Toward a People-Centered Peace and Development Framework: Some Lessons from Conflict-Affected Communities in Mindanao

Abstract / Excerpt:

The peace and development nexus has often been invoked by government functionaries as a precondition for a stabilizing and rapidly growing economy and overall human development. Almost every government undertaking has reportedly been planned with a peace and development component. Even military campaigns are staged to "promote peace." In many parts of Mindanao, this reason is invoked by the government when its armed forces conduct search and destroy operations in communities allegedly to "neutralize" so called criminal or lawless elements or to quell every form of dissent from communities that have suffered long years of government neglect and poor governance from its local officials. But as we are all aware, far from making peace and promoting development, these have instead stoked the fires of discontent and pushed people to do desperate and violent acts. Continued militarization in many rural areas of Mindanao has withered rural economies, created more poor people, and made the poor even poorer.

Full Text

The peace and development nexus has often been invoked by government functionaries as a precondition for a stabilizing and rapidly growing economy and overall human development. Almost every government undertaking has reportedly been planned with a peace and development component. Even military campaigns are staged to "promote peace." In many parts of Mindanao, this reason is invoked by the government when its armed forces conduct search and destroy operations in communities allegedly to "neutralize" so-called criminal or lawless elements or to quell every form of dissent from communities that have suffered long years of government neglect and poor governance from its local officials. But as we are all aware, far from making peace and promoting development, these have instead stoked the fires of discontent and pushed people to do desperate and violent acts. Continued militarization in many rural areas of Mindanao has withered rural economies, created more poor people, and made the poor even poorer.

Conflict-affected communities in Mindanao: An overview

The conflict-affected communities in Mindanao are concentrated in the provinces composing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). These provinces are Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi. In addition to these provinces, the city of Marawi in Lanao del Sur also opted to become a part of the ARNIM in the plebiscite conducted in 2001. The province of Basilan and the city of Marawi are "new" members of the controversial region. The four other provinces were the original component provinces of the ARMM during its creation in 1987.

In this paper, I am describing only two of these component provinces, as they are also the hardest hit by armed conflict from 2000 to 2003. These are Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur.


Until its creation as a separate province on 23 November 1973, Maguindanao was part of what was once the biggest province in the country, the Empire Province of Cotabato. Presidential Decree No. 341 issued by the late President Ferdinand Marcos created three separate provinces from the Empire Province, namely; Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, and Cotabato. Subsequently, two more provinces were carved out: South Cotabato and Sarangani.

The province is bounded on the north by Lanao del Sur, on the east by Cotabato province, on the south by Sultan Kudarat, and on the west !237 the Moro Gulf. The province is accessible by air through the Awang 'airport located in the municipality of Datu Odin Sinsuat and by sea through two ports in Parang town.

With a total land area of 547,410 hectares, Maguindanao has a predominantly flat terrain, with undulating hills and mountains. Its climate is highly suited for agriculture, and its main crops are rice, corn, and coconuts.

As of 2000, the province had a total of twenty-two municipalities and more than 600 mainly rural barangays with a total population of 801,102. The number of towns has increased to twenty-five in 2004 with the creation of three new towns: Datu Unsay (near Shariff Aguak and Datu Piang), Datu Saudi Ampatuan (formerly the barangay of Salbu, in Datu Piang) and Guindulungan (some barangays of the municipality of Talayan). Major dialects spoken in the province are Maguindanaon, Cebuano-Visayan, Tagalog, and Teduray. Sixty- eight percent of the population are Muslims, the rest are Christians of different denominations. Communities of indigenous peoples arc found in the mountain towns of North and South Upi as well as in Ampatuan. The capital town of the province used to be Sultan Kudarat during the administration of its former governor. At the time of this writing, the provincial governor is constructing a new provincial capitol in his hometown in Shariff Aguak (formerly named Maganoy).

Maguindanao is one of the twenty provinces included in the country's "Club 20," the popular euphemism for the country's poorest provinces. All of its twenty-five towns are classified rural, with very low revenues. The dominant political families in the province are members of the Maguindanaon royal families which trace their ancestry to the sultans who ruled the once glorious Maguindanao and Buayan sultanates long before the coming of the Spanish and American colonizers. The 2002 Philippine Human Development Report (PHDR) done by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has Maguindanao ranking seventy-fifth among seventy-seven provinces in terms of its Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI is a composite measure that includes, among others, life expectancy, poverty rates, functional literacy rates, per capita income, and enrollment rates in the primary and secondary levels.

