Staying the course on the Mindanao peace process

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It has been 18 years since the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) started peace talks intended to end decades of violence in Mindanao that caused widespread poverty and suffering.

Seventeen months ago, the government and MILF signed a peace agreement aimed at creating a fully autonomous Muslim homeland, the Bangsamoro.

Today should be a period of renewed commitment to a better future. But as the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law—which would create the Bangsamoro—is debated in Congress, the focus of the peace process has naturally shifted to politics. The impending Presidential election next May has inevitably raised the political stakes further.

Yet, as the merits of the different versions of the Bangsamoro Bill are debated, it’s important to remember that the peace process is ultimately about communities at the grassroots , including children who have lost parents, families suffering in poverty that is double the national average, young people without jobs who find themselves lured into armed groups and lives of violence.

Every day, people in conflict-affected areas live with destroyed infrastructure and increased health problems linked to poverty. More than half of the students in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao never finish school.

In times of uncertainty, it’s always good to step back and reflect. At this crucial moment for the Philippines and its people, especially the poor and vulnerable of Mindanao, there is no alternative to peace.

Now is the time to lay the foundation for growth and development and overcome the enmity and distrust generated by prolonged conflict and neglect. Moving forward requires social progress–justice for all, more jobs, and improved governance and security.

In the case of the Bangsamoro, all parties must keep the focus on the ultimate goal of peace and development. Everyone needs to stay the course for peace and prosperity to take root.

A law that reflects the spirit and substance of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro would decommission MILF fighters on the ground and help them become peaceful and productive members of society. It would shift the political focus to sorely needed economic and social development.

Success can only happen with all parties demonstrating commitment to the common goal of sustainable development, based on an inclusive approach that generates trust between longtime foes, so they have confidence to work together.

Otherwise, the conflict will continue to scare off investments, hamper development and economic opportunities and worsen living conditions that breed continued social unrest. In addition, corruption that challenges governance throughout the country exacerbates the already significant development hurdles.

Sliding back toward violence now would undo the progress made in recent months and years as collateral benefits of the fledgling peace process. Last November, the Philippines Development Forum on the Bangsamoro discussed with President Benigno Aquino III, as well as other officials from the government and international community, how to ensure adequate resources for Bangsamoro self-governance.

The World Bank Group, including our private arm IFC, along with the country’s private sector and leaders of the MILF, are exploring how to contribute to the peace process through investment in infrastructure and human development, and sharing international best practices. Infrastructure development will be crucial, including building or repairing roads and bridges to help farmers get their goods to market, and improving the water supply and irrigation systems.

Such discussions are crucial for peace and development, regardless of the outcome of the legislative process. The World Bank Group is ready to support sustained, inclusive growth in Mindanao for the long run.  In particular, opportunities in the Bangsamoro region need to reflect the views and interests of all groups including Muslim citizens, as well as minority groups such as indigenous peoples and non-Moro settlers.

During my trip to Mindanao, I signed off on $1.3 million in World Bank funding through the multi-donor Mindanao Trust Fund to boost capacity-building for community organizations in conflict-affected areas of Mindanao and the Bangsamoro Development Agency. The Bank will also provide recommendations on job creation in an upcoming jobs