Politics and Governance for Peace: Opportunities and Challenges from Sulu Perspective and Experience
Abdusakur M. Tan is the vice governor of Sulu. He delivered this statement in Zamboanga City on April 29, 2015 at the forum "Politics and Governance for Peace: Opportunities and Challenges" organized by IAG with PCID, LOGODEF and ZABIDA and supported by the Australian Government. The forum is part of the launch of Pro PolitiCS for Peace, a project that seeks to help shape a stable political environment in support of the Mindanao peace process. It engages political leaders in dialogue, capacity-building, researches and studies to enhance their informed and principled participation in the crafting and implementation of the roadmap and processes for sustainable peace and development in Mindanao. Visit the Pro PolitiCS for Peace website for more information.
Islam as the religion of the Muslims was derived from one of the most beautiful names of Allah, As-Salam. In the early days of Islam, Prophet Mohammad, Peace be upon Him, was met with stiff opposition from the unbelievers, ostracized and driven away from Makkah leaving behind even his birthright. In defense of the Truth of his Message, many lives were lost. Mao Zedong once wrote, “With the book on his left hand and the sword on his right, Mohammad conquered half of the world,” which inspired him of his treatise on theory and practice. Despite the numerous battles and the many wars that turned the desert red, Islam remained as the religion of Peace. It is not an irony but rather God’s wisdom. Peace is not in conquest but in the quest. Peace in the context of Islam is a perfect state, and therefore unattainable in this earthly life, for Perfection is an attribute of God alone.
I beg your indulgence on the urge to make that narrative if only to give another perspective to the peace we are very much preoccupied with, both in and out of this forum halls.
The current peace process is not something new, but only a rehash of a play with new set of actors. It has been stated many times that the peace process is a continuing process especially during the period after the 1996 Peace Agreement or the post-agreement phase saw strings of projects, foreign-funded initiatives for confidence-building efforts in support of that particular agreement. Along this premise, the peace process as a continuing process will not end with a peace agreement, but rather serve as an assuring mechanism to pick up the pieces when something breaks.
Peace is not something that is objectified, that is being searched like a solution to a mathematical problem. Peace, in the current context, should be a widely acceptable outcome of all the interplay of forces that ensures the wellbeing and security of the people. You do not run after peace. You make it happen. It is as much as saying that we do not give peace a chance but rather give ourselves the chance for peace.
I believe that I am speaking from the wisdom of experience having outlived the war of the 1970s between the MNLF and the government forces, and the peace agreement that followed. I will even outlive the ARMM, with the Grace and Mercy of Allah! But I can humbly claim that I know Sulu like the palm of my hand.
The peace process and the Provincial Government of Sulu
There are those who ventured into rectifying the perceived wrong or injustice on the Tausug and, to some extent, to the rest of the Muslim communities in the Philippines believing that what they have tried or are trying to accomplish is on the path of righteousness. They may have had their perception on how to set things right; yet the real burden of rebuilding from the destruction and the tragic consequences of wars and the mending of many shattered lives are laid heavily on the shoulders of those who have been directly affected and who are in the frontline – the very people who have suffered and many more still suffering and, we, in the local government units.
The resources spent and the efforts undertaken in implementing reconstruction and rebuilding initiatives could have been better utilized for education and for income and employment-generating ventures. It would be foolhardy then for anyone contemplating on taking reins of governance of the Tausug in total disregard of the indelible marks that history had so unkindly inflicted on the landscape and in the untold anguish in the consciousness of Sulu and its people.
I have said on many occasions that even if we saturate the entire province with so-called confidence-building projects and pour in foreign-assisted development initiatives with the end view of “correcting” the neglect and making up for whatever insufficiencies perceived to have been wrought upon the land and its people, they are not guarantees to attain peace that remains elusive until now.
Many institutions were put in place, the latest being the ARMM and another one is in the offing equipped with lofty ideals and good intentions. No doubt that this is another opportunity we cannot afford not to take and a challenge that requires determination, resolve and the political will to make it succeed from all stakeholders.
Speaking of good intentions, let me put on record the deepest appreciation of Sulu for the many organizations and foreign governments who registered their commitment to pour in projects and livelihood programs for the new entity in Mindanao, and Mindanao is captioned as the Land of Promise, with fertile lands and rich marine resources.
Again I beg your indulgence if I say we have seen and heard that before.
The 1996 Peace Agreement, the post-agreement phase and the creation of the ARMM are experiences that will serve as reference points in our assessment of the current process.
With regards to the aforementioned, the local governments of Sulu are seemingly holding back on lending their full support because of the uncertainties of what awaits them and their constituents with the imminent birth of a new regional entity, and understandably so. They were not privy to the deliberations of the framers and crafters of the documents that will define their future. But as stated in the Sulu Governor’s Solidarity Message, which yours truly delivered on the Governor’s behalf a while ago, this should not be misconstrued as opposition to the peace process. We cannot infuse reason to a mind that is dense with doubts.
Thinking back, the consultations and the public hearings on the subject at hand did not trickle down to every nook and corner of our province and were held only at a certain level and most times held in some venues of unreasonable distance from the very area that will be an integral part of the new entity.
But all is not lost! At least even only now at this crucial stage of the process, the executives of the island component provinces of the ARMM are jointly invited to speak and be heard at this forum. I take this not as a compliment but more of a recognition on the equally important roles Basilan, Tawi-tawi and Sulu play in the regional equation – that other half of the region which floats like shining jewels in the embrace of the historic Sulu Sea! And so we are emboldened to once again make our views be heard on this occasion – not to oppose the process, but to make sure that the peace that we all aspire for through the peace process shall be long-term and beneficial to all.
