Johan Galtung’s comments on the Philippine internal conflicts

(Prelude: Last week, in yet another roundtable on the Mindanao problem, I chanced upon a good friend from way, way back, Cesar Villanueva of Pax Christi and Transcend Philippines. Seeing Cesar, I was immediately reminded of the observations of  Johan Galtung on the conflicts in the Philippines. When I reached home, I searched for that file of that speech of Galtung made in February 2009. Here it is. Such a gem, such insight. Reading it again, after over two years, one can sense how things have changed and how things have also fundamentally remained same.)


(Johan Galtung)

The comments heard about the vertical peace process dialogues between the Government panels and the parties for social change in class and nation relations are: limbo, paralyzed, no prospects, stuck, insincere, broken, not implemented. And yet the parties are mesmerized by the process and want to get unstuck. How?

The key positions of the parties, lifting the most needy out of misery, and some autonomy for the bangsamoro nation (the Muslims + in Mindanao who arrived long before today’s Christian majority) are anchored in the basic human needs and rights for well-being, and for identity. But the government of a modern state has other priorities than the basic needs of the citizens.

Modernity is a secular version of the traditional rule of the rex gratia dei, a King by the grace of an omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient God. The State became the carrier of omnipotence, the Market of omnipresence and Science of omniscience. The top priority became monopoly on force against any armed resistance, a unitary state against other power centers, and power growth. The second priority became a unified market within the state and economic growth, seeing poverty as the root cause and economic growth as the remedy for most social problems. And the third became rationality, and scientific growth as opposed to religion.

This sets the stage for failure. Poverty is not the cause. Inequity —I am poor because they are rich — is. And repression — I want to be ruled by my own kind however imperfect but am ruled by somebody else – is. The issues of equity and autonomy have to be solved to bring about an equitable and sustainable peace. The road to disarmament –demobilization-reintegration (DDR), reconciliation and development passes through solution, not vice versa. Putting the cart before the horse aims at pacification, not peace-building.

Rule of Law, Primacy of Constitution, Sovereignty, Territorial Integrity and National Unity matter, but Universal Human Rights matter more. Laws can be changed, constitutions can be amended ( cfr the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art 28 ), state  sovereignty is shrinking in a regionalizing and globalizing  world, subsidiarity- autonomy-federalism strengthen territorial integrity against independence, and the Philippines has at least three nations (Christians, the bangsamoro, the non-Islamic Indigenous, and more languages beyond English and Tagalog). But State Unity, and shared Filipino Citizenship, make sense.

 A government would tend to privilege DDR, and if necessary go for “a war of rapid conclusion”, Sri Lanka style. Military victory in a war will be confused with conflict solution. For the parties engaged in centuries long struggles it is only a lost battle, and the struggle continues fed with more bitterness and determination.

If disarmament is achieved root issues may be left unattended. A government is many-headed. A signed panels MOA may be blocked by executive power higher up (including the military), by the legislative powers (senators and local representatives) seeing their power curtailed, by judiciary power (the Supreme Court) declaring a MOA unconstitutional, by a referendum with majorities neither in misery nor moro, or by the international community (eg., the US and other embassies) listing parties as “terrorist”.

This is today Philippine reality. The conclusion is not that a governmental panel is insincere but that there are more parties involved. The same applies to the non-governmental side of the class and nation issues , today left unsolved, making that rich –in natural and human resources – country, so much less than it could be, running around in a process that is none. This shows up in the division into more parties, also because of issue complexity.

 Here are some points about getting the peace process unstuck:

[1.] Get out of the verticality and the limitation to two parties (fatal in Israel-Palestine and Sri Lanka) into multi-party, multi-channel and horizontal dialogues. Issues my be related and better served by round table dialogues all over the country.

[2.] Ask the people for advice, for instance by essay contests in schools and dialogues all over on “The Republic of the Philippines I would like to live in” , aiming at creativity, not consensus.

[3.] Aim at compelling images of future solutions, not only verbal agreements drawing on the Spanish-Roman Law tradition.

[4.] Let hundreds of peace zones, social experiments in equity and harmony etc blossom, gain experience, public and inspiring, more drawing on US style pragmatism. Mas hechos, menos  pactos.

[5.] The Government should be unpackaged, placing arguments on the table for open dialogue, including the arguments of certain foreign powers, not as backdoor politics.

[6.] The class struggle parties, while keeping the governmental channel open, start exploring with other parties, for instance

  • openings for middle men who may be  losers under marketing from cooperatives to consumers, for fair prices to the producers;
  • the Millennium Development Goals, MDG, are basic needs oriented, aiming at lifting the bottom up—but it should be remembered that the issue is not only to take away poverty but also injustice.
  • those high up who feel threatened that if those lower down come up “ they will treat us like we treated them” to design non-threatening social and economic strategies;
  • fair distribution keys for the proceeds from mining and minerals between local communities, regions and the state (cfr Art 1 of the Human Rights Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights).