Aggravating the already pathetic situation of the province is its being one of the hardest hit by armed encounters from 1997 to 2003 between the forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). From January to April of 2000, the Ecumenical Commission for Displaced Families and Communities (ECDFC) Monitor documented a total of 10,398 families that were displaced from the Maguindanao uplands due to heavy fighting between the AFP and the MILF. At an average of six members per family, this number roughly translates to 62,338 individuals. But most Maguindanaon families are extended. They are composed not only of immediate or nuclear family members, but also include relatives from either the husband's or the wife's side. This could mean that the average family size is higher, such that up to more than 100,000 people are affected by sporadic, intermittent armed conflict in the province.

In February of 2003, the AFP conducted massive ground and air assault of the so-called Buliok complex in Pagalungan town on the border of Pik it, Cotabato. The complex included the residence of the late chairman of the MILF, Ustadz Salamat Hashim. Once again, thousands of people were displaced. Some estimates of displaced individuals ranged from several hundreds of thousands to a million. What made the 2003 attack condemnable even in the eves of many Christian civil society groups was the timing of the incident. It was conducted while people were busy preparing for a very important feast in Islam—the Eid'l 1-lajj, or the Feast of Sacrifice, or the end of the Holy Month of the Hajj or Pilgrimage.

Many of the displaced families have not gone back to their places of origin. They have become the "new" squatters in relatively safer places within the adjacent municipalities in the neighboring province of Cotabato (like Pikit) and in the City of Cotabato. Some stay with their relatives and friends in these places.

Lanao del Sur

Lanao del Sur is the traditional homeland of the Meranaw ethnolinguistic group. The famous Lake Lanao, which is the main source of Mindanao's hydroelectric power, nestles at the heart of the province. At only 385,00 hectares, Lanao del Sur is quite small in terms of land area. The seat of local government is the component city of Marawi.

The province is bounded on the north by its sister province, Lanao del Norte; on the east by Misamis Oriental; on the west by IIlana Bay; and on the south by upland towns belonging to either Maguindanao and Cotabato provinces. Generally, the province is mountainous and blessed with even rainfall and mild temperatures all throughout the year. It is naturally gifted with enormous rivers and lakes, the famous Lake Lanao as being the biggest and most scenic.

Among its major crops are rice, corn, and vegetables, especially those that thrive in cool climates. In addition, the province is known to hold vast mineral deposits including basalt, chromite, manganese, copper, pyrite ore, and coal deposits. Its people are skilled in brassware and handloom weaving.

As of 2000, the provincial population was 669,072. There are thirty-seven municipalities in this mostly mountainous province.

Despite the abundance of its natural resources, Lanao del Sur has been consistently among the poorest provinces in Mindanao and in the entire country. Like Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur ranks lowest in its HDI, ranking seventy-three among seventy-seven provinces in the year 2000 (UNDP PHDR 2002).

The increasing numbers of poor people in the province could be attributed to the deteriorating peace and order conditions in the province at the start of 2000, right after the declaration of President. Joseph Ejercito Estrada's "all-out war" against the MILF. Like Maguindanao, I ,anao del Sur is host to a significant number of major MILF camps. Many of its upland towns are known lairs of-the group, and these were the target of heavy shelling and bombardment by the AFP. Consequently, thousands of families from the mountainous barangays and towns evacuated to "safer" grounds, like the cities of Marawi and Iligan (in Lanao del Norte).

Fighting between the NIILF and AFP was heavy in the towns of But ig, Kapatagan, Nlarogong, Lumbayanague, Tubaran, Kalanogas, and lialabagan (sec Cagoco-Guiam et al 2001). I visited Marawi Cit in late 200-1 and learned that there were ninety-nine families with members ranging from six to nine) still living in makeshift rooms inside the city gymnasium. The evacuees came from various upland Lanao del Sur and del Norte towns. They have repeatedly refused to go back to their places of origin for fear of renewed hostilities.

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As the table shows, the per capita income among families in both provinces arc way below what is considered to be the poverty line. It also shows that the people in the two provinces do not grow old - they die young.

Human security framework to a people-centered development

The Fifth Asian Development Forum (1995,8) provided a definition of development as:

A process by which members of a society increase their personal and institutional capacities to mobilize and manage resources to produce sustainable and justly distributed improvements in the quality of life consistent with their own aspirations.