Perhaps the colonizers had a better appreciation of the realities in their engagement with the Muslims, particularly the American regime when it created the Department of Mindanao and Sulu, in emphasis of the distinctiveness of Sulu. But that Sulu referred to then was the Sulu Archipelago covering Zamboanga, Basilan, Tawi-tawi, Sulu, a part of Palawan up to Borneo, which shared common traits, character and experiences in centuries of defensive wars against the so-called foreign invaders.
Challenges and opportunities
Competency resides in the National Government for they are in control of the purse necessary to provide the infrastructures supportive of the projects and programs earmarked for the region. We will not err if we are on the side of practicality and common sense.
After the signing of the 1996 Peace Agreement, billboards and signages were plastered all over heralding the coming of glory days. The glorious euphoria fizzled out simply because the horse was placed before the cart.
Development is purposive in the sense that it is pursued on what the people feel, of the consciousness of their being. It grows out of how the people respond to their needs and aspirations. It comes from within and not imposed. Development is not a transplant of what is happening in other areas; and just like the human body, more often than not, there is the case of rejection. It is expressive of what people think and feel and not what they should think and feel.
In hindsight, Local Government Units of component provinces of the ARMM would have been in a better and participative position now if they have been allowed to use their mandates preparatory to the birth of the new entity, as the National Government’s conduits to put the necessary infrastructures in place.
Maybe we should seriously ponder if the region is ready and competent enough to implement projects in a proportion, for example, like the creation of a Halal economic zone when the proposed territory is bereft of infrastructures, technology and knowledgeable manpower. Are we bound to experience again the likes of BIMP-EAGA economic corridor which benefited more the non-ARMM entrepreneurs and areas simply because no ports in the region were equipped with the necessary facilities for such an undertaking?
Autonomy as exemplified by ARMM, is just another tier in a bureaucracy which the local government units tediously have to wriggle their way through only to find out that they have to repeat the same wriggling at national level where the final decision lays and then the process will again be repeated when matters from the central government will be passed down through the tier and finally arriving at the desk of the recipient unit, only after precious time has been wasted. The procedure does not augur well for efficiency. Bureaucracy has yet to find the shortest distance between two points.
I hope we can be spared ofthe agony of again going through years of transitory stage of putting in place the new mechanism and political order so demanded by the new reality while the rest of our countrymen are already advancing in their strides.
Questions for clarifications and enlightenment
Much has been said already of the perceived constitutional infirmities of the proposed BBL. We will leave that to Congress to address. All we want to say is – the lawmakers must make sure that the proposed law be in accordance with the fundamental law lest the High Court strikes it down and force us to start all over again. The need for peace in our region is urgent; we implore that the law must be crafted well and right to avoid any more delay.
Just the same, like many of us here, we have certain questions that need to be answered and clarified. Thus, can we be enlightened on the following:
1. The proposed creation of regional waters (Bangsamoro waters) at the expense of changing and slicing off the Sulu Sea and the attached historic reference to it;
2. The proposal to appoint a Wali as the titular head of the Bangsamoro government and the historical reference for such a position when the fact remains that Wali was never mentioned in the annals, at least as far as Sulu is concerned. In a parliamentary system, in the example of Malaysia, in a state, the Head of State is the Sultan, and the Head of Government is the Chief Minister;
3. Sulu is predominantly composed of the Tausug ethnic group. The other provinces of the ARMM are composed as well of other ethnic groups, each with its own strengths and unique characteristics. The Maranaos are predominant in Lanao del Sur, the Maguindanaons in Maguindanao, the Samals in Tawi-tawi, and the Yakans in Basilan. Should not the ethnic groups be adequately and fairly represented in the peace process rather than focus only on the Maranaos or the Maguindanaons? This way, other ethnic groups will not feel excluded. Exclusion could only fan future dissent from the excluded groups that could lead to recourse outside of the peace process. Should not the proposed BBL envision a region that unites the multi-ethnic groups? There can be unity in diversity;
4. Another cause of concern for the local government officials of the LGUs of the region is what powers and privileges shall remain with the constituent LGUs of the proposed Bangsamoro government? Under Section 7, Article VI of the proposed BBL, the authority to regulate the affairs of the LGUs is guaranteed only within the limits of the Basic Law. On the other hand, the privileges that the LGUs now enjoy maybe altered, modified or reformed by the Bangsamoro Parliament.
Even the shares of the constituent LGUs in the 75% share of the Bangsamoro government in the taxes, fees, and charges collected in their jurisdiction by the Central Government are to be determined by the Bangsamoro Parliament (Section 12, Article XII, BBL). The power of the Bangsamoro Parliament to alter, modify or fix could be exercised to unduly limit the privileges and, thus, defeat the principle of autonomy on the part of the constituent LGUs;
5. Another concern is: how are the governor, mayors and other local officials of the constituent LGUs be elected under the Bangsamoro Government? Even the relationship between the Bangsamoro Government and the constituent LGUs appears to be undefined in the proposed BBL;
6. Is the matter of the Philippines’ claim to Sabah not deserving attention of the BBL and the negotiators?
The Muslims are calling for fairness, not equality. If at this point in time they are judged as incapable to live up to the challenge of what contemporary life demands, it is not as simple as saying that they are indeed lacking in abilities to stand up in competition with the rest of the more advanced segment of the national polity. The bottom line is that they are late in the race on matters of education and competitive abilities as time and again the situations of conflict weighed them down in the process.
We in Sulu support the passage of a law that will restore our dignity as a people, honor the struggles of our forebears and guarantees the fact that Muslims are Filipinos, too.
Documents, like a peace agreement, where signatures attest to nothing else but the eagerness of leaders from both sides to leave a mark on history do not make peace. It is the appeasement of centuries of discontent which shall render more meaning to the word peace and perhaps bestow upon the troubled land its right to live in the humanity of what all the people of the word deserve.