Monthly Archives: May 2007

ARMM Economics 101: Lesson 1 (The Big Picture)

FROM THE PLAINS OF KUTAWATO

ARMM ECONOMICS 101
(LESSON 1): THE BIG PICTURE

By: Atty. Zainudin S. Malang
(LL.M., I.M.R.I., J.D.)

I am not an economist by profession but I would like to think my knowledge about economic issues confronting the Bangsamoro are better than average. Although a lawyer by profession, I had acquired a deeper understanding of what drives economic phenomena from my studies and work. I hold a masters degree on international economic and business law and another masters degree on regional integration, both from Asian and European universities. I also worked for several years as an investments consultant at the heart of Metro Manila’s central business district. Thus, I consider myself better equipped than many holders of an undergraduate degree in economics. One time, I even found myself explaining a seminal work on economic theory to such a degree holder, a classmate in one of my foreign studies.

I am mentioning all of these to drive home the point that my return to Cotabato allowed me to use whatever little knowledge on economics I acquired from my work and studies to bear upon the situation existing in the Bangsamoro. So, what is the situation?

First, lets start with some figures. Gross regional domestic product which refers to the total value of goods and services produced in the ARMM. Official census figures show that the ARMM population is about 4% of the total population. Thus, common sense tells us that our share in the total national production should approximate the same percentile, even more if we are more productive than average. Yet, per official figures, our share in the total production of goods and services is less than 1%. The situation becomes more glaring when we compare our level of production with others. CARAGA, which is the poorest non-ARMM region in Mindanao, contributes 1.5% to the national total. This means that their production, already poor as they are, is nonetheless 50% higher than ours.

What this points to is that we are not engaged in enough economic activity, either as an employee, a farmer, a fisherman, or engaged in business. Since we are lagging in the level of economic activity, it comes as no surprise then that we have the highest level of poverty in the entire Philippines. Poverty incidence, is the percentage of the population living below the poverty level and according to the World Bank, the region-wide figure is 67%, meaning 2 out of every 3 residents of the ARMM are poor. (one component province even has a 92% poverty incidence or more than 9 out of 10). If people are not gainfully employed, or not tilling enough lands, or not engaged in a profitable business, then we cannot expect them to lift themselves out of poverty.

So, the region is poor, its residents are poor. How about its regional government? Is it as poor or is it better off than its constituents? Figures vary depending on which office you ask but I do remember a graph I downloaded from the website of the national government’s Department of Budget and Management which clearly acknowledges that the ARMM had the smallest regional allocation of expenditure at P11 Billion with CARAGA having the next lowest at P14 Billion (circa 2002; the website did not provide data for succeeding years). But let us go one step further in our analysis. Let us assume that the ARMM has the power to collect all types of taxes, unlike at the moment wherein national internal revenues are excluded from its power. Under that assumption, will the regional government be able to raise the funds it needs to operate, to fund its projects, to pay the salaries of its workers? You wish!

One basic rule of taxation is that you cannot tax that which has no capability to pay. Simple enough, right? Wala na ngang kita si Bapa at si Babo, sisingilin mo pa ng buwis! And as the figures on gross regional domestic product and poverty incidence have shown, we are not producing enough, we are not economically active enough, and we are not earning enough. What we therefore have, as tax practitioners and revenue officials would say, is a very small tax base.

Therefore, the way out of the rut we are in all goes back to increasing our productivity, to being engaged in a productive economic activity, in one way or another. But this, of course, is easier said than done. Like most of the ARMM’s problems, things are not that simple.

To induce an increase in economic productivity requires investments, whether public (meaning the government or some other public institution funds it) or private (meaning the money belongs to a private entity). Public investments can either go into the production of public goods such as roads or it can go to proprietary activities similar in a way to those undertaken by private companies. But we face a few problems in this regard. First, we have learned that the regional government is in no fiscal position to invest. The bulk of its budget goes into the salaries of its employees. We also know that the national government is cash trapped and has to contend with a fiscal deficit year in and year out. In fact, some renowned economists have suggested that the national government may go the way of Argentina’s when it defaulted on its obligations and went bankrupt. This leaves us with other public institutions, e.g. the donor community, on which to rely for public investments.

But those who have been observing the manner by which aid money is spent in the region are frustrated, to say the least. Maybe this is worth writing about more in the future but for now, suffice it to say that juxtaposing poverty figures with the figures showing when, where, and how much aid money was poured into the region shows that there has been very little, if any, positive impact on the region as a whole. I wonder how many of the readers have heard of the EDSA-type Sulu Circumferential highway. I almost banged my head against a concrete wall when I first heard of this project that sought to build a multi-lane (on each side) highway that will rival the North Luzon Expressway and put EDSA to shame. Can’t we do with a two-lane concrete road? Talk about a warped sense of priority in spending the region’s meager funding. As expected, the project is not even half-finished.

With public investments offering not much relief, maybe private investments can. Maybe those who have poured millions, if not billions, of pesos in other regions will also do the same in the ARMM. Well, I have worked as an investments consultant for years and let me share whatever little I know about how private investors think. Given a choice between putting up my factory in Laguna, or Davao, or Cagayan de Oro, or the ARMM, which location would investors most likely choose? The simple but painful answer is anywhere but the ARMM. Like it or not, perception or reality, they see the region as not a healthy place in which to do business.

Thus far, the economic picture I have painted is undeniably bleak. And with both private and public investments written off as a way to increase our productivity, is there no way out of our depressing predicament? Maybe there is. And I will explore this in my next installment on ARMM Economics 101 subtitled “Lesson 2: Increasing Productivity”.

(Atty. Zainudin S. Malang is the Director of the Bangsamoro Center for Law and Policy. This article appears in his column in the Mindanao Cross under the title “From the Plains of Kutawato”. Comments may be sent to morolaw@yahoo.com)

Towards A More Informed Debate On The Federalism Vs. Autonomy Issue

TOWARDS A MORE INFORMED DEBATE ON THE
FEDERALISM VS. AUTONOMY ISSUE

By: Atty. Zainudin S. Malang, (LL.M., I.M.R.I., J.D.)

A recent article in a national daily has once again brought to my attention the need for Moros to raise the level of their understanding of the federalism vs. autonomy debate. Sadly, I have noticed a less than adequate understanding not only of what federalism and autonomy are but also of the present conditions in the Bangsamoro which will have a substantial influence on our respective stands in this debate.

