Addressing the Gaps in Human Security Initiatives in Mindanao*
By: Atty. Zainudin S. Malang**
Thank you for inviting me to comment on the presentations in this session. Now, since I come from Mindanao, allow me to comment by correlating the presentations to some of my own observations on best practices and not-so-best practices in addressing gaps in community development and human security.
My first observation is the imperative of engaging local stakeholders in addressing these gaps. It is clear from earlier presentations that local stakeholders are not just important but even indispensable. The reason is that they have the most at stake, they are the ones most familiar with the situation on the ground, and therefore know more how to deal with it. Local stakeholders must be engaged not only in program implementation but, more importantly, they must be engaged from the very beginning – in program identification, design and conceptualization. The aid and donor community must always bear this in mind in their initiatives and programs. Mr. Hossain’s paper itself captures the essence of this approach and I quote:
“CDCs identify their own problems and challenges, formulate own strategies and development plans, and then manage, monitor, and implement all projects at the field level.”
In Mindanao, NGOs and civil society have repeatedly expressed concern that except in the program implementation stage, they have been relegated to passive roles by those who come from the outside and impose their brand of peace building.
My second observation is that any intervention or initiative to address human security gaps need to proceed from a well-rounded understanding of how those gaps arose and the environment in which the initiatives will be introduced. Conflict analysis and needs assessment are indispensable and necessary preliminary steps. A lack of or even flawed conflict analysis, prepared without adequate inputs from those primarily affected by human security gaps can lead to serious issues. This is particularly true with respect to gaps brought about by internal conflict where social-political divides, instead of being addressed, may manifest itself in the implementation of initiatives intended to address those very same gaps.
Case in point is the staffing pattern of aid agencies operating in Mindanao. Study after study have shown that the conflict was bred by social-economic-political marginalization of the minority in the hands of the majority. In fact, a UNDP commissioned opinion poll asking detailed questions among those who comprise the majority in the Philippines showed that almost half of the respondents showed a negative perception of the Moros in Mindanao, even to the extent of denying them employment for no other reason than they don’t belong to the majority. Presumably, this sentiment runs across the entire strata of Philippine society. And yet for decades, the staffing pattern of many agencies in Mindanao show a dearth of consultants and program managers with sufficient familiarity with the conflict, much less people who actually come from the conflict affected area. This deprives their programs of valuables inputs and local sensitivity. In one instance, a staff of a humanitarian aid agency told a group of IDPs to go back to the mountains and find some rootcrops if they wanted food. An official from another major funding agency also publicly questioned the logic of designing an assistance program tailor-made for the marginalized minority.
The other important understanding we must incorporate in addressing gaps is that of the socio-political environment in which a peace promoting initiative is being introduced. Is the conflict ongoing? Or is there a ceasefire? Has a peace agreement been signed? Is the peace agreement in the process of being implemented? Answers to these basic questions must be asked because the appropriateness and viability of programs depend on those answers. I have seen programs designed for a post-agreement situation in an area with unresolved conflict.
The third observation I would like to share is the need to periodically and earnestly re-evaluate not only programs but also the frameworks that inform them. What works and what doesn’t are questions the aid community must ask themselves repeatedly and, more importantly, actively seek candid answers from their target beneficiaries. I just came from 3 months in Aceh where I participated in a meta-analysis of past reintegration programs for former combatants for the purpose of identifying the gaps in those programs. In Mindanao, the latest human development index figures for the five Bangsamoro provinces show that they continue to be the lowest in the whole country even after decades of receiving peace and development funds.
Allow me now to share some positive developments in relation to that I have just raised.
The first positive development is that key actors from the aid and donor community have recognized the need to give greater role to groups coming from the conflict affected area. As Mr. Alim says in his presentation:
“There is now a growing recognition especially from the international community, of the important role that CSOs play in societal reconstruction.”
I notice that JICA, for instance, have directly engaged the Bangsamoro Development Agency which was established by agreement by both the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). They have also directly funded Moro NGOs. Previously, funding and assistance to communities were largely coursed through institutions where Moros did not have an effective voice. Other agencies have also followed suit. CIDA (through its LGSPA program), USAID (through its GEM program) and AusAid, have also undertaken a pro-active hiring of technocrats and professionals from the Moro communities. Even Asia Foundation, whose Philippine country chief is here with us, has adopted such an approach.
The second positive development I have observed is that those who are trying to raise the level of human security in Mindanao are now more aware that the success of economic interventions cannot be divorced from the larger political peace process. Last year there was a concerted effort by all the aid agencies to exert firm pressure on the government not to launch an all-out military offensive, recognizing that no peace and development assistance can possibly succeed where there is widespread fighting. The peace process in Mindanao spans 3 decades. That period is marked by numerous frustrations and false expectations. It was only when the international community has taken a more direct and active role that the peace negotiations has achieved substantial gains towards addressing the roots of the conflict. I am pleased to mention here that Japan is one of those countries that have made substantial contributions.
The last positive development is that there is more attention now to the human rights concerns of Moro communities. For years, no one wanted to touch this area because human rights cases were viewed as a political hot potato for aid agencies. But after being reminded by human rights advocates that human security also mean “freedom from fear”, more funding is now being devoted to human rights training.
However, let me emphasize that human rights assistance to Moro communities is still in its inception stage. Save for the Asia Foundation, there is still a reluctance to fund legal representation to indigents who are subjected to warrantless arrests, torture, and harassment. This should be the core of any human rights assistance and yet the bulk of the funding is given only to conferences and forums. If we are to encourage marginalized communities to pursue legal and peaceful avenues for the redress of their grievances instead of resorting to rebellion, we must give them the means to do so.
With this, I end my comment. Thank you again for inviting me.
* Delivered at the Tokyo International Peacebuilders Symposium 2008, U.N. House, Tokyo, March 24, 2008.
** Atty. Zainudin S. Malang is a Convenor of several civil society organizations. He is also a newspaper columnist and is frequently engaged as a resource speaker on the Mindanao Peace Process, human rights, and the political economy of the Mindanao conflict. Atty. Malang holds a degree Master of Laws from Kyushu University (Japan) and a Master in Regional Integration from Universidad Autonoma de Madrid (Spain). He recently completed an intensive 6-month joint peacebuilding program jointly administered by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United Nations Development Program.