The Last From The First

Legacies from a Mindanawon President

Riding on the campaign slogan, “Change is coming!” the election of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (PRRD) in 2016 was a first of many things. He is the first president who catapulted from being a local chief executive to the presidency. He brought with him a track record of 21 years of service as mayor of Davao City. He is also the first septuagenarian president assuming office at 71 years old making him the oldest elected president in history. But more importantly, Duterte was the first Mindanawon to be elected as the 16th president of the Republic of the Philippines, following the roster of three  presidents from the Visayas and twelve from Luzon.

Now that he is about to deliver his last State of the Nation Address (SONA) as he completes his term, the question must be raised:  what has he done for Mindanao? With this, a parallel question: what can still be done for Mindanao in the remaining months of his presidency?

Perhaps for Mindanawons, his greatest legacy is the political settlement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which led to the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) when PRRD signed Republic Act 11054 into law last July 28, 2018.  At the helm of the offensive for peace in BARMM is the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA). As they begin the important task of securing peace for Mindanao, the complexity of setting up the BARMM government with the end view of building the bureaucracy, institutionalizing moral governance, hiring personnel, legislating priority codes and delivering public goods, can only be regarded as daunting and challenging. The legislated three-year transition was too short, especially with the unprecedented mayhem of the COVID19 pandemic.

Underscoring the utmost importance of securing the Bangsamoro dream to come to fruition and ensure that its long-fought-for self-governance not be weakened by haste and swiftness, the President must urge Congress to extend the BARMM transition period. Hence, as a Mindanawon president, PRRD should certify as urgent the bills in Congress seeking to amend the Bangsamoro Organic Law, specifically Section 13, Article XVI of RA 11054, extending the transition period to another three (3) years or until 2025.  Every Mindanawon in turn, must unceasingly safeguard the gains of this long-drawn peacebuilding work by continuously creating spaces of peace in their respective communities.

Peace however is not only about resolving armed conflicts. It also requires attention to the recuperation from the fragments of war. Four years since the hostilities ceased, 25,355 displaced families still live in shelters and have not yet returned to their residences in Marawi. Sums of donated money amounting to as much as P3.56B have yet to be accounted for. People are still coping not only from the trauma of war but more so from the centuries-old narratives of Moro marginalization in Mindanao. The president must articulate a clear path of rehabilitation for Marawi after it was completely destroyed in the 2017 war. This may include the call to pass a sound Marawi Siege Victims Compensation Law.

There may be relative peace within BARMM, but Muslims outside the region continue to face persecution as they fall prey to senseless killings. To date, around 64 Moro locals in Tupi and Polomolok in South Cotabato have been recorded killed since early 2020 in what appears to be a systematic attack against the Muslim residents.  Alarmed, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) Parliament even issued Resolution No. 80, series of 2020 “expressing the deep concern over the series of killings of Moros outside BARMM community.”

A year has passed and the killings continue. This poses very serious implications for peace in Mindanao as this may trigger anew extremist sentiments sending back the Moros outside of BARMM to an armed resistance spoiling the gains of peace following the many decades of peacebuilding work in Mindanao. The need to arrest the killings, therefore, becomes an imperative of social justice. The president must order an immediate and impartial investigation on these killings in order to exact accountability from those behind these odious acts and serve justice upon the families of the victims. He must likewise order the full implementation of all civilian protection and peace monitoring mechanisms of the state by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and the GPH-MILF Peace Implementing Panel.

While strides were gained in the Bangsamoro peace process, its parallel effort involving the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) which has been stalled and its resumption still uncertain, must also be given due course. There may be many attempts in that past at achieving peace through dialogue and failed.  But the president must not tire of engaging peace stakeholders, even with the NDFP, in dialogue, especially as over time there had been a lot of othering, hating, killing and damning one another for all eternity as the once shimmering goals pale and against the endlessness of it all. A genuine legacy of enduring peace in Mindanao necessitates the reopening of the talks and the eventual political settlement of the GRP-NDFP negotiations.

One essential ingredient to a possible resumption of the peace talks is political will, which logically flows from the firm resolve of the president.  But it is conceded that such political will comes with a substantial commitment to building trust. Trust that is based on sincerity, transparency and desire for the common good.  The Mindanawons believe that the road to peace is littered with so many trials and tribulations. It is long and arduous. Notwithstanding, it is not impossible. Like Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar Ahmed Al Tayeb through the Document on Human Fraternity, PRRD must wholly accept that “the culture of dialogue as [should be] the path, collaboration as [should be] the code of conduct, and mutual understanding as [should be] the method and standard.

The tapestry of Mindanao identities would not be complete without looking at the plight of the indigenous peoples. For decades now, the lumad of Mindanao have always been victims of second order minoritization, that is, they are both a national and a regional minority, excluded from the rewards of development.