The article I speak of quotes one of the outspoken Local Government Unit (LGU) officials in the ARMM who argues for a federal set-up and begrudges the present set-up because the Internal Revenue Allotments (IRA) of LGUs in the autonomous region is quite small. He goes on to correlate the federalism issue with the roots of the Moro struggle, meaningful autonomy, etc.

The good mayor is indeed correct in pointing out the small IRA of LGUs in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. I won’t argue with that. However, the implicit assumption that federalism will necessarily result in higher revenue allocations to the region is not. Our IRA may be small but our actual internal revenue collections are even smaller – far far smaller. In layman’s terms, we are receiving far more than we are giving. Indeed, the percentage of our actual revenue collections to the total IRA we are getting from the national government is only 1.5%. In 1999, our IRA from the national government was P2.5 billion but our actual collection is only P38 million. Thus, had we been completely left to fend for ourselves under a federal set-up, our LGUs would have had only P38 million (with an M) instead of P2.5 billion (with a B) to spend in 1999. So, if we expect oodles of money to spend once we have a federal state up and running, we may be up for the shock of our lives.

Another conventional belief that may also be based on an erroneous premise is that between federalism and autonomy, the latter is better since it is assumed that it will grant the Moros an even greater say in how their affairs are governed – more self-governance, in other words. To this assumption, my first question is what model of federalism are we talking of? Now you may want to know why it is necessary for us to discuss what model of federalism is being bandied about? Well, for one very basic reason. Depending on the model, federalism may or may not necessarily accord the Bangsamoro greater rights in governing their affairs.

So the next time we are asked whether we support the drive towards federalism, we should immediately throw back the question and ask what model is being proposed. Is it the Malaysian model where power is still heavily concentrated in the center? Or is it the Belgian model which, for all intents and purposes, have two countries under one flag – an opposite, if you may, of the Malaysian model? Or is it the U.S. model which was initially designed to give the balance of power to the states but eventually evolved into one wherein the federal government now has a substantial say in the affairs of the states?

Unless and until we are clear on what powers we will enjoy under a federal set-up, we should reserve our judgments or stands on the issue. Otherwise, we may be unwittingly giving up powers which we already have. One useful tool we can use is to draw a matrix of the powers under the present autonomous set-up and the proposed federal set-up, and then compare.

Lastly, my reason for pointing out the faulty assumptions above is not to undermine the calls for federalism or any other perceived solution to our demands. On the contrary, I would like its proponents to offer a coherent and intelligent rationale so as to make it hard for its opponents to strike down the proposal. Otherwise, the risk that we face is not only for our advocacy to be dismissed but, worse, if we accept a federal model that we have not yet fully understood, we may end up relinquishing rather than gaining powers of self-governance.

In any case, whether it is autonomy, federal, or independent state, the adoption of any of these governance models will not necessarily lead to a better quality of life for our people. Without a good understanding of how any of these systems are supposed to work, then we cannot make it work. Thus, we should already graduate from the sloganeering phase of our advocacy for self-governance. Even a high-school student can do that. But for professionals like us, its high time to get down and do the hard work of understanding the nitty gritty of these issues.

(Atty. Zainudin S. Malang is the Director of the Bangsamoro Center for Law and Policy. This article appears in his column in the Mindanao Cross under the title “From the Plains of Kutawato”. Comments may be sent to morolaw@yahoo.com)

The Nexus Between Discrimination and the Mindanao Conflict

THE NEXUS BETWEEN DISCRIMINATION AND THE MINDANAO CONFLICT: THE 2005 PHILIPPINE HUMAN DEVELOPMENT REPORT
By: Atty. Zainudin S. Malang*

First, I would like to thank the organizers – the Ateneo de Davao University Research and Publication Office – for inviting me to be a reactor in today’s presentation of the 2005 Philippine Human Development Report. Second, allow me to congratulate the Human Development Network team that prepared this Report on behalf of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). I sincerely believe that through this Report, you have made a substantial contribution towards an accurate understanding of the nature and roots of the Mindanao conflict and, potentially, to its resolution as well.

I. The 2005 PHDR: An Emerging But More Nuanced Understanding of the Moro Insurgency

These past few years, I have noticed a shift in outlook on the roots of the Mindanao Conflict, particularly that which is between the Bangsamoro and the Philippine State. Earlier, there was the World Bank’s Social Assessment of Conflict Affected Areas in Mindanao which, although primarily delving on the socio-economic costs of the war, also partly looked into the nexus between the land issue and the conflict (2002). This was followed by a yet to be released study commissioned by the World Bank on the causal link between land tenure problems besetting the Bangsamoro and the war.

The conventional belief among policy-makers and public institutions is that the Moro insurgency was brought about by economic reasons. With this premise, it was therefore convenient to conclude that with massive infusion of funds into the Bangsamoro areas, the clamor for independence and, by extension, the conflict would peter out. But we have seen so many administrations do just that since the outbreak of the 20th century phase of the Moro Wars and yet the insurgency is still there as well as the sense of Moro nationalism that feeds it, stronger than it ever was before. Now, we are beginning to see the fallacy of this shallow and condescending view. And hopefully, studies such as those contained in the 2005 PHDR will cause decision-makers as well as the general public to re-examine how they view the Moro Wars.

Anti-Muslim Prejudice and the Roots of the War

Back when I was still studying at the Ateneo de Manila School of Law, I was explaining the Bangsamoro perspective on the Mindanao conflict to a classmate who is also a good friend and she, quite matter of factly, told me that I have a persecution complex. Well, now at least, we have the 2005 PHDR which tells us that “anti-Muslim bias are not imagined nor random”. Maybe now is a good time for me to get in touch with her and give her a copy of this report.

Now, we know that every time a Muslim like me walks the streets of Metro Manila or other Christian-populated cities, almost 5 out of every 10 people on the same street thinks that I am a “terrorist”. Ditto for every Maguindanon student who has to attend school, a Maranao applicant for a job, a Tausug who has to face a policeman or soldier. For Muslims in this country, there is no escape from that prejudice even when one is merely reading the mainstream papers wherein a columnist can unabashedly object to the building of Mosques in Metro Manila, a sentiment purportedly shared by his wife who is ironically related to the UNESCO, or wherein pictures of Muslims protesting indiscriminate arrests are captioned as protests against the detention of “allegedly innocent” Muslims. For Muslims in this country, it is their innocence that must be alleged and not their guilt because the latter is already presumed. So much for Muslims enjoying the right to be presumed innocent under the Bill of Rights of the Philippine Constitution.

