A leadership challenge

The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) has been bannered as the ultimate hope for peace in Mindanao. After many years of conflict and negotiations to end the conflict, the BBL has become the possible solution and the mechanism for a lasting peace.

Lately, that hope has turned into a nightmare after the January 25, 2015 Mamasapano clash that led to the killing of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) personnel under Oplan Exodus, a police operation to arrest two high-value targets wanted for acts of terrorism.

More nightmares will haunt us with the uncovering of mysteries and skeletons after the Mamasapano incident. Both houses of Congress have been enlightened and taken a different stance from positive outlook to detailed scrutiny after the marathon hearings on the tragedy.

The majority of the citizenry have become more active, involved, and cautious in their appreciation of the BBL. The trust and confidence between the MILF and the GRP peace panels have been shaken and questioned.

Be that as it may, the BBL is the only evident and tangible alternative as of the present time that can fulfill the quest for peace in Mindanao. But if it is transformed into a law, the process of implementation is long and tedious.

In the meantime, as the conflict continues, crisis after crisis will erode the gains that have been made. Shall we allow this to happen?

If no stop-gap measure is done, the situation will worsen, and by the time the BBL is put into place, it will be a herculean task to reverse the situation.

In finance, when a company is short of capital for its operational requirements, it borrows on a short-term basis to insure continuity of its operations while awaiting the availability of long-term financing. This is termed as bridge financing, to maintain liquidity and sustain a healthy cash flow.

An analogy can be made with the peace process. While awaiting the full implementation of the BBL, a short-term option must be put in place in order to prevent the current tensions to escalate into a crisis that may be irreversible once BBL is already implemented.

The government needs to realign the focus of its program in Mindanao, so that development becomes a main effort without compromising the gains in the region.

Political interference in program implementation must be minimized, especially in the light of the coming elections in 2016. If this is not done, every government program from now until election season will be slanted towards political candidates, not long-term development.

The Mindanao peace and development thrust should be entrusted to a government entity that is apolitical, professional, and experienced in accomplishing assigned missions.

Let the professional, goal-oriented, grassroots-based organization handle the main effort. To do this, it is necessary to enhance and increase its development functions, without compromising its security mission. They are in the best position to establish an environment of peace and normalcy, so that the political, economic and social processes can proceed without impediment or threat.

The Army has the programs and the track record to set the stage for a peaceful, dynamic environment in Mindanao. The Army Corps of Engineers has been a partner to many a community to build roads, school buildings and other infrastructure. Funds can be allocated to retool its Engineering Batallions and Engineering Brigades. Infrastructure projects, such as farm-to-market roads, bridges and school buildings, can be identified and prioritized as needed.

The Army also has the Army Literacy Patrol System which has helped improve literacy and provide livelihood opportunities for the program beneficiaries. The program has been cited by the DepEd and was awarded the Best Literacy Program in 2005. The results-oriented thrust of such programs will be good inputs for the communities in Mindanao.

Other Civil Military Operations or CMO efforts have been helpful in boosting local government unit projects, and harnessing the support of partnership agencies for development projects. Through such activities, the Army has been able to foster sustainable peace initiatives in many areas. It can do so also in Mindanao.

Given the Army’s orientation towards enabling peace and development, it is very clear that these efforts will not interfere with private business operations. It shall only work to secure the environment for the citizenry to develop entrepreneurial initiatives. We can learn from the experiences of Malaysia and Indonesia armies, where their developmental roles yielded significant gains.

Filipino peacekeepers could also be tapped as role models in Mindanao. The experience of Filipino soldiers who have served in international UN peacekeeping missions could be a boon for the local community as well. A unit composed of these former UN peacekeepers, organized and given the proper tools, can be a good marketing effort to share their experiences.

The Army’s 118 years of service, recently celebrated last 23 March 2015, has made it the epitome and model for management and leadership. It is results-oriented. It advocates and practices sound management principles, especially now under the Army Transformation Roadmap which encourages professionalism and best practices in all aspects of operations.

It is a repository of excellent leadership in command, adhering strictly to the principle of the chain of command, and the supremacy of the Constitution and civilian authority. Government instrumentalities and civilian organizations have a lot to learn from the Philippine Army. Give the Army a chance, and it will inculcate a culture of excellence and a culture of service in all of Mindanao.

The Army’s leadership thrust is anchored on the strategic precepts of Internal Peace and Security Plan or IPSP “Bayanihan” and the Army Transformation Roadmap. Under the leadership of the 56th Commanding General of the Philippine Army, Lt. Gen. Hernando DCA Iriberri, the Army has achieved institutionalized status under the Performance Governance System, receiving the Gold Trailblazer Seal for the significant innovations already in place under the transformation program.

Lt. Gen. Iriberri summed up the Army’s performance in 2014 during the Anniversary program as all oriented towards achieving organizational excellence and operational targets: “From raising our units’ readiness, acquiring mission essential equipment, sustaining operational tempo, achieving institutionalized status and being awarded the gold trail-blazer seal in the Performance Governance System to the arrest of NPA’s lead couple, Benito and Wilma Tiamzon and other threat group leaders such as KahirMundos, Mohammad Ali Tambako, the Army’s team efforts in 2014 and 2015 truly contribute to the attainment of our organizational excellence and operational targets.”

(The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or the M.A.P.)

Lt. Gen. Jaime S. de los Santos (Ret) is the 42nd Commanding General of the Philippine Army, the 1ST Force Commander of the UN Peacekeeping Force in East Timor, and the Chair Emeritus of the UP Alumni Association.

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