BJE ‘Deal’: The US-Malaysia Face-Off
What forces have really been at work these past several years leading up to the TRO’d MoA-AD, a.k.a the deal that would carve out a ‘sovereignty-endowed’ Bangsamoro Juridical Entity bigger than even the present Autonomous Regon of Muslim Mindanao?
What is the US Institute for Peace (usip.org), the so-called Bangsamoro Development Agency, and a supposed $30-M grant offer for the peace process in Mindanao?
How has it come to pass that the Moro National Liberation Front is not party to the ‘BJE Deal’ while it is the sole Philippine group with full observer status in the Organization of Islamic Conference which recognition has been denied even to Manila?
This writer brings up these questions because a close examination of the USIP’s own web site reveals heretofore unknown maneuverings and ‘Mndanao peace process facilitation’ initiatives’ funded and shepderded by the semi-government federal think tank.
To its credit, the USIP has in its ranks apparently knowledgeable, and well-meaning Filipino scholars now based in New Uotk as senior research associates.
Also to its credit, the USIP has, in recent years, assidiously organized and coducted consultative forums with “non-government actors’ in the Mindanao peace process and worked hard at gaining a deep understanding of the ancestral domain issues and that various other factors that have hampered Mindanao peace and development.
But a particularly startling revelation is how Malaysia which has played a ‘mediator’s role in the secrecy-blanketed crafting of the MoA-AD is described in USIP documents as having “opposed” the USIP’s participation, along with a recitation of so-called “hurdles” in the ‘peace facilitation initiatives’
From the USIP web site:
- “The Malaysian government had served as host and facilitator of the GRP-MILF peace talks since 2001 and opposed an American presence at the negotiating table. Moros suspected USIP’s presence, motives, and relationship with the U.S. government. USIP, lacking a permanent base in Mindanao, also faced challenges in establishing strong channels of communication with the GRP, MILF, and civil society. Multiple changes in the composition of the GRP negotiating team, and divergent perspectives and agendas within the Moro leadership and communities further complicated the peace facilitation effort. At times, senior GRP officials’ lukewarm support for an equitable and effective peace agreement hampered the efforts of skilled and committed negotiators. Corruption and criminality among the Moros, exacerbated by centuries-old clan loyalties, created other hurdles.”
It is also revealed that“USIP introduced concepts and approaches that were useful to both government and MILF peace panels. It helped inform the Philippine population, and elites in Manila in particular, of issues underlying the conflict in Mindanao, while presenting potentially viable means of resolving them. The Institute’s efforts have added marginally to more balanced media coverage.”
“USIP funding supported the publication of policy papers, which were distributed to scholars, analysts, journalists, and policymakers. USIP also sponsored educational materials for use in Philippine schools.”
The papers in the USIP web site show really focused efforts to help find a solution to the Mindanao conflict, and to be fair, the initiatives, on their face, project sincerity and commitment.
But the conclusions and recommendations in the summary report of the USIP project reveal more facets:
“Problems And Prospects
What are the prospects for a successful resolution of ancestral domain and the likelihood of an effective political settlement? Prospects are dim to good. On the “dim” side of the equation are the following questions:
(1) WILL THE CEASEFIRE HOLD? Recent violent incidents between MILF and the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Mamasapano and the Butilan Marsh have punctured the year and a half old ceasefire. Although the ceasefire is not dead, it has been weakened. Add to this the ongoing skirmishes in Sulu between Misuari’s followers and the Abu Sayyaf, on one hand, and the Philippine military, on the other, and you get a real sense of the volatility of the situation. If the ceasefire breaks down, progress and goodwill on negotiating ancestral domain may be seriously impaired.
(2) WILL A DRIVER BE FOUND? “Who is in charge of this vehicle called the peace process? And why is it crucial to have a driver? At the tactical level: Will there be a real, permanent, empowered team on the GRP side that could pull off the job, including selling the merits of a settlement on ancestral domain to the Philippine congress, the Mindanao power brokers, the corporations, and so on? At the strategic level: Who will marshal public support for a Moro ancestral domain? Who will start and sustain a badly needed effort at national reconciliation—the inclusion of the Moro narrative into Philippine national history and the overcoming of deep-seated anti-Moro prejudice? In the GRP peace panel, there is some interest in precedents elsewhere where the ruling regime has apologized to its oppressed minority—for example, in New Zealand. An apology to the Moros from Manila would probably vitiate Moro resentment to a significant extent, but it is too much to hope for from the government.
(3) WHO WILL SHOW US THE MONEY? Who will fund the implementation of an ancestral domain agreement? What resources will be used to compensate parties whose interests may be compromised by concessions to the Moros on territory and resources? Who will fund the sustained training of Moro administrative professionals and a Moro technocratic cadre that can effectively manage and develop Moro ancestral domain?”
Although USAID is extensively engaged in developmental protests in Muslim Mindanao, the U.S. has made clear that terrorism is its primary interest. This is understandable, but shortsighted. There are other helpful measures that the U.S. should consider.
“Support the ceasefire. The ceasefire has been the single greatest success of the peace process, but it remains fragile. Monitoring mechanisms on the ground need to be bolstered with training, funds, and other support. As long as the ceasefire holds, the parties can keep negotiating thorny issues, and it is better for them to keep talking, even if it takes years. The problem is when shooting begins. Helping to support the ceasefire would be a relatively inexpensive endeavor for the U.S., but it could go a very long way in generating good will towards us, and enhancing our credibility on peace in Muslim Mindanao. Such good will and credibility could eventually enhance our interest in combating terrorism. We need good intelligence to be effective and people will talk to us only when we have earned their trust.
Make available to the parties the best available practices and lessons from other countries that have resolved issues similar to ancestral domain with their own minorities. The GRP and MILF, for example, have both expressed interest in the experiences of Northern Ireland, New Zealand with the Maoris, Sudan, and other countries.
Make a generous offer of post-agreement development assistance, more than the $30 million offered previously. It would not hurt now for us to work with the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA). It is a group run by competent individuals and they are focused on weeding out corruption early in the process of development training.”
The search for peace in the southern Philippines is surely going to be difficult still for years to come, but can Filipinos not be allowed to find solutions on their own absent foreign influence, particularly those whose economic interest in Philippine territory and mineral resources are self-serving.
The Mindanao and Moro saga do continue.