The relevance of this bias to the conflict is far more important than studies commissioned by credible international public institutions before the 2005 PHDR cared to attach to it. Pro-independence sentiments arise out of a lack of feeling of belonging, of being outcasts, of being second class citizens to whom concessions are only made grudgingly. Prejudice by the largely Christian body-politic rears its ugly face in the government, in the media, and other sectors of civil society. Going over the history of relations between the Bangsamoro and that Christian body-politic shows that there is no lacuna for reasons to feel that Muslims are outcasts even in their own homeland.

Starting from the early 1900s, the national government engaged in a policy of changing the demography of Mindanao by repopulating it with settlers from Visayas and Luzon. Strategies included providing financial assistance and land titles to the new inhabitants (e.g. Agricultural Colonization Act) to outright forcible land-grabbing by providing weapons to para-military groups (e.g. Ilagas in the 1960s) to granting timber concessions over thousands of hectares of Moro ancestral lands. Muslims, on the other hand, received no such assistance. Worse, the land titling system was not only alien to them but actually clashed with their own indigenous system of landholding. And when they fought back against the forcible-landgrabbing, the national government and the media were quick to label them as terrorists. Is it any wonder how the Muslims ended up being reduced from 76% to a mere 18% of Mindanao’s total population? And yet when they venture out of Mindanao to Luzon and Visayas, they are denied jobs, not allowed to build their mosques, subjected to humiliation in schools and workplace, and told to leave and go back to where they came from. Go back to what? Their lands have already been taken away from them.

We might as well face the reality of Christian-Muslim relations in this country, as Muslims perceive it. The resources of Mindanao are all-too welcome in this country, but Muslims themselves are not. Should we then wonder why pro-independence sentiments, expressed through armed struggle, is still strong notwithstanding many efforts, military and economic by the government? And if we need more convincing about the nexus between violence and exclusionary practices of the majority against the minority, we only need to look at what is going on in France for the past week. There, the majority even in a highly developed Western European country has to face the ugly consequences of their prejudice.

This is not to ignore the valiant efforts of those in Christian communities who view the roots of the conflict differently from the majority but as the survey attached to the PHDR itself has shown, there is an uphill battle to be waged in changing the present sad state of relations.

The Democratic Deficit of the Philippine State Vis-à-vis the Bangsamoro

Maybe now is the time for the largely Christian body-politic to ask themselves whether they truly want Muslims to be part of a pluralistic multicultural country. More importantly, maybe its about time to let the Bangsamoro themselves decide their political future. To put it more succinctly, recognize their “freedom of choice” as the UNDP itself defines human security.

Months ago, I was interviewed by a group of professors from the University of the Philippines who were conducting a democracy audit in the Moro areas. Among the indicators that they were looking at were government’s ability to provide for the basic services for Muslims, e.g. health, housing, education, etc.. It occurred to me during the interview that if they were truly interested in conducting a democracy audit, then they need to go back to the fundamental premise of democracy – the consent of a people to be subject to the sovereignty of a particular state.

For decades since the inception of the Philippine Republic, the largely Christian body-politic has failed to see the moral inconsistency between their prejudice and exclusionary practices and their refusal to let the Bangsamoro choose their political destiny. “Mindanao has always been and will always be part of the Philippines” is often the emotional reply to such clamor. This retort, bearing in mind the treatment to which Muslims are subjected, only begs the question whether it is Mindanao’s Muslims or Mindanao’s resources that they want to be part of the Philippines.

The inconsistency becomes more pronounced when we note the all-out support that was given by Christian civil society to East Timor’s assertion of its right to self-determination and yet at the same time fail, refuse, or reject outright any recognition of the Bangsamoro’s own aspirations. Perhaps, herein lies the psychological utility of prejudice and bias against Muslims. Creating a negative image of what Edward Said refers to as “the other” makes it more morally palatable to close one’s eyes to, even condone, the deprivation of rights of that “other”. OK lang, mga terorista naman yan eh (That’s alright, they are all terrorists anyway)! No wonder the bias has persisted for so long. It is convenient, it is useful.

II. PHDR: Implications for the Ongoing Peace Process Between the GRP-MILF

Every time I am asked about my assessment of the ongoing peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), my standard reply has been that I am not so much worried that the two panels will not be able to arrive at a peace agreement. For its part, the government seems to have arrived at the conclusion that to prolong the conflict would be too costly for the entire country, economically and socially. For the MILF, it too has to spare its Bangsamoro constituents from a never-ending war.

My confidence, however, does not go as far as for me to say that the government will have an easy time “selling” the peace agreement to its national constituency. For how does a government sell an agreement to a populace that fails or refuses to look at the root causes of the conflict? Any such pact would immediately be labeled as “treasonous”, “a sell-out to extremists”, and giving too much “special treatment” to a minority.

I recall President Ramos’ peace convoy being pelted by tomatoes by Christians in Mindanao when he entered into a final peace pact with the other Moro liberation movement, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). I also recall the difficulties the agreement faced in the halls of congress when it came to translating its provisions into law, resulting in a watered down version. Now comes a peace agreement with the MILF that is expected to concede to the Muslims more than that with the MNLF. Is it not reasonable to expect that the opposition to it will be more intense?

By identifying bias against and the socio-economic exclusion of Muslims as the underlying root cause of the conflict, the PHDR has actually identified the steps that need to be taken by those advocating for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. As the report recommends, there is a need to build a constituency for peace and that constituency must be built not only within the government but in the greater populace. And that constituency must be based on a true understanding of what propels and fuels the conflict for only then a peace pact be “acceptable” to the public. Without a fairly nuanced understanding, we will continue to have a constituency that thinks economic or military solutions or a mixture of both are the only things needed to resolve the conflict – a myopic outlook that has led to so many failures and to so much destruction.

Thus, I therefore encourage policy-makers, advisers, and the academe to increase their understanding of the conflict. More studies about the conflict be conducted and, equally important, these studies must be disseminated to as wide an audience as possible. If successful in that regard, it might be possible to convince the national constituency to look at the ongoing GRP-MILF negotiations as a process by which the two panels will define a new “term of coexistence” or “modus vivendi” for the Bangsamoro and Christian communities. The history of the conflict has shown that existing and previous ones have been abject failures. Hopefully, the new “modus vivendi” to be crafted by the GRP-MILF panels will be one that is well grounded on the roots and nature of the conflict, thereby increasing its viability and sustainability.