Among the growing concerns besetting the indigenous peoples of Mindanao are (1) the fear brought by the NCIP Resolution (No.08-009-2021 s. 2021), which denounced the use of the term “Lumad” for its alleged association with the CPP-NPA-NDFP (CNN) increasing their insecurity and making them vulnerable to vilification, (2) the escalation of land conflicts inside the ancestral domains (ADs) due to overlapping claims of occupancy rights and proliferation of medium to high end projects that resulted to the changing landscapes of the ADS, (3) insecurities of the IPs in representation  and participation in the BARMM, and, (4) the threats posed by development aggression of extractive industries in the ancestral domains of the indigenous peoples.

Special attention must be given to the non-moro IPs within and in the adjacent communities of BARMM.  The setbacks they had to struggle with, in the defunct ARMM continue to persist in the newly formed BARMM.  While the bangsamoro have obtained their autonomy, the lumad have yet to find a genuine empowerment, albeit the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997. The lumad have the double disadvantage of asserting themselves from the standpoint of a minority within a minority, to obtain an autonomy within an autonomy.

This whole narrative represented the tale of at least two peoples of Mindanao. Both are victims of historical injustice yearning to correct the mistakes of the past through a legislative measure. Both are claiming to exercise their demand for a recognized autonomy within the bounds of their right to self determination as a people. Both have subscribed to their Filipino identity amidst the diversity of identities they espouse, with constitutionally guaranteed rights to their culture and traditions. Both are steadfastly defending their people and protecting their territories, albeit through different modalities. One has already won their cause 20 years ago through IPRA. The other has corrected a poorly governed entity called ARMM and has now transformed it into BARMM. But in the course of the latter’s assertion for a more genuine autonomy, the former’s identities and territories are threatened. Unless the assertions of the lumad are incorporated, the BBL might yet be another ARMM – a failed experiment. Hence, PRRD must ensure that the lumad will have their fair share of development.

But this development should not be pursued at the expense of the ancestral domains of the lumad in particular and the Mindanao environment in general.  President Duterte signed Executive Order No. 130 last April 14, 2021, which in effect lifts the moratorium on mining applications in the Philippines. To Mindanao, this was a kiss of death to the environment and what remains of its frontiers. Environmental plunder and disaster are now forthcoming with the last breaths of Mother Earth enduring only until its premature demise.

The president must revoke EO 130. If genuine development is to be pursued through mineral extraction, the president must call for the passage of the Alternative Minerals Management Bill and the proposed National Land Use Act that have been pending in congress for years now.  Large scale mining is killing the country. Its appropriateness does not sit well in an island ecosystem and an archipelagic state like the Philippines.

Echoing the words of then DENR Secretary Gina Lopez: “we cannot build the economy of the country on the suffering of the Filipino people and the destruction of the environment.” Truly, we cannot build the future of our country on abetting the plunder of private investors and foreigners at the expense of the Filipino people and of Mother Earth.

Even more aggressively, the president sent his emissaries through the DENR to meet with the leaders of the local government of South Cotabato last July 2.  In that meeting, a marching order was given to see the full operation of SMI Gold Copper Project in Tampakan within the next two years.

SMI Tampakan covers 4 provincial boundaries, the headwaters of six (6) catchments and 2 major river systems. The final mining area (FMA) covers 9,605 hectares of land covering 4 different municipalities in Davao Del Sur (Kiblawan), Sultan Kudarat (Columbio), Sarangani (Malungon) and South Cotabato (Tampakan). Given the natural resource it provides, Tampakan does not only belong to South Cotabato. It belongs to Mindanao.

This simply means one thing – our shared home is in peril of destruction and the only thing that stands in the way of SMI’s full operation is the Environment Code of the Province of South Cotabao, bearing section 22 that bans open-pit mining. Disturbing this ban would mean death of the watershed, food insecurity in the region, and injury to the traditions of the B’laans.

When President Duterte joined around 5,000 Mindanawons in the “2016 OYA Mindanao: The State of Mindanao Environment Day,” at the Ateneo de Davao University, he swore to destroy all “monster oligarchs” who have interests at plundering the country’s mineral resources through extraction.  He even promised to destroy their clutches only to protect the lands of Mindanao.  Five years since, he signs EO 130 – an act that belies his promise to protect Mindanao and the country from large-scale mining projects. Instead, he now feeds the voracious appetite of the neoliberal “monsters” he pledged to obliterate with the patrimony of the peoples of Mindanao he swore to protect. Towards this end, PRRD must keep his promise to protect Mindanao’s environment.

If indeed PRRD is from Mindanao and of Mindanao, his heart and soul must also be for Mindanao, primus inter pares. While this may be the last State of the Nation Address of the first Mindanawon President, he still has a year to heed the calls of the Mindanawons – Enduring Peace, Empowerment of Lumad and Environmental Protection. Otherwise, if these issues fall on deaf ears, it would be a disservice to his Mindanawon identity. If Mindanao is relegated into the peripheries again, then “change is coming” is nothing but a lip service!