if entrenched, cannot dominate the scene in areas like the island provinces of Sulu, Basilan and Tawitawi obviously due to tribal considerations and the preponderance presence of the MNLF there. All told, tribal and ethnic considerations must be factored in the over-all picture because those who know these sensitivities are cautionary about this.
RECALIBRATE --- With the 4 scenarios above at play. we may need to recalibrate things. We know that the "mantra" of rebel groups, MILF included, is to seek a "political settlement" first and foremost, before "development" can be done in their areas, protecting their constituents from being "coopted" and their "cause" consequentially shunted aside. The mantra is: peace settlement FIRST before development. Perhaps, we can now all consider a paradigm shift: development SIMULTANEOUS with seeking a final settlement. With the need to restore confidence and rebuild lost goodwill, it may be best now that we jointly re-invent the approaches and the timelines. The MILF can be partners of the government in this massive development work, in order to win or regain lost goodwill and trust WHILE WE ARE ALL STILL FINALIZING OR ENTRENCHING OR NURTURING THE PEACE SETTLEMENT. This is a win-win alternative. Improving the lives of people is always a winner. Then the FINAL political settlement can follow. We need not force the issue now, if we can help it.
But if this is too radical a shift, then the best-case scenario is to change the discourse from political to development. The political settlement can be allowed to slowly evolve. The MILF will not -- or should not -- reject this because then it may give credence to the suspicion of some sectors that they give priority to political power than improving the lives of the Bangsamoro. For in the ultimate analysis, it is the latter that peace settlements are all about.
PEACE BUS --- As a final note. Sadly, we are all DISTRACTED from the intended main focus of the day. Investigations, blame games, calls for retributions and vengeance, seeking justice and accountability can well proceed on their own. But, these are all "side streets". Our "peace bus” has detoured from the main route. By all means, let's all recover our lost bearings.
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