As important shapers of public opinion, media must be engaged. Unrealized by many media practitioners, there are many norms of professional ethics violated by their reportage on the conflict. For instance, in addition to its unfair description of Muslim detainees as “allegedly innocent”, the editorial board of the Inquirer has seen fit to give greater prominence in its front pages to the SWS survey than Pulse Asia’s thereby giving the impression that it gave more credence to the former’s assertion that all is well in good in Christian-Muslim relations. This would have been innocuous were it not for the fact that the latter preceded the first and is far more detailed in its questions. But since the Inquirer seems unconvinced about the survey conducted by Pulse Asia, conducting a survey among Muslims themselves might settle the issue. Let them speak on their views on Muslim-Christian relations. Let them be active participants in the study and not just its passive object.

III. Re-Assessing Strategies for Development Interventions in Conflict-Affected Areas

There is a need to draw lessons from the implementation of the 1996 Peace Accord between the MNLF and the GRP. It is unfortunate that during the period when huge amounts of developmental funds were poured into the ARMM, the HDI has not gone up. Thus, there is a need to re-examine our strategy for rehabilitation and development so that an MILF-GRP peace pact may not suffer the same fate.

The first step in this regard is for us to look at how we have prioritized development interventions. How many have heard of a multi-lane EDSA-type circumferential road for the island of Sulu? I have also heard many teachers complain of being made to attend so many training sessions outside the region (some of them identical in content and design) only to go back to schools that have no blackboards or, worse, no schoolbuildings. I have heard ARMM bureaucrats complain of repetitious training and other capability building activities funded by different aid agencies but all having similar or identical content.

I am also aware that of the many “rule of law” interventions, none include initiatives that promote an environment of equal opportunity. There is yet no well-supported advocacy for the enactment of an equal employment opportunity law, an unfortunate situation since religious discrimination in the workplace is one of its most socially divisive and pernicious manifestations. Some types of discriminations hurt the spirit, others hurt the stomach.

I am likewise surprised that there are far less funding for human rights initiatives than there are for promoting Barangay Justice and Muslim personal laws. Muslims, as a community, are far more concerned about indiscriminate arrests, indiscriminate bombings, and discriminatory practices by the majority than they are about divorce or their petty quarrels with their neighbors. Clearly, the absence of a well thought-out prioritization of interventions lead to tragic-comic situations.

Thus, aid agencies need to wean themselves out of the practice of delegating the lead role in designing programs to those lacking sufficient knowledge of the Bangsamoro environment and context. Indeed, the bias that the PHDR mentions afflicts even in the development assistance community. In one forum organized by a European Union conducted in this same city, one organizer refused to recognize the delegation coming from the ARMM.

To complement a rethinking of how projects are identified, prioritized, and designed, it might also be a good idea to prepare an HDI map of the conflict affected areas which can be used as a benchmark in assessing the efficacy of developmental interventions. This has been my suggestion to the OPAPP. Such a template was lacking at the inception of the MNLF-GRP Peace Accord and that prevented development agencies and stakeholders to accurately measure the actual impact of their projects after the agreement was signed. It would do well to prepare one for an expected MILF-GRP agreement. Accountability must be exacted not just from the government or the parties to the agreement but also from the donor community. There were a lot of failed expectations from the ’96 Agreement, the Philippines can ill afford to fail again.

IV. CONCLUSION

By way of concluding my reaction and my inputs on anti-Muslim bias, allow me to read a portion of an article I wrote for my column “From the Plains of Kutawato” in the Mindanao Cross:

Two Moro Kids in Baguio

I want to share with my readers a heart-wrenching story I saw the other night on NHK, a Japanese TV network.

The TV documentary featured two kids from Lanao – Nuruldin and his younger sister Marimar – both of whom could not be more than ten years old. The two had to leave their family, including their sickly mother, and their lakeside home in Lanao due to the war and the poverty that surrounded them. So poor were they that their relative in Baguio to whom they were entrusted was himself only slightly less poor than they are and yet sending them to him \was already thought of as an escape for them. Thus, Nuruldin and his sister had to spend their freetime selling plastic bags in a Baguio market.

One of the most heart-wrenching portions of the documentary was when Nuruldin and Marimar were asked how it is to live in Baguio City in Luzon, far from the Muslim communities in Mindanao. Their answers were unpleasant. Nuruldin recounts how along the alleyways of the market, he is commonly confronted and asked if he is a Muslim and why he is in Baguio – the program actually showed a middle aged storeowner doing this. Invariably, he is told to go back to Mindanao.

His sister’s experience is no less unpleasant. She goes to an elementary school where she is the only Muslim. Often, she is taunted by her classmates and schoolmates with “Abu Sayyaf ka, umalis ka dito, bumalik ka na lang sa Mindanao” (You are an Abu Sayyaf, get out of here, go back to Mindanao).

As the camera focuses on Nuruldin’s face while he recounts this story, I could see clearly from his eyes how such encounters hurt him. And his stories tug at the heart because as the program went on, I could sense that there could be few kids more adorable, more devoted, more full of love than he and his sister, and least deserving of being subjected to such terrible treatment.

This story reminds me of an article I read in a daily newspaper a few years back. It told of Muslim kids in the same city, Baguio, who were participating in an independence day parade. Dressed in colorful traditional Moro garb, the kids were obviously eager to join in the festivities and to show their oneness in commemorating Philippine independence. But as their floats were going around the city, they were greeted by other kids watching the parade at the roadside with chants of “Abu Sayyaf, Abu Sayyaf!”

I am also reminded of my own experience as the lone Muslim in my batch in a special science high school in Manila. Back then, there were no Abu Sayyaf yet. Back then, the taunt was simply “Muslim, Muslim”, as if being a pure monotheist was some form of a social disease.

But back to Nuruldin and Marimar. Apparently, a Baguio-based NGO has initiated an activity where Muslim and Christian kids could mingle and get to know each other. In the presence of Nuruldin, a Christian girl was asked what she thinks of Muslims. She replied: Ayaw ko sana silang galitin pero ang ayaw ko sa kanila eh iyong mayroon sila sariling Diyos (I don’t want them to get mad at me but what I do not like in them is that they worship a different God). The poor ignorant girl might as well have just said: Magugustuhan ko lang sila kapag nagsimba sila sa Cathedral sa araw ng Linggo (I will only like you once you start showing up for mass at a Cathedral on Sundays).

These are words from the mouth of babes. Imagine if you were the one who had to hear it. I’m sure many if not all of you have had the same experience living as a religious minority in a Christian country.

* LL.M., I.M.R.I., J.D.; Director, Bangsamoro Center for Law and Policy; comments may be sent to morolaw@yahoo.com. This reaction paper was read at the presentation of the 2005 Philippine Human Development Report on November 8, 2005, at Waterfront Insular Hotel, Davao City.

