BBL oversimplified the Mindanao problem

ARTURO L. Tiu in his timely article titled “Inclusive leadership” (Opinion, 5/9/15) raised an issue which showed why the proponents of the Bangsamoro Basic Law oversimplified the Mindanao peace process and why the BBL is based on a false premise.

A country is split into horizontal and vertical divisions. The differences among the Tausug, the Maranaw and the Maguindanao that Tiu cited are the vertical divisions in a society. The differences between the rich and poor are the horizontal divisions.

The major problem of the BBL is it addresses only the horizontal division in Mindanao. The repeated theme by the proponents of the BBL is that the cause of the Mindanao insurgency is the poverty in the region; therefore, economic development and prosperity will settle the problem. This is a false premise and does not jibe with contemporary international events.

Economic development and prosperity will solve the NPA (New People’s Army) problem since this issue is based on the horizontal divide between the rich and the poor; it will not solve the Mindanao problem and could even exacerbate it as will be noted later in this piece.

To emphasize this point, the Quebecois in Canada, the Basques in Spain and, lately, the Scots in the United Kingdom, live in wealthy First World countries. Nonetheless, they want to secede from their mother countries.

In addition, we have the case of the defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR or Soviet Union). When the Soviet Union imploded in 1991, the move was initiated by Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, the most developed of its republics, in the Alma-Ata Accord of December 1991. The less developed parts of the country, like Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, etc. played a minor role in the breakup of the USSR. Ironically, Karl Marx prophesied that the world would split along class lines, that is, along the horizontal divide; instead, the USSR split along ethnic or vertical lines.

The vertical division in a country is a complex problem and, as noted, is not solved by prosperity. The secessionist impulse in the three developed countries cited above are motivated mainly by the feeling of alienation from the mainstream of society. The historical, cultural, linguistic and other differences from the ruling ethnic majority over time create the feeling that the seceding groups do not belong in the same country.

In that light, the title of the Tiu article is most appropriate. The BBL would be more viable if it is based on inclusion, that is, all the different clans in Mindanao are included in the peace process. Unfortunately, the BBL is based on exclusion, with only the Moro Islamic Liberation Front involved in the peace process. This is a very simplistic approach. As noted in what is happening now in Canada, the United Kingdom and Spain, even if the MILF succeeds in developing the areas under its control, there is no assurance that there will be peace in its region. Development will result in a higher demand for participation in the political process by the masses under MILF control. Unless the rate of participation in the political process keeps pace with economic development, there will eventually be unrest in the MILF-controlled areas. But the larger problem is, while the government is helping the MILF-controlled areas to develop, the rest of the tribal groups left out in the BBL will be, at the outset, already alienated.

This matter has not been clearly spelled out in the ongoing peace talks: What happens to the rest of Mindanao not under MILF control? One of the MILF top officials said that if the BBL works, then this will serve as a model for the rest of Mindanao to join in the peace process. That is a long shot. The other tribal groups in Mindanao are also impoverished. It will be a hard sell to tell them to endure their poverty, sit in the sidelines, and wait and see if the BBL experiment will work. Usually, the groups left out in the initial stages of development will drift further away from the mainstream group.

Thus, the peace process would have been simpler had it been set on the precondition that the group negotiating for the Moros must speak for all Moros. The evident conclusion here that the BBL will bring peace to Mindanao is an oversell. At most it will bring temporary peace in those areas under MILF control. How to extend the agreement to the rest of Mindanao is not clearly spelled out in the BBL and any effort in that direction will face many obstacles.

A further handicap to the success of the BBL is the heavy hand of Malacañang in the ongoing proceedings in the House of Representatives. Ideally, a peace process should be a national, nonpartisan undertaking. Pursued in this manner, the resulting agreement will outlive those who initiated the peace process. But the latest proceedings in the House, with the Liberal Party majority rejecting substantive amendments proposed by opposition groups, make the BBL look more like a President Aquino-Liberal Party partisan undertaking. At some future time, a new administration may disown the peace agreement.

It is also hoped that the proponents of the BBL will call a spade a spade. The Mindanao problem is far more complex than the manner in which it has been presented to the public. With so many pitfalls along the way, it may be more appropriate to state that the BBL will result in a truce rather than peace in Mindanao. It is highly speculative at this point to say that the BBL will bring peace to Mindanao.

Hermenegildo C. Cruz served as Philippine ambassador to the United Nations in 1984-1986.



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