Peace initiatives made simple

The Mindanao Business Convention was held in Dipolog City from Sept.

2-4, sponsored by the Mindanao Chapter of the Philippine Chamber of

Commerce and Industry. The theme of the annual Convention was

“Winning the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Gaining

the Global Market”.

It was my privilege to be a reactor on the subject/topic of peace

initiatives. The salient points of my discussion are shared below.

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In order for the region to fully partake of the opportunities and prospects of the ASEAN

integration, the threats affecting the security of Mindanao must be reduced and

neutralized. These threats include the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Moro

National Liberation Front (MNLF), Abu Sayyaf group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom

Fighters, local communist movement, political warlords, and other armed elements

operating in Mindanao. These threat groups are the major stumbling blocks to progress

and the reason why Mindanao has lagged behind in economic growth for decades.

The path to peace has been full of repetitions and reiterations, with the same effect.

Peace initiatives have been concluded with the MNLF in the past. Massive military

operations have been conducted against these enemies of the state, but peace has

always been elusive. The present government has shifted its peace strategy by focusing

on the MILF. After a long and arduous process, we see no relief in sight and this fate

might just extend to the next administration.

I posited the following questions to the participants for their appreciation and perusal:

• Can the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) provide the other threat groups

outside the MILF with equitable share of resources, opportunities and benefits? The

allocation of financial resources is too lopsided and biased in favor of the MILF. Even the

residual benefits as a result of spillover in development will be minimal or negligible in

other areas. As in any power politics, the MILF will have the capability to consolidate

their influence, a possibility that may generate further disunity and discord among the

other occupants of Mindanao.

• Can the BBL substantially reduce loose firearms and other war materials that are in

the hands of the MILF and other armed groups? Their sincerity is doubtful. Compliance

to disarmament will just be for show. They will conserve all available wherewithal to

perpetuate their political objectives. Substantial financial interest needs a strong

political base to conserve and perpetuate it. Other threat groups will likewise retain all

available firearms as a counter to and protection against the power of the MILF.

• Will these armed groups renounce violence without any condition? If your core

competence has been founded on threat, intimidation, and force, that culture and mind-

set cannot be reversed overnight or dismantled without resistance. Denying them their

firearms is like taking away their life-support system, stripping them of both identity

and purpose. If you have always fought and questioned the government and its

authority, the tendency to rebel is ingrained deep into one’s psyche.

• Will the passage of the BBL be able to neutralize the rise of global terror? The MILF

has always depended on external support from foreign terrorist groups to perpetuate its

existence. This will continue. Middle Eastern countries have been traditional allies and

supporters of international Islamic terrorism. How does one break and sever ties to that

source of terrorist financing?

• Is the BBL being used as a political leverage to further political objectives at the

expense of the people? The answer is very obvious. The rise of political warlordism was

due to the government’s bias towards political leaders that could deliver largesse, like

electoral votes and political patronage. Government officials likewise provided and

made available, firearms, and even government contracts to some favored supporters.

With the coming elections next year, there is a pronounced and explicit agenda in

passing and rushing the BBL.

• Will the next administration respect and implement the provision of a BBL, if not

passed by the present dispensation? Any answer is speculation at best. The result and

effect of its implementation will rest solely on the next government. The arduous and

long process of the BBL has not generated the expected dividends. If despite the efforts

and discussions it is relegated to the dust bin of history, this may unleash a backlash on

the situation in Mindanao, and therefore the rest of the country.

CYCLE OF VIOLENCE

The development and aggravation of conflict follows a cycle of violence as propounded

by Paul Rogers and Scilla Elworthy in “The ‘War On Terrorism.’” Violence gives rise to

atrocities. Atrocities engender shock, terror, fear, pair, grief and anger. When anger

occurs and escalates, intervention is needed to prevent and mitigate conflict. If not

done, the cycle stays alive, feeding on the negative energy arising from violence and

conflict. It is this paradigm that has shaped the conflict in Mindanao. It is this paradigm

that explains why not much progress has been achieved over the decades. To our

minds, this is because the instruments that were applied in the intervention stage were

not sufficient. Many attempts to implement a peace agreement were adopted as the

ultimate intervention process, in the hope that this would give rise to the following

actions: peace-keeping, protection, arms export control, gun collection rule of law, free

elections, and governance. This should be the focus of any peace agreement: to

strengthen the intervention mechanism/s so that conditions can progress up to the level

of good governance.

SIMPLE DOUBLE ACTION

We have concentrated on the policy dimension of the peace process. Hence, we have

relegated the immediate and doable actions that can insure a crisis stabilization and a

possible turnaround, so that if the BBL or other peace agreements are eventually

approved, its implementation will be marked by smooth transition and rapid conclusion.

In the meantime, what can we do? We cannot procrastinate and wait, the crisis is

escalating, the citizens are suffering.

How can we reduce the number of firearms? If we can reduce it by at least 20% or

30%, there will be a considerable drop in violence, because violence is directly

proportional to the number of firearms. How can we deny the entry of firearms and

other war materials with such a porous coastline? Even more important, how do we

deny the entry of foreign financial support which can easily be channeled through

normal banking processes?

Building interfaith bridges through dialogue with government and church-related

initiatives is a positive approach. Interfaith dialogue can improve relations and

encourage openness among people of varied cultures. It can enhance understanding of

conflicts and engender cooperation among stakeholders.

A QUESTION OF LEADERSHIP

Actual crisis and extreme emergencies require tough decisions and, if need be, the

application of authoritative but benevolent leadership. All the challenges that spawned

from peace initiatives may not have met the required leadership. It was always

tempered and tainted with political considerations at the expense of objectivity and

efficiency. It is characterized by credit-grabbing, passing the blame, cowardice, and

lack of courage to take full responsibility.

What can ordinary, peace-loving citizens do? As businessmen and industrialists and

entrepreneurs, take the challenge, take an active role. Extend to your local leaders and

government officials your managerial and leadership qualities, entrepreneurial acumen

and competitive spirit. Manifest your unity and devote yourself to preparing Mindanao

for the avalanche of opportunities and hurdles that will definitely be part of ASEAN

integration in 2016.

Jaime S. de los Santos 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.

map@map.org.ph

jaime_dlsantos@yahoo.com

jimmydlsantos@gmail.com

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