The BIMP-EAGA and ASEAN Regional Integration and their Relevance to the ARMM

THE BIMP-EAGA AND ASEAN REGIONAL INTEGRATION AND THEIR RELEVANCE TO THE ARMM
By:
Atty. Zainudin S. Malang*
(I.M.R.I, LL.M., J.D.)

Regional Integration in General:

In order to understand the relevance of regional integration to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), one must understand what “regional integration” means. This phrase refers to an initiative where a group of countries forming a geographical region in the globe seek to integrate their economies. Thus, the phrase does not speak of regions within countries but regions composed of countries. Thus, we have the European Union or the EU (formerly comprised of Western European countries but now also includes Central Europeans), the North American Free Trade Agreement or the NAFTA (comprised of North American countries), the Mercado Cumon Sur (comprised of South American countries), and in our own backyard, the ASEAN Free Trade Area or AFTA (comprised of countries in Southeast Asia).

Although this sort of multi-governmental initiative is increasingly assuming political and social aspects, it was and is primarily conceived as an economic initiative. It proceeds on the premise that national economies of countries forming a geographical region may benefit from the removal of trade barriers to those economies. By opening up trade to one’s neighbors, suppliers and consumers alike can benefit from being able to buy from and sell to a bigger market – a market that is regional and not just national. This idea, of course, also drives trade liberalization initiatives under the World Trade Organization (WTO) regime, differing only in their geographical scope since the WTO is a global initiative. However, regional integration offers more liberal trade concessions than those under the WTO usually in the form of lower, if not zero, tariff rates.

Regional integration may assume various models depending on the degree by which countries would like their economies to be integrated or, to use a layman’s term, unified. It is also dependent on how much concessions the members are willing to grant to their neighbors. These models are commonly classified as follows:

1. Free Trade Areas – member countries remove tariff barriers to each other’s goods but retaining the prerogative to fix their tariff rates vis-à-vis non-member;
2. Customs Union – member countries remove tariff barriers to each other and adopt a common external trade policy by, for instance, fixing common tariffs with respect to non-member countries;
3. Common Market – this is a customs union that also allows free movement of services, labor, and capital among the members’ territories;
4. Economic Union – this is a common market that also decided to unify their fiscal and monetary policies such as the adoption of a single currency among the members
5. Political Union – highest form of regional integration where countries decide to integrate not just economically but also politically (certain measures of the European Union may indicate a step in this direction such as the adoption of common foreign policy).

The NAFTA and AFTA may be considered as examples of the first. A group of Persian gulf countries may be considered as an example of the second. The European Union, depending on which stage of its evolution is referred to, may be cited as an example of the third and fourth. It remains to be seen whether it will become an example of the fifth. Presently, however, the most obvious example of the fifth is the United States.

Regional Integration in Southeast Asia Under AFTA

Among all the regional integration schemes existing in the world today, the one to which the Philippines belongs to is the ASEAN Free Trade Area or AFTA.1 This was the result of an agreement signed in the early 1990s by the Philippines together with the other ASEAN member-countries now numbering 10.2 Pursuant to this agreement and its many subsequent amendments, a free trade area will be established in Southeast Asia through a scheduled removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade. By 2010, tariff rates of the six old members of the ASEAN3 for goods originating from another ASEAN member would be zero. By 2015, the remaining four relatively new members would follow suit.4 In accordance with the schedule of tariff reduction, however, the members have already implemented a maximum of 5% on intra-ASEAN goods to 99% of their product lines.

One of the premises of regional integration is geographical proximity. Thus, economic logic supports trade among countries that are close to each other. But among countries that decide to adopt regional integration, there are members and territories that are more proximate to each other than others. Hence, the emergence of subregional initiatives. In the ASEAN there are two: the BIMP-EAGA subregion which refers to the easternmost territories of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.5 On the other hand, the Mekong Subregion refers to the riparian states of the Mekong River Basin.6

Current Status of ASEAN Regional Integration

The framework agreement establishing the AFTA was signed on January 28, 1992 by ASEAN member states who were previously reluctant to transform their regional grouping into a vehicle for regional economic integration. But events outside the region caused them to abandon that reluctance. Specifically, two of the region’s major markets were themselves moving deeper into integrating their own regions. The Maastricht Treaty was about to bring countries of Western Europe even closer and more economically integrated than before, including the adoption of a single currency. North American countries had just adopted the NAFTA. Thus, there was the real possibility that the European and North American markets would increasingly buy from among themselves thereby taking a bite off ASEAN members’ historical market share. To offset the impact of such possibility, the members decided to look at each other as an export destination to absorb what was expected to be the loss of export market share. Thus, the decision to buy and export more to the ASEAN region was prompted by developments outside the region.

From the very beginning, however, concerns were raised about the viability of regional economic integration in the ASEAN. Foremost of these were the low level of economic development of many of its members which limits their capacity to absorb export goods that are normally intended for the industrialized countries of Western Europe and North America.

In addition, their economies lacked complementarity which meant that they were exporting similar or identical products thereby reducing the need for the countries to buy from their neighbors. Thus, studies noted that there was minimal discernible, if not negligible, increase in the value of intra-ASEAN trade vis-à-vis extra-ASEAN even after adoption of the AFTA.

Thus, a decade after the signing of the AFTA agreement, suggestions were made to rethink the premises of ASEAN regional integration. Whereas before the premise was to be inward-looking, the new thrust is for the region to be external oriented. For instance, they may lack complementarity in the sense that they have limited capacity to buy goods from each other for domestic consumption. However, they may possess complementarity in their capability to produce goods intended for countries outside the region. Thus, one key phrase now often used is the creation of a “regional production base” or network. Intra-regional trade would still be a focus but this time, the countries hope that increased trade among, particularly on industrial inputs for goods that will be eventually exported to non-ASEAN countries, will increase the competitiveness of their products.

This shift in outlook brings about at least two benefits: First, it relieves the member countries of the burden to absorb goods that are otherwise intended for industrialized countries; Second, a regional production network makes the region more attractive for foreign direct investments.

To formally recognize this change of outlook, the ASEAN members agreed in 2003 to transform the region into a single market and production base by 2020.7

The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and ASEAN Regional Integration: Mutual Relevance

Free trade with close ASEAN neighbors is not something new to Muslim Mindanao. During colonial and pre-colonial times, Moro traders were trading freely in Johore and Ternate as if they were trading in their own backyard. Thus, the Sulu and Simouay trading zones of the Sulu and Maguindanao Sultanates became important hubs in Southeast Asia, as part of a region-wide network of entrepots that served the China-Europe trade.