[7.] The nation struggle parties, while keeping the governmental channel open, start exploring

* directly with the Christians—with whom the Moros will continue to live together–equitable and sustainable forms of co-existence like above as examples, in no way an exhaustive list.

** economic cooperation, such as joint enterprises;

**military cooperation, such as joint patrolling-peacekeeping;

**cultural cooperation, such as ecumenical work, mutual religious learning, joint worship, joint religious texts acceptable to both, revised history books acceptable to both, and- or leaving contentious issues to the judgment of the readers;

 **  political cooperation, such as joint decision-making in neighboring autonomies, subsidiarity and the varieties of federal options combined with sharing power in the Center;

* with groups in Indonesia for a possible formal or informal Indo- Fil condominium over islands between the two countries;

* with ASEAN (5 Buddhist, 3 Muslim, 1 Confucian and 1 Catholic member) for observer status and aseanization of some of the issues;

* with  OIC (56 members) for associate membership;

* with former sultanates from Aceh-Pattani to Mindanao for ways of blowing new life into a historically important archipelago.

* with all of the above formal or informal consulates representing the bangsamoro, not embassies, that is for the State.

And all of the above in the Islamic dar-al-ahd tradition, not dividing the world in a dar-al-harb and dar-al-Islam only.

And  all of the above in the gandhian spirit of being the future you want to see, not only waiting for an agreement to give a legally binding shape, with very many if often very small steps.

And keeping in mind that along the road traveled so far there are traumatized masses, including the displaced persons, downtrodden minorities and others – in  need of the consolation of reconciliation and the inclusion religion offers so much better than scientific rationality—learning from the Australian model.

And upholding the dignity of each person created in the image of God who deems the peacemakers blessed as they reflect His character.

(Johan Galtung, 13 February 2009)



Government needs political negotiators in Talks with MILF

Upon the invitation of the British Embassy in Manila, International Alert and AIM, I listened to Rt. Hon. Paul Murphy, former Secretary of State for Wales and Northern Ireland, share his experiences and thoughts on “Post-settlement and Powersharing in Divided Societies: The Experience of Northern Ireland and Insights for Mindanao and the Philippines” at the Asian Institute of Management.

Paul Murphy shared a lot of interesting insights that could trigger our thinking on the Mindanao peace process. One of these is that the negotiators must have the trust and confidence of the real stakeholders. Fact is that in the Northern Ireland case the negotiators were elected. Now, that seems to be an interesting idea.

Of course, we cannot have “elected” negotiators representing the Filipino people but the core idea is that those negotiating must have the mandate, the trust and the confidence of the real stakeholders. There must be no doubt on the part of the people that those who are negotiating in their behalf are people who would have to live with the consequences. The negotiators must be THEIR negotiators. The negotiators must be of their own.

One of the problems of the peace negotiations between the MILF and the Philippine Government (and this applies not just the present but also to the past negotiations as well) is that the negotiators are mostly non-stakeholders in the real sense of the word, i.e. they will not have to live or be affected directly by the consequences of their actions.

We take for granted this essential element of trust and confidence of stakeholders in their negotiators. The legal logic is that since the President has the mandate of the people, therefore his appointed negotiators and peace advisers, by extension, have this mandate as well. Logical in theory but not true in reality. They may have the mandate of the President but they do not necessarily have the mandate of the people.

As I see it, the people in Mindanao do not trust Manila and its negotiators to negotiate in their best interest. They are wary of Manila and its negotiators because, while clearly they want to do good and solve the problem, they are, on the whole, disastrously naïve. Having not lived in Mindanao, they do not understand the problems, the hopes and the fears of the real stakeholders. These Manila negotiators would have to rely on a bevy of consultants and third parties to give them a sense of the situation and the probable solutions. They do not have a constituency to back them up. They would have to rely on others, especially the President, to back them up. These Manila negotiators have no capacity to mobilize political support for any agreement. While the people in Mindanao respect the prerogative of the President to appoint his negotiators, the people in Mindanao seriously doubt their capacity to understand the problem. For them, the actions of Manila negotiators will lead to more harm than good because their perspective would largely be academic, second hand and disconnected from Mindanao’s complex reality.

