A restaurant owner’s unusual request

The owner of a restaurant came up to me and sought my advice on how to “free up” his restaurant. You see while his restaurant is very popular – the food is great and the prices, reasonable – the space in the restaurant is limited to maximum of 30 persons only and his problem is that customers tend to stay a little bit longer than they should – talking, laughing, conspiring, studying, reading, facebooking (all unrelated to dining), etc., and thus, he has been turning precious customers away as “there is no more room in the inn.” He is a victim of his own success. Since the food and the ambience is excellent, people come but they also stay longer than is necessary (as far as he is concerned). So, he asks, what strategies can be employed to “free up” some space, i.e. that customers continue to patronize his restaurant and, yet, at the same time, they leave once they are done eating so that he can accommodate additional customers. He is a kindhearted chef and does not want to employ the strategy of some restaurants where waiters rudely clean the tables, get the used plates, glasses and utensils away even when you are not done yet. He thinks it is bastos and has the effect of shooing the customers away. It was an unusual request and I welcomed the opportunity to “think” through his unusual problem. He offered to give the banana apple pie I was eating for free in exchange for my “advice”. So here it is – the things we thought of: Continue reading “A restaurant owner’s unusual request”


A fish called BATNA

Now, that peace negotiations between the Government and “rebel” groups are back on track, it’s time to talk about a fish called BATNA.

The Government, the CPP/NPA/NDF and the MILF are obviously in negotiations because of their respective beliefs that these will lead to results more favorable or beneficial than those they can get by going to war. Even though it is possible that a party is using the negotiations as a tactical move to support the primary strategy of war, the general rule is a good faith belief by the parties that their objectives can be attained through peaceful and nonviolent negotiations.

In the book Getting to Yes: Negotiating Without Giving In, Roger Fish and William Ury talks about BATNA:

“The reason you negotiate is to produce something better than the results you can obtain without negotiating. What are those results? What is that alternative? What is your BATNA — your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement? That is the standard against which any proposed agreement should be measured.”

The BATNA is the guide of the parties in negotiations. It provides a baseline. The BATNA is a document that outlines what the party will do to achieve its aims if nothing happens in the negotiations. Having a clear, detailed yet flexible BATNA is very important for successful peace process. The BATNA clarifies the thinking of the negotiators. It gives them a compass to agree or reject a proposal. Negotiators cannot make wise decisions whether to enter into agreements or not if they do not know what they will do if negotiations fail, if they do not have a BATNA.

Thus, simply stated, if what is being offered on the table is better than the BATNA, the negotiator should accept. If however what is offered is something less than the BATNA, then rejection is in order. Why? Because the negotiator can get better results outside of the negotiations. The negotiations have not improved his situation. And if the offers are not improving through time, then the parties might consider suspending the negotiations in order to reassess and rethink their BATNAs or to altogether scrap the negotiations and pursue their respective objectives outside of the peace process, i.e. through means other than political negotiations.

What do you think is Government’s BATNA? How about the MILF or the CPP/NPA/NDF?

Amend the Constitution to accommodate Moro rights and aspirations

The single biggest stumbling block to a comprehensive political settlement with the MILF is the present Philippine Constitution (as currently designed and structured) which deprives the Bangsamoro people of their fundamental right to meaningful and effective self-determination. Thus, when the Government says that charter change is not a priority, it is a cause for concern. It means that Government has not yet fully appreciated the reality that a viable political settlement with the MILF requires, as a minimum, amending the present Constitution. It also means that the Government have other urgent issues on its mind, i.e. fighting corruption, eradicating poverty, achieving MDGs, etc. and peace in Mindanao is just one of those issues. Clearly, the challenge is not to set aside these equally vital concerns but to put the issue of peace negotiations with the MILF as a primary concern on the table together with these other concerns. The MILF will only sign an agreement that would radically alter and restructure the present unequal relationship between the Filipino people and the Bangsamoro people and that would require amending the Philippine Constitution. 

A viable peace agreement in the future would essentially require new arrangements that recognize the Bangsamoro people as a distinct, separate yet equal to the Filipino people, acknowledge historical injustice, allow the Bangsamoro people to freely determine their political status, pursue their political, economic, social and cultural goals, and manage and dispose natural resources within their domains while, at the same time, being citizens of the Philippines. All of these are not be possible under the present Constitutional setup. We need then to amend the Constitution to allow and accommodate these new “rule sets”. To be not open to amending the Constitution is to close oneself to the possibility of signing a peace agreement with the MILF.