However, after most of the countries in the region gained their independence in post-WW II, free trading as a traditional economic livelihood had to stop owing to the increasingly strict observance by the Philippines and its neighbors of the exclusivity of their respective economic domains. Trading by Muslim Mindanaons with their neighbors in Malaysia and Indonesia still occurs to this day but mostly at an informal level and not at a substantial volume.

The revival of free trading, this time with governmental sanction under the AFTA regime, offers Muslim Mindanao a chance to renew their historical role of being literally at the frontiers of the Philippines participation in regional integration. After all, the territories of the Philippines closest to the ASEAN are those within the ARMM.

ARMM Participation in ASEAN Regional Integration: Issues and Concerns

Just like other parts of the Philippines, ASEAN’s regional economic integration offers the potential to contribute to the development of the ARMM. ASEAN can provide Muslim Mindanao with either access to a wider market for its products or as a source of foreign direct investments. However, for this potential to be realized, the following issues need to be addressed:

First, there is a need to identify and prepare a short-list of industries that are viable for development under the aegis of the AFTA. The industries in this list may be classified into two: industries whose products are intended to be consumed within ASEAN and those whose products are intended to be processed in another ASEAN country for eventual re-export outside the ASEAN. Various factors will have to be considered to prepare the list (e.g. materials and resources which the ARMM can supply but are lacking in the neighboring countries, comparative prices, etc.). Once so identified and short-listed, efforts should be focus on marketing these industries for governmental and private-sector partnerships with other ASEAN countries.

An obvious example would be the seaweeds industry. The island provinces produce the bulk of the Philippines total raw seaweeds. However, to be in exportable state (carageenan), this has to be transported to Cebu where it is processed and eventually exported. Given the distance and the prohibitive domestic shipping rates in the Philippines, this leads to a substantial addition to production cost making the end-product less competitive.

On the other hand, bearing in mind that the island provinces are just a few kilometers away from Sabah, it may be more cost-effective to export it from there, with the processing into carageenan performed either there or in the island provinces. Besides the seaweeds industry, other obvious examples are halal foods, fruit production, and palm oil industries.

Second, the ARMM enjoys in comparison with other parts of the Philippines enjoys the strategic advantage of being both closest to traditional trading partners Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. However, for the ARMM to become viable either as an entry point or exit point of intra-ASEAN goods, it must first be provided with the necessary infrastructure to perform that role. As of now, there exists no major port of entry in the island provinces even though they are closest to Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia. Thus, at least one major port of entry is required in the island provinces, which will then be supported by existing ones that will serve as feeder ports.

A major port of entry does exist in the mainland Mindanao province of the ARMM (Polloc Port) but this has been suffering from underutilization by shippers and shipping companies. Even the ARMM’s banana exports are shipped out through ports outside the ARMM and the irony is that these ports are already clogged. A carefully considered marketing plan should be prepared and carried out to convince shippers and shipping companies to ship their goods through the Polloc Port. It goes without saying that assistance be given to the port management in the handling of the increase in shipping volume.

Third, the ARMM has thus far benefited little from its much-touted agri and marine resources simply because the value-added processing thereof is performed outside. Fish resources (sardines and tuna) caught inside the waters of the ARMM are processed and canned outside (Zamboanga or Gen. Santos cities). Seaweeds, as earlier discussed, is processed into Carageenan in Cebu. This situation is definitely brought about by the lack of investments in the region.

Thus, one strategy worth considering is to market the processing of these resources as investments ideas, particularly those included in the short-listed industries. Private investors can serve both as funders as well as buyers of the processed goods thereby giving life to the AFTA’s goals of creating a regional production network.

To facilitate the setting up and increase the viability of industrial or production centers in the ARMM, the regional government can easily provide incentives under the law creating the Regional Economic Zone Authority or REZA.

Fourth, given that the Philippines has already entered into a free trade agreement with its ASEAN neighbors, and given further that the ARMM is the most proximate to the ASEAN, the setting up of ASEAN trading zones in the ARMM is worth considering. Moreso since the REZA law enacted by the ARMM’s legislature allows it to establish free ports. One port in the ARMM (Polloc Port) is large enough to become a major free port.

Fifth, there is a need to mainstream and even strengthen the informal trading sector in the island provinces. If a constituency in support of regional integration is to be generated at the grassroots level, it must be shown to economic sectors at that level that they are just as likely to benefit from free trade as the larger economic sectors. Thus, to pave the way for their formalization, it may be worth considering the establishment of relatively small ASEAN trading centers in the island provinces. It should be noted that the cost of basic commodities to the communities in these islands are sometimes half of what they cost if they were to purchase it in the neighboring countries than the much farther Zamboanga.

The issues raised above are not intended to be a comprehensive delineation of concerns that affect the ARMM’s participation in ASEAN regional integration. However, they may point to the major strategic areas which have a strategic impact on how successful Muslim Mindanao can be in its participation in the ASEAN.

(comments may be sent to morolaw@yahoo.com)

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* The author obtained his Masters in Regional Integration from the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid (Spain) and Asia-Europe Institute, Universiti Malaya (Malaysia). He also holds a Master of Laws in International Economic and Business Law from Kyushu University (Japan). He is the director of the Bangsamoro Center for Law and Policy. Comments may be sent to morolaw@yahoo.com

1. There are many other examples of regional integration. Those which are often cited are the European Union (EU), the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA), the Mercado Cumon del Sur (MERCUSOR).
2. However, the ASEAN itself was established much earlier in 1967 through a document now known as the “Bangkok Declaration”. Its original founding members were Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.
3. Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.
4. Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar.
5. This includes the entire territory of Brunei. In Indonesia: East and West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, Southeast Kalimantan, North Sulawesi, Central Sulawesi, South Sulawesi, Southeast Sulawesi, Maluka, and Irian Jaya. In Malaysia: Sabah and Sarawak states, and the Federal Territory of Labuan. In the Philippines: Mindanao and Palawan.
6. The five ASEAN member countries where the Mekong River passes through are Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Thailand. However, the Greater Mekong Subregion initiative also closely involves China, South Korea, and Japan as partners.
7. Bali Concord II, October 7, 2003.

The Challenge Facing Moro Inteligencia

FROM THE PLAINS OF KUTAWATO
By: Atty. Zainudin S. Malang (LL.M., I.M.R.I., J.D.)