When the process of development is centered on people rather than on increasing the Gross National Product (GNP) of a country, such development is just, sustainable, inclusive, and authentic.. According to this perspective, a people-centered development process" ... envisions a redistribution of political and economic power, restoring environmental stewardship, and reducing wasteful consumption."

Such a vision of development is empowering, rather than enslaving: It respects a people's inherent capacities to make their own aspirations.

By necessity, people-centered development also has to maximize people participation at all phases in the development process. Fisher, et al (2001) identify four levels of people participation in development, thus:

• Informing- Development workers, especially government functionaries, simply inform the representatives of the people (like local elected officials) about new legislations, directives, circulars, and similar measures to be followed. There is no participation at all from the general public or from civil society groups.

• Meeting- Development agents and workers meet with various groups of people face to face, and inform them about their decisions directly. But participation is very low because decisions have already been made before the meeting.

•Consulting- Development agents and government functionaries or authorities meet with representatives of the people (both elected government officials and civil society groups) and get their views or feedback about proposed plans or programs.

•Dialoguing- People are directly given the chance to meet with government authorities and functionaries as well as with development agents and workers so they can share their views with the former before any decision could be made. Having constant dialogue with the people promotes high levels of trust thus leading to good governance, and eventually sustainable peace and development.

Respecting a people's inherent capacities to develop themselves in their own way is central to the concept of human security. According to the United  Nations' Commission on Human Security (UNCHS 2003), it is the mandate of governments" protect the vital core of all human lives in ways that enhance freedoms and human fulfillment. Human security means protecting fundamental freedoms... that are the essence of life... It means creating political, social, environmental, economic, military and cultural systems that together give people the building blocks of survival, livelihood and dignity..." When such systems are in place in a community, citizens live in freedom, peace and safety, and participate fully in the process of governance.

Recognizing that what people consider as "essential" or "vital" in their existence varies across individuals, societies, and cultures, the UNCHS notes that the concept of human security must be dynamic. Thus, while the concept of human security is universal for all peoples, it is nuanced in various ways among highly diverse communities. In other words, there is no monolithic interpretation of what constitutes human security for communities composed of widely divergent cultures and ways of life. What one community might consider the essence of its survival may be considered a peripheral need in another community.

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The above holistic definition presents an ideal situation for all human beings in a highly globalized world. Operationally, however, in the real day-to-day world of ordinary citizens especially those in impoverished, marginalized, and conflict-affected communities in Mindanao that I have just described, the concept of human security becomes an oxymoron: It does not mean anything. The concept is best seen in its glaring absence: Systems for the protection of ordinary citizens from threats of displacement due to armed conflict or natural calamities are simply not in place. Poor people have very limited options. This is an additional source of insecurity for them. Systems and mechanisms that are supposedly for the welfare of the poorest of the poor do not work in their favor. Instead, such systems work for the members of the middle and upper crust of society. But ideally, when the main building blocks of human security (as shown in the diagram in the next page) are provided, the dynamism that results from the interplay of these building blocks will lead to a people-centered sustainable peace and development.

Lessons on peace building in conflict-affected communities

Communities severely affected by long years of exposure to the ravages of armed conflict have expressed in various ways their state of war fatigue. There is now a growing constituency for peace not only among the conflict-affected communities themselves, but also among those villages that have hosted internally displaced persons (I DPs) or those who have fled to escape armed conflict or threats of armed conflict (Castles 2004).

Such constituency includes a variety of civil society organizations (CSOs) and informal groups whose efforts toward peace building are outside of the mainstream peace building activities and programs conducted by government and its functionaries.

In mainstream peace processes, people participation has not been maximized to the level of constant dialogue, as described in the previous section of this paper. The peace process that led to the signing of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) was, at best, only at the information level for the general public. This explains why, after the signing and the promulgation of an Executive Order from former President Fidel V. Ramos about the creation of a development agency for the MNLF, there was a huge public outcry against it. When government functionaries conducted an information tour about the creation of the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD), they were confronted with a largely angry public. Many people, especially among the majority Christian populations in Mindanao, perceived such an agreement to be bending over backwards to accommodate a troublesome group like the MNLF in particular and the Muslims in general. This is the perception of a public that is steeped in prejudice against Muslim groups that have taken up arms against the central Philippine government dominated by Christians and whose policies have largely excluded the Muslims and the indigenous Mindanao groups or Lumads.