I understand that the issue of charter change is a Pandora’s box that could potentially set free other “misfortunes”,, i.e. unnecessary distraction, shift to parliamentary system, an opportunity for political adversaries to consolidate and return to power, opening up foreign ownership of natural resources and wealth, allow foreign military bases, etc., But that would be telling half of the story, opening Pandora’s box of charter change will also set free hope – hope for peace in Mindanao, peace in our land. ###

Insurgency, Complexity and the Moro Problem (Part 3 of 3)

iu-1The The goal of the MILF: the control of contested space

The goal of the MILF is, among other things, the control over contested political space in Mindanao. It is not to replace or supplant the Government of the Republic of the Philippines. Unlike the Communist Party of the Philippines/National Democratic Front/New Peoples Army (CPP/NDF/NPA) which has publicly avowed its intention to place a unit in every barangay and put up a shadow parallel government with the intention of “smashing” the Philippine State,  the intention of the MILF is to see to it that Philippine State does not have control or has diminished control over the contested political space. As long as the government is seen as having minimal control over the contested political space or that the people feel alienated and see the government as the source of their troubles or that government security forces are “occupational forces”, then the goal of control is already achieved.

The goal of Philippine Government: secure environment, sustainable development

Are the goals of government different from the MILF? No. They have similar goals in the sense that government wants to control the contested political space as well, as any sovereign government should. But unlike the MILF which seeks control over the political space by virtue of what they see as a historic and just right to self-determination, government’s intention is fueled by its nation-building goals, i.e. building a “psychologically and physically secure environment conducive to equitable and sustainable development.”

Now, those are big words. But in simple terms, I think that means that government wants some measure of “control” (since full control is not feasible) over the contested space. That is the raison d’être for the existence of a State. Thus, government’s agenda is to secure the people and their communities, bring livelihood and development, make sure basic services are delivered, that governance is transparent, effective and accountable. In other words, Government must set free the people: free from fear, free from want. Whatever Government’s political objectives are, i.e. peace and development, etc., its functional objective is to impose a measure of “control” on the contested political space. Obviously, “control” does not mean that Philippine Government has “unquestioned dominance”. It just simply means that Philippine Government must see to it that the MILF and all other political, economic and military actors in the conflict areas work and collaborate with government towards the attainment of shared objectives.

In the lingo of USAID, for example, the measure of success will be measured by Government’s “effectiveness” and “legitimacy” in the four broad areas of identity, security, governance and economic development. “Effectiveness” means that we have both the capability and the capacity to deliver on what is essentially the State’s social contract with its people: the provision of respect of identity, security, economic development and governance. “Legitimacy” means that whatever we do in the contested space must be perceived and felt by the Bangsamoro people as for his or her best interest. Our Government must be seen as truly the Government not only of Christians but also of the Bangsamoro people.

As I see it, the Philippine Government, in the future, must focus on 4 areas: identity, security, governance and economic development.

Identity. At the heart of the armed conflict is the action in defense of identity. It is an intangible “good”. From the questions of identity flows passion, emotions, and drive. Identity demands acknowledgment and respect. The State must be able to provide an environment where people’s identities are respected, listened to and protected.

Security. The provision of basic security to the people includes (1) military security (securing the population from attack or intimidation by insurgents, bandits, terrorists or other armed groups), (2) police security (community policing, police intelligence and paramilitary police field forces), human security, building a framework of human rights, civil institutions and civilian protection, and (3) public safety (fire, ambulance, sanitation, civil defense) and population security. Security is not the exclusive domain of the military and police. It is also the domain of civilians. The protection of human rights is a fundamental element of security. Security is also not the basis for economic and political progress. It cannot be “security first” and then livelihood and governance later. The three areas must develop simultaneously.

Governance. Governance focuses on mobilizing support from the people. A key element is the building of institutional capacity in all agencies of government and non-government civil institutions. Essentially, it means that a transparent and accountable governance must exist in the contested space. In fact, in the contested political space, we just have to make sure that ARMM is present and works.