THE CHALLENGE FACING MORO INTELIGENCIA

Upon reading the text of my lecture on the development challenges in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, a friend asked me why I only limited my discussion to basic economic issues. My reply to him was that the topic assigned to me under the training design was macro-economics and discussion thereof have a tendency to be limited to basic issues.

However, I also pointed out to him that there is a far more fundamental reason why I stuck to the basics and this has something to do with the challenges facing members of the Moro intellectuals.

About the many challenges – be it economic, political, security, social – facing our area which for decades has been beset by armed conflicts, let me say that in and by themselves, these issues are already daunting in their complexity. But when one tries to correlate these challenges with each other, that complexity is multiplied many times fold. And as we – the intellectuals, the bureaucrats, the leadership – try to find our way in this complex labyrinth of inter-related problems, there is a real risk that we will lose our common understanding of our situation, we will lose sight of our common narrative. Once that happens, we will end up prescribing all sorts of different and inconsistent solutions and start pulling our Bangsa in opposite policy directions. So much for the “best and brightest” being the hope of our community. That is why we need to put forth a common understanding of the basics of our situation before we can offer concrete solutions.

Be that as it may, let me also say that we do not have the luxury of time. To state the obvious, we – our Bangsa – is under time pressure. Thus, once we have put forth a common narrative of the fundamentals of our conditions – after we have deconstructed our misconceptions and re-examined our assumptions – then we should proceed forthwith to coming up with specific solutions. And this brings me to the next point.

We are all aware of the challenges to our Bangsa. But, besides coming up with a common narrative, what is the challenge to the Moro Inteligencia – the ones my friend calls “the best and the brightest”? That challenge, I firmly believe, is learning how to think out of the box in finding solutions to our problems. Why is this a challenge?

Well, sadly, I have seen many friends commit the mistake of assuming that the security, development, and socio-political models and concepts they have learned from their many studies and training can be readily applied to our community “lock, stock, and barrel”. Having studied at the Ateneo, University of the Philippines, Asian Institute of Management, and even prominent foreign schools, our paradigms were shaped by these institutions and in the process, we forgot that the works we have read in these schools were written about, for, and by non-Moros. In general, the concepts and models that were developed in these schools were based on their experience as a society, not ours. For sure, there are lessons we can draw from these. But we should always bear in mind that these models have a set of assumptions for them to work and we need to examine those assumptions to determine if they exist in our community. We must re-examine, in the words of John Nash, the “governing dynamics” underlying their theories. Well and good if, after examining their assumptions, we can conclude that they are applicable to our conditions. Otherwise, we must modify.

Indeed, as any social scientist would tell us, any model can be useful provided it is applied to the right environment – emphasis on the phrase “right environment”. And this has been the pitfall of many proposed solutions and projects in the ARMM. Either there has been little effort at creating the right environment for peace, developmental, or socio-political interventions in our area or little has been done to modify these models to the local environment. That is what I mean by thinking out of the box. And this, again, brings me back to my earlier point. We can only successfully modify these models if we have a unified understanding of the basics of our conditions. If we fail to do so, then that old maxim will come to haunt the Moro inteligencia – of having adopted “the right solution to the wrong problem”.

This is basically the same assessment I have been giving to international developmental agencies, peace agencies, and even government agencies who have asked why, notwithstanding their many developmental interventions and projects, the Human Development Index in the ARMM has gone down rather than up. I told them that far too many of their consultants and far too few of their projects have been informed by the local conditions in our area. By conditions, I refer not only to the tangible physical conditions but the more important but less visible socio-political conditions. Thus, I suggested that they should involve Moros not only in project implementation but more importantly, in project identification and design. The assumption, of course, is that we know more about our situation and are therefore better equipped to identify which problems should be prioritized and to propose viable solutions thereto. But again, this assumption will only hold true if we are able to meet the challenge I discussed above.

Allah has given Manusyaa the ability to think logically. This Akal is not only a God-given gift. It is also a religious duty to exercise it. Therefore, the challenge to Moro intellectuals is to be scientific, systematic, logical, and creative in our thought-process as we navigate through the vast problems laid out before us.

Calling Peace Mediators to Account III: Asking the Hard Questions

FROM THE PLAINS OF KUTAWATO
By: Atty. Zainudin S. Malang (LL.M., M.R.I, J.D.)

CALLING PEACE MEDIATORS TO ACCOUNT
(Part III – Asking the Hard Questions)

Within the Bangsamoro community, there is a widespread suspicion that the Indonesian government has been compromised as mediator both before and after the signing of the agreement. Whether or not this has anything to do with the fact that Indonesia itself was facing its own “separatist” problem in East Timor at about the same time that the MNLF-GRP negotiations were at its crucial stage can only be the subject of speculation. But I do recall that the Philippine government adopted a hands-off policy on East Timor even though the vast majority of Catholic Filipinos, not to mention the international community, sympathized with their Timorese brethren. I also recall senior members of the MNLF recount that Indonesia allegedly “twisted” the arm of Misuari into signing the agreement lest they will recommend to the OIC to withdraw its support and recognition of his organization.

Setting aside the question of whether a true revolutionary should allow himself to be manipulated in such a brazen manner, what business does a mediator have in coercing a party to agree to an agreement that is bound to fail? That agreement was supposed to address the Bangsamoro’s assertion of their right to self-determination but anyone who has taken the time to go over the ’96 agreement will notice two things: first, that the autonomous government it is supposed to establish would end up being economically and fiscally dependent on the national government; second, that the implementation of the agreement would be subject to constitutional processes and dependent on institutions created by the Philippine constitution – in other words, dependent on the Philippine government.

So, you end up with a peace agreement that instead of allowing the Bangsamoro to exercise their right to self-determination, allowed the Philippine government to exercise it for them. That is not the right to self-determination. That is the right to “their”-determination which, before the 1996 agreement, did not exist as a concept. I am sure political scientists and international law experts would forever be thankful for the introduction of this strange concept, at least for its comical value.

It is this kind of agreement that the Indonesian government asked the MNLF to swallow, and swallow the MNLF did – hook, line, and sinker. Is it any surprise then that its implementation was beset by all sorts of problems? Recall the verbal tussles between Misuari and the Senate and, after 2001, the resumption of actual fighting between MNLF and AFP forces. And for most of this time, the Indonesian and Libyan ambassadors were saying all is well and good with the peace agreement or at least silent about its problems.