While finding a durable solution for peace in Mindanao is national concern and therefore, must involve the whole country, it is first and foremost a problem of the people of Mindanao (and not even of the whole of Mindanao at that but to the people in the ARMM, in North Cotabato, in South Cotabato, in Lanao del Norte, in Iligan City, in Zamboanga City.) The rest of the country (Luzon, Visayas, and christian Mindanao) has a weak attachment to the issues on the table. They do not really care. While they support a vague view of “peace and harmony” and thus would attend peace concerts, do peace art or wear peace baller bands, their lives are not directly affected by whether the negotiations succeed or fail, whether hostilities erupt or not, whether there are a million of internally displaced persons or only a few thousands.

In the next round of negotiations, the President may consider appointing as negotiators people who clearly have the trust and confidence of the non-Moros of Mindanao (and not just a general mandate by legal extension). Thus, the President may consider appointing as government negotiators MinDA Chair Lu Antonino or even her daughter, Gensan Mayor Darlene Antonino Custodio, former South Cotabato Governor Daisy Avance Fuentes, North Cotabato Governor Lala Talino, former North Cotabato Governor Manny Pinol, Iligan City Mayor Lawrence Cruz, Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat and Zamboanga City Representative Beng Climaco. Perhaps the President can also consider a high cabinet official to lead the talks, somebody in the stature and caliber of a Mar Roxas or even Vice President Jejomar Binay, who both clearly have the trust and confidence of the President and the non-Moros of Mindanao.

If any of these persons are appointed as negotiators, I am sure that, while the negotiations may be hard and difficult, it will have movement and traction and that any future agreement hammered will have less possibility of being brought to the Supreme Court. The non-Moros of Mindanao consider these people – Binay, Roxas, Antonino, Fuentes, Talino, Pinol, Cruz, and Lobregat – as their champions. From their point of view, these champions are not naïve, understand their hopes and fears and, more importantly, is one of them. xxx

Implications of Kumander Kato

The recent decision of the MILF to declare Ameril Omra Kato and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) as not part of the MILF is an interesting development in the conflict in Mindanao. The obvious immediate implication is that Commander Kato, the BIFM/BIFF are not anymore covered by the ceasefire agreement between the MILF and the Government. What Government will do now that it has been officially informed that Kumander Kato and the BIFF/BIFM are not part of the MILF is going to interesting. Will they serve the warrants of arrest issued about the actions done in 2008? Will they launch offensives against the BIFF/BIFM now that they can be considered an armed insurgent group outside the peace process? The MILF’s response will also be crucial. Will they now partner with the Government to arrest Kato? Will there be joint operations between the MILF and GPH against Kato under the mechanism of the AHJAG? The issues may be clear on paper but they are more complex on the ground.

Some other implications are:

Pushes the MILF not settle for anything less than substantial. The MILF will be now be wary more than ever in accepting Government’s “doable” offers. My sense is that if pushed to the wall, i.e. Government insisting a hardline position on their “3+1” solution, MILF would rather put the negotiations on “hold” (not break the talks but let it drift) and wait for the next panel or next administration rather than sign an agreement. This is clearly logical because a weak agreement will “delegitimize” them in the eyes of the Bangsamoro people and consequently, will legitimize Kato and the BIFF/BIFM by proving that they are correct in viewing the negotiations as not bearing fruit. If the Government and the MILF sign a “non-responsive” agreement, i.e. a fruit of “let’s-do-what-is-doable” attitude rather than real problem solving, Commander Kato’s movement will gather strength and more adherents.

Places independence back on the table. As far as Government is concerned, one of the clear gains of the peace process (from the MNLF to MILF) has been to contain the negotiations within the limits of territorial integrity and one Philippine country. Philippine Government has failed to see and seize on this opportunity. Now, Kumander Kato and the BIFM/BIFF place back the option of independence as a viable solution to the problems of the Bangsamoro.

Offers a wider range of options. While the development can be seen as a “split” and therefore a weakening of the MILF as an organization, the development can also be seen as further refinements of options within a continuum. There are now five (5) options available to those seeking a resolution of the Bangsamoro problem: Autonomy (Government), Autonomy (MNLF), Substate (MILF), Independence (BIFM) and Islamic State (Abu Sayyaf Group).

Is this a trend? An interesting idea would be whether this development will become a trend. Is the trend towards the splitting of big and centralized formations with clear command structure and leadership into small, multiple, leaderless, autonomous armed organizations? The thesis is that the frustration and fatigue over the failure of the formal peace process to come up with durable solutions will push super-empowered individuals and small tight groups to take on a more aggressive (perhaps more violent) means of action. Right now, there are at least 4 groups advocating the Moro cause vis-a-vis the Philippine State: MNLF, MILF, BIFM, and ASG. If this trend continues, there will be no one to talk to even if we wanted to talk. And the solution most probably, if you can call it that, would be perpetual