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Reality check on Bangsamoro Pact

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(BY: JESUS “JESS” DUREZA) (Author was former Chairman of the government peace panel with the MILF and Presidential Peace Adviser).

Over the past few days, I came across  both   good and bad news about the Bangsamoro peace deal. A reality check of some sort.

“Good” because  the government, the MILF and the prospective donor countries and international agencies came together recently in a Philippine Development Forum (PDF)  to commit massive logistics support to the peace efforts. (Although the “lousy” media handling spoiled what otherwise was an auspicious event.) This sent very strong signals that enduring peace and prosperity for the Bangsamoro are just around the corner because there will be massive development resources to make things happen. This is “good” because the surge and the momentum for peace are sucking in more supporters  including the so-called  “doubters” and “non-believers”. Whatever the future of the peace deal will be, improving the lives of the Bangsamoro is paramount.

But “bad” because the expectations for dramatic and immediate results are so high  that  not meeting them will only be another formula for disaster. We know miracles do not happen and peace does not  come overnight. It is incremental and a work of a lifetime. So, it’s good to do a reality check from time to time.

WORLD BANK — Over dinner at Davao Marco Polo Hotel a few days ago,  top honchos of the World Bank met with a small group of Davaoenos to do just that : a reality check. WB Vice President (for East Asia & Pacific region) AXEL VON TROTSENBURG from Washington D.C. and Manila-based Country Director MOTOO KONISHI led a team that met with some  “locals” around the table to include Archbishop (Emeritus)  NANDING CAPALLA, head of the Bishop Ulama Conference; former Malacanang  Cabinet official PAUL DOMINGUEZ, head of the Philippine Business for Social Progress; Businessman VIC LAO, president of the Mindanao Business Council, Former Congresswoman PATRICIA  M. SARENAS and myself. After attending the Philippine Development Forum ( PDF) on the Bangsamoro at the Davao SMX convention center with President Aquino, the WB team thought an intimate exchange would give them some additional situationers closer to the ground.

VALIDATION — It was propitious that the night before, I had an interesting chat  at our Seagull Beach Resort in Davao City  with some of my former co-workers during my days in Malacanang. They still cover now Mindanao and have attended several consultations on the ground.  They meet and talk to people in the area. They validated some of the concerns reaching me and which I relayed to the WB group.

PERILS — Up to this time, my former Malacanang  colleagues told me that there were still serious concerns that must be addressed especially on  the continuing misgivings and doubts of many citizens on the capability of the MILF to handle such a gargantuan and sensitive task of bringing peace in the Bangsamoro territory. While the sudden surge of hope and optimism is a good, positive sign , it has also its PERILS. The public expectations that the peace deal will bring dramatic and immediate results are so high that unless such expectations are managed accordingly, there may be widespread disappointment and frustration that can spoil the efforts at the early stage.

INCLUSIVE? —Then there is still the issue of “inclusivity”. There are pestering questions. Will the peace deal be principally for the MILF or will it be inclusive as to include as “key players” other non-MILF Muslims,  the MNLF, the sultanates, the tribes, the entrenched politicians, the IPs, etc? Will the implementing mechanisms that will bring development be exclusively controlled by the MILF? Yes, there are motherhood statements claiming “inclusiveness” but there is a common lingering feeling of doubt that this is only “good in words and not in deeds”.

One footnote worth mentioning is the basic mind-frame of some Malacanang officials who merrily proceeded with dealing only with the MILF to the “exclusion” of other actual players like the MNLF , whom they condescendingly described as a “spent force” as if only the MILF matters. Even the leaders of Mindanao’s interfaith dialogue group, the BISHOP ULAMA CONFERENCE was intentionally sidelined and “deadma-ed” ( is there such a word?) all throughout  simply because the “Ulamas” and the bishops composing it played a key role in peace building and peace dialogues during the previous ARROYO Administration. Disturbing mind sets, if u ask me, but yes, a judgment call they are entitled to. But obviously paying “lip service” to inclusivity. (Ho-hum!)