I have always said that the Bangsamoro is grateful to the OIC for showing their concern to their brethren in Minsupala. But it cannot be denied that someone dropped the ball in mediating the Mindanao conflict. Whether this can be attributed to a couple of members or all the members of the Committee of the Eight – or even the entire OIC itself – should be the subject of a sincere self-examination on its part if it wants to give the Bangsamoro and the Philippines something to be truly grateful about. Otherwise, what will happen is what we often see when a basketball referee is perceived to be biased – riots.

For sure, there are valuable lessons that can and should be drawn from the failures of the ’96 agreement. This is particularly true since there is another attempt to resolve the conflict between the Bangsamoro and the Philippines, the ongoing negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Perhaps it is understandable why the MILF has been reluctant to sign a peace agreement. They don’t want to fall into the same trap.

As for the MNLF-GRP agreement, quo vadis? Is it still capable of being revived? Can it still provide a just and lasting solution to the conflict? Was it ever? Is the Misuari-led MNLF still capable of taking the cudgels for the Bangsamoro?

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During the open forum in that testimonial dinner in Mandarin Hotel, I could not help but notice that the moderator was doing his level best to prevent me from asking my question to the Indonesian envoy. My friends from the media and diplomatic missions also noticed it and some started ribbing me about it. Eventually, they urged me to just stand up, go to the microphone, and just introduce myself and pose my question. After I started to get tired from raising my hand, I did.

I, of course, personally know the moderator and this made the excuses he offered after the program all the more lame. He tried to explain that he failed to notice me raising my hand which I thought was ludicrous since he didn’t fail to notice people to my left and right, sitting in the same table as I. I can only assume that he had an idea about the question I would ask and not wanting to put the Indonesian envoy on the spot, tried his best to ignore me. Perhaps, in so doing, he didn’t realize that he was sacrificing articulations of their people’s serious problems for the sake of being polite to the envoy. Indeed, some in the audience began to head for the door after telling me they were getting bored with the “safe” questions and answers.

Precisely, the point of asking hard questions is to make people or institutions account for their roles in resolving the conflict, to put them on the spot if necessary. Further, it is one thing for others to sanitize the status of the peace process. At times, that is to be expected. But it is both tragic and ironic to see some Moros themselves do the same thing. Maybe some of us are living such comfortable lives in Metro Manila that we have forgotten the miserable plight of their people back home and no longer see the need to articulate nor confront it. Imagine a former Moro member of the Commission on Human Rights stifling a fellow Moro. That is not only ironic, it is pathetic.

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It seems that after the first part of this series came out, more indications about the troubled ’96 agreement came out. The scheduled tri-partite meeting in early February was again cancelled. And then there was that unfortunate incident in Sulu where government and military officials were “hosted” by MNLF men. Would anyone still have the gall to sanitize the troubled agreement, I wonder.

Calling Peace Mindanao Peace Mediators to Account II: The Mediator’s Accountability

FROM THE PLAINS OF KUTAWATO
By: Atty. Zainudin S. Malang, (LL.M., M.R.I., J.D.)

CALLING PEACE MEDIATORS TO ACCOUNT
(Part II – The Mediator’s Accountability)

In the first part of this article, I said that the mediator has two roles: first, is to facilitate the protagonists coming to an agreement on how to resolve their conflict; and; second, making sure that each party lives up to their end of the agreement. Parties that have been at odds with each other and taken diametrically opposed positions, so much so that they are willing to kill and die for their respective “mandates”, cannot be expected to stop fighting without the intervention of a third party.

A mediator is required to cajole, urge, and prod the warring parties to settle their differences peacefully. Since each would have a different conception of how the conflict started – imagine an exchange between two siblings as to who started the fight where one would point to the other and say “Siya nauna eh” who will then retort “Hindi! Siya ang nauna” – the mediator is also expected to help the parties come to a common understanding of how it all began. Thereafter, it will help them draft an agreement addressing the roots of their dispute.

Even after a peace agreement is arrived at, the mediator’s job does not stop. This is when the mediator’s second role kicks in. Protagonists who have trained their guns against each other cannot be expected on their own to faithfully stick to their end of the bargain. The mutual suspicion, animosity, mutual recrimination, one-upmanship, etc. brought about by decades of fighting are psychological baggage that cannot be erased overnight. Hence, you need a neutral mediator to perform the oversight function of making sure that the protagonists live up to their commitments.

As for the necessity of being neutral, we only need to look at what normally happens during basketball games when a referee is perceived to be biased in favor of one of the teams. Usually, such games end up in a fracas, in a fight, in a riot. All of these are basic stuff for anyone who has taken a seminar on conflict resolution.

So, going back to my questions in the first part of this article: Why did the ’96 Peace Agreement fail? Under whose watch did it fail? Besides the signatories themselves, who dropped the ball in settling the Mindanao conflict?

As I have said earlier, the OIC has delegated the role of mediating the Mindanao conflict and facilitating the MNLF-GRP talks to the Committee of the Eight (erstwhile Six). Of the members of this committee, the one who has taken the lead is Indonesia. Libya is also a very influential member.

When the emissary from the OIC Secretary-General’s office visited Mindanao last year to see for himself how the implementation of the agreement was going along, he spoke before leaders of Mindanao’s civil society. During the open forum, I took the opportunity to ask him to assess the OIC’s 30-year involvement in helping resolve the conflict which has thus far led to more than 100,000 deaths and millions of refugees. Of course, an honest answer from him would have been an admission of the mediator’s failure given the dismal peace and development situation on the ground. But of course, he could not make that admission in public. It would have been too embarrassing. The poor fellow could only quizzically look at the members of the Committee of the Eight, particularly Indonesia, who were also present in the hope that maybe they can help him answer the question. Unfortunately, the Indonesian envoy could only look down on the floor. So the Sec-Gen’s emissary ended up spending 10 minutes discussing generalities about the conflict and how difficult it is to resolve. Reminders from others who took the microphone after me that he did not actually answer my question were to no avail.

A few months after the fact-finding visit of the OIC Sec-Gen’s emissary, I had another opportunity to ask the same question. This time it was an envoy from Indonesia, a key player in facilitating the agreement as I understand from the introduction given about him. He was here to attend a testimonial dinner organized by the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy (PCID) and funded by Konrad Adenauer Foundation and United Nations Development Program. Again, there was an open forum and this time, after pointing out that while we have the luxury of holding the forum at the plush Mandarin Hotel in Makati, the people of the Bangsamoro are still wallowing in misery 10 years after the peace agreement, I asked him to assess Indonesia’s involvement as mediator. As I had expected, the answer was evasive.

(Part III next week – Asking the Hard Questions)