Building the foundations for lasting peace is tedious and complicated. As such, it requires the collective efforts of all sectors in society — from the margins to the mainstream. Spaces for participation in various processes, activities, and programs that lead to sustainable peace must be widened, and voices toward long lasting solutions of intermittent armed conflict must be strengthened.

Waging peace involves a variety of strategies and techniques including those that are otherwise not designed for peace, although the cumulative effects of such strategies create the enabling environment to achieve peace. For civil society groups in Mindanao, these efforts include community organizing with the provision of sustainable livelihoods. The latter strategy is aimed to promote the overall welfare of their partner communities for them to be both economically and politically empowered (Cagoco-Guiam 2003).

For its part, the Philippine national government has passed various laws that promote the general welfare of its people. One of these is the Local Government Code of 1991. The Code provides for opportunities for citizen participation in local governance, as representatives of so-called local special bodies like the Local Development Council and the Local Peace and Order Council. In each municipality, a representative of an NGO or a CSO sits as a member of both these councils. Unfortunately, this provision is honored more in the breach than in observance. The opportunities for citizen participation are usually available only to more prominent or well-established CSOs or NGOs. Alternatively, the opportunities are made available to those who have either blood or marital ties to the Local Chief Executive (LCE, e.g., the mayor or governor) who signs the appointment of the CSO representative. Groups that have not established a legal identity (like a registration from a government accrediting body like the Securities and Exchange Commission) are automatically excluded from participating in the local special bodies because they are not accredited.

Compounding this problem is the fact that in many upland, hard -to-reach towns in the ARMM, the local special bodies are not yet functional. Even the local government units (LGLis) are also absent. In a recent field visit I conducted for a baseline study of IDPs in the ARMM provinces, I found out that some local government officials do not hold office in the towns where they got elected – they reside and hold office in the urban areas in non-ARMM provinces like Cotabato City (for Maguindanao local chief executives), Iligan City and Cagayan de Oro City (for Lanao del Sur officials). This governance deficit has virtually pushed the constituents to look for alternative sources of guidance and governance and, in some cases, these have been provided not only by CSOs but also by rebel groups like the MILF.

In Maguindanao Province, there are harsh realities that deter citizen activism in pushing for much needed reforms in governance, especially in making citizen participation truly operational and genuine. Foremost among these is the leadership of warlords and traditional local politicians who unfortunately, have enjoyed the support of the national government leadership up to the present. This local leadership has caused the creation of new towns without going through the process of genuine people participation at the dialogue level. It seems that the rationale for the creation for new towns was done to perpetuate the ruling family's power– the newly elected mayors of the three new towns are blood relatives of the governor. In these new towns, there are only a few residents – even an impartial observer will wonder how it was possible to pass the laws to create the new political unit without fulfilling some basic requirements as provided for by Philippine law. The national government has so far just turned a blind eye – this is probably because the ruling political party won by a landslide in the province in the last presidential elections.

Concluding remarks

Despite all these problems and challenges confronting conflict-affected communities in Mindanao, a vibrant civil society in Mindanao provides hope. Various NGOs, both national and international, are filling the democracy deficits (Clark 2000). By implementing a wide range of programs and projects—from relief and rehabilitation work; organizing and capacity building; providing seed money for grassroots organizations and cooperatives; and community fund mobilization for self-reliance; and even trauma healing for those who have suffered war shock during armed conflict. These efforts might seem to be a cacophony of various agenda, strategies, and styles of working – but they arc all designed to promote sustainable peace and development in a region that has a long history of periodic armed conflict.

The problems confronting war-torn and impoverished communities in Central Mindanao are quite immense – everyone's contribution is needed, whether this contribution is done individually or as organized initiatives.

"There can he no oversupply in CSO-led peace initiatives," one informant said in one of my field visits. I agree. All these efforts that respect and honor capacities of people to develop themselves need to be replicated to achieve a truly people-centered sustainable peace and development that is anchored on the building blocks of human security. At least if government fails to attain this mandate, its subalterns (albeit unwilling) in the countryside – the NGOs, POs, and CSOs—are always available to help people attain genuine development.

Source JournalTambara
Journal VolumeTambara Vol. 24
AuthorsRufa Cagoco-Guiam
Page Count7
Place of PublicationDavao City
Original Publication DateNovember 1, 2007

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