Last December 8, 2013, our government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels signed the Annex on Power-Sharing to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB). They only left out one critical point on the issue on “Bangsamoro waters”. This development leaves only one more annex, the Normalization, to be discussed in the next few weeks.
Many of us are aware that the peace process with the MILF and MNLF aim to end armed conflict and to ensure that it does not recur. Thus, our government and the international community spend millions of dollars on numerous tactics on conflict resolution. Some of these tactics included amnesties, financial rewards, offers of inclusion in structures of power like the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), and threats of reprisal and use of force (like what happened in Zamboanga just recently).
Will our government finally end the moro problem?
The Annex on Power Sharing basically involves the inclusion of armed groups in structures of power. It also involves a complicated tradition that covers the pre-colonial or traditional power-sharing of the “datu system” that has been “legitimized” in political dynasties, and to the institutionalization of these power structures to be part of the state. Thus, both panels were able to discuss and negotiate the incentives that will arise in the process. This may then encourage groups to become legitimate political parties, enable a mechanism for sharing of resources with other groups and the state, and the inclusion of former combatants in reformed military or police forces. Again, will this system work?
I guess we cannot have a complete answer as of now. But looking at the statements of the MILF Head of the Peace Panel and the MILF Chairman, their agenda is clear. They want peace in Mindanao and in the ARMM. However, does this resonate on the ground? Do the visions of these two gentlemen reflect the will of the grassroot members in their communities, their combatants and their families?
Therefore, even if the whole MILF Central Committee accepts such a deal that involves power sharing and signs this agreement, the implementation on the ground may still prove challenging. Because power-sharing arrangements may simply import long-term habits of competition and conflict (specially on land issues), and deep distrust, into the new government structures and institutions that may exacerbate conflict within and outside the territory.
Take the case of Wao, Lanao del Sur. How many of us know the story of the Iranuns, Maranaws, and Manobos of the place? Last year, I was given the opportunity to listen to their stories for a research work on transitional justice. The stories of the Iranuns really moved me to tears especially when I was listening to their ordeal during their evacuation in early 1970 at the height of the ILAGA – Blackshirt conflict. I can only imagine the hardships they went through as they flee for their lives. We interviewed the son of the Sultan Darogongan. He narrated how they welcomed the settlers from Luzon and Visayas in their land with open arms during the 1950s. My heart was broken seeing him walking in the streets of Wao knowing that no one really knew who he was. You could see a regal demeanour in his person. His eyes and his face show the sadness and pain that he endured over the last three decades. I am sure there are other similar stories throughout Mindanao about the issue on minoritization of the indigenous peoples and the Muslims.
Last December 14 – 15, 2013 our office in partnership with iEmergence, National Commission on Culture and Arts (NCCA), Mindanawon Initiatives, and ForumZFD, conducted a consultation on the FAB which was entitled, Bangsamoro Cultural Advocacy Project: Untold Stories, Unheard Songs. I heard a different story in this activity. This time, it was from a Ilonggo (Christian settler) of Wao. He asked me, “is it my fault when our parents became settlers and owned a parcel of land because of the settlement and development? I am a “Mindanawons” because I was born here.” He was also very emotional when he asked me this question.
There seems to be a strong distrust among the Muslims (even among the MILF, MNLF, and non moro advocates), indigenous peoples, and “settlers” in Mindanao that will be affected in the Bangsamoro new political entity. Who can guarantee that each party will respect and apply the provisions of the peace agreement?
Our government and our people will be dealing with the demands of multiple identities and rival groups as part of a democratic society. We need to consider that this peace process will not only address the original ’causes’ of conflict and grievances that may have developed over the course of time, but also the recent acute security concerns of the key players and parties.
The issue on normalization is actually the key aspect of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of former combatants. In the case of private armies, how will the government address this? DDR will not only be on the MILF or MNLF, but also with the big political clans who are for decades are warlords in their own respective territories.
The Annex on Power Sharing includes mostly political power such as electoral arrangements and appointments on civil service positions from the ARMM to the new Bangsamoro. Studies have shown that power sharing has four dimensions: security, territory, politics, and economics (wealth sharing).
In the next few months, we need to be mindful of these key points. Mindanao has always been diverse in terms of culture and traditions. The framers of the Bangsamoro Basic law have to recognize the cultural diversity of our mutli-ethnic stakeholders and traditional leaders in Mindanao. For the government and the peace panels, when we question key points in the process, we are not “spoilers”, we simply want to voice out our valid concerns.