Economic Development and Livelihood. Economic development includes a near-term component of immediate humanitarian relief, rehabilitation, sustainable livelihood as well as longer-term programs for development reconstruction in the contested space. A major element on this front is to resolve the multiple claims and disputes over land in the contested political space. Land is very central to the conflict in Mindanao.

President Aquino’s National Security Policy: 4 Key Elements

President Aquino’s National Security Policy (as articulated by Peace Adviser Deles) is focused on the so-called 4 key elements:

“With this commitment, the present administration puts primacy in the peace process by focusing its National Security Policy on four (4) key elements:

1. Governance. – Good governance entails being present and accountable to the citizens especially those living in the poorest and most remote areas. Further, this means putting an end to the long history of patronage politics and ensuring that our next leaders are freely elected by the people. As we help the people realize their power to vote, we strengthen their faith in democratic processes and the rule of law. Likewise, we enable them to hold their elected leaders accountable for the public trust they have given them.

2. Delivery of Basic Services. – Conflict resolution must be done along with delivery of basic services, particularly health and education, to depressed and vulnerable barangays in conflict areas, putting into place effective and transparent mechanisms to ensure that aid will reach those in need. Government programs that build access roads and school buildings for basic and adult education; provide potable water and sanitation facilities, basic health care, electricity; assist in shelter reconstruction, and provide temporary livelihood interventions must be renewed.

3. Economic Reconstruction and Sustainable Development. – No conflict area will be left behind. The economic reconstruction of conflict-affected areas, particularly the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), should be fully-integrated in all national development plans to bring the blessings of peace to its people and set it on its way to sustainable development as a valuable contributor to our national movement towards progress.

4. Security Sector Reform. – Enhancing the Security Sector must begin with restoring the pride and honor of our uniformed services. This requires strong, capable and disciplined security forces serving under firm democratic civilian control to achieve and sustain peace and security in the country.”


Of course, the “big elephant” in the room is negotiations. These 4 key elements must support (and not replace) the primary efforts for a negotiated political settlement with the MILF. We must be however not think that these 4 key elements can solve the problem. Without traction and progress in the negotiations with the MILF, the 4 key elements will be useless.

Why? Because in order to successfully implement the elements, the MILF and other conflict actors must be on board. It cannot be done unilaterally by the Philippine Government. Thus, negotiations can also be viewed as a process to install an overall system of “cooperation”, i.e. actors working and collaborating to achieve the same objective rather than war, between the Government and the MILF. This is why peace negotiations is important. As long as the MILF and its combatants see a viable and honest-to-goodness peace process that will in the end address the root causes of the Moro problems, then collaboration between the government and the MILF will continue and war can be averted. If the talks bogged down, the so-called activities in the “complementary” track, e.g.PAMANA, will not take off. They will be viewed by the MILF and other actors as a ploy to defeat the insurgency. (end)

Victorious insurgencies

I was at the Solidaridad Bookstore in Padre Faura the other day and one of the books that caught my eye was the book  “Victorious Insurgencies: Four Rebellions That Shaped Our World” written by Anthony James Joes. The author looked into the experience of 4 successful insurgencies – the Maoists in China, the Viet Minh against the French in Indochina, the Castro forces against Batista in Cuba and the Afghan mujahideen against Russia in Afghanistan.

Since a successful insurgency means a failed counterinsurgency, what then are the lessons from the perspective of counterinsurgency? According to the author, a successful insurgency happens because  4 “failures” or blunders on the part of the counterinsurgent:

1. Failure to provide quality military leadership. – The counterinsurgent underestimates the enemy and deploys poorly trained or even corrupt military leaders in the field.

2. Failure to provide their adversaries a path to peace. – The counterinsurgent fails to offer the insurgents a sustainable and durable nonviolent process to redress grievances. Most of the insurgencies were fueled by a lack of clear alternative to war.

3. Failure to prevent outside assistance. – All of the successful insurgencies studied were successful because of unimpeded assistance from interests and parties outside of the conflict to the insurgents.

4. Failure to commit sufficient forces to the conflict. – The counterinsurgent commits “woefully insufficient forces to the conflict”, i.e. the forces “cannot simultaneously isolate the battle area, defend what must be defended and carry out disruptive operations.”