CAN MILF DO IT? —More questions like: can the capacitation of the MILF (as  new leaders professing good governance and development) happen in so short period of time as the original timelines envisioned? Earlier, I said that the transition period given to the MILF to win elections and govern is too short. They won’t stand a chinaman’s chance to change the status quo, their good intentions notwithstanding. Moreover, disturbing incidents about continuing bombings, terrorist activities, conflicts and shooting incidents within the proposed Bangsamoro territory and its peripheries still hound us. There are even disturbing reports of one MILF commander in Lanao  starting to enforce the “Shariah Law” in his area, without waiting for the final law allowing it. Then  other reports of some MILF armed elements already making pre-emptive moves using the force of arms in claiming back lands from others that they plan on taking back when the Bangsamoro law is entrenched. This is not to mention the arming of some non-Bangsamoro elements who are girding for a showdown just in case. These are supposedly areas that people expect the MILF to handle and help pacify. These incidents are disturbing signs of clear challenge and defiance . Although I know the sincerity and the overriding intentions of the MILF in forging peace as I had the privilege of working closely with them, the question still remains: “Can the MILF hack it”?

DEVIL IN DETAIL — There are also other significant developments lately that need to be addressed if we want to do a reality check. One, there is credible report that  the MNLF has already sent word to its members that it will, for the moment, “stand down” from collaborating on the MILF’s Bangsamoro peace deal; two, the non-Bangsamoro residents in Mindanao are objecting to  — and are asking policy clarity about — control of the Bangsamoro of the sources of power and energy and other vital resources like minerals and marine resources. Then of course. the sensitive issues of disarmament or “decommissioning and demobilization”. There are other concerns that are now being closely scrutinized. Simply the effect of: “the devil is in the detail”.

WORRISOME — Although reports appearing in the media show a “surge” of support, it is still worrisome that the island provinces of Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-tawi are still “cool” to the Bangsamoro deal. Again, a reality check will tell us that except for an insignificant number, there is no significant presence of the MILF in these areas. There are more MNLF there than MILF. Then the “gut” issue there is about Sabah where thousands of locals rely on livelihood — not to mention their domain claims — and obviously, Malaysia’s patronizing support to MILF is a turn-off for locals.

Then the matter of the expected resistance of the entrenched and powerful political and tribal leaders who will not easily and willingly allow the “johnny-come-lately” neophyte and “ new kid in the block” MILF to take over just so easily. I do not wish to give it more significance than what it deserves, but the observation that key political leaders in the ARMM like governors and congressmen were conspicuously ABSENT during the recent PDF is giving everyone a clear signal that we should not ignore.

The matter of constitutionality and legal viability I will leave to Congress and the Supreme Court to settle.

RISKS — That reminds me. I got a surprise call sometime ago from Zamboanga City Congressman CELSO LOBREGAT who simply asked permission if he could reprint my earlier published article entiled : “THE MILF PEACE PACT ... WHAT IF?”. I wrote my  initial personal assessment as early as April this year about the risks and dangers and the things that we should address if we want the peace pact to succeed. I was informed by my friends lately that Cong. CELSO has heavily circulated my printed thoughts. What is disturbing to me is that more than half a year later has elapsed since and the same worrying signals are still around that need to be addressed; the risks need to be mitigated.

DONOR FATIGUE —  In short, the task is not easy. Most important is MANAGING EXPECTATIONS principally of the Bangsamoro constituency, the key players,  including the international donor community  partners who are prone to suffer from the so-called “donor fatigue” syndrome that can somehow afflict their  respective anxious and impatient country capitals  and head offices. This  was WHAT HAPPENED  in the case of the 18-year old MNLF peace pact of 1996 that , up to the present, still needs further nurturing and attention. Lessons learned, of course.

“MORAL HAZARD”— Whatever the outcomes of all these, it is imperative that we MUST   improve the lives of  the Bangsamoro,  which is now long overdue.  That is the bottom-line! That’s the over-riding reason why we welcome the generous help and support of the international donor community like the World Bank. Of course, with a clear warning (call it gentle admonition) that if there is lack of “inclusivity” in the implementation of development projects on the ground, “moral hazard” or dissatisfaction leading to more conflict by those excluded will be inevitable. We have learned from the past that peace deals or agreements, altho important milestones, are not necessarily or solely the exclusive fountainhead of peace and progress.

So let’s NOT put all our eggs in that one basket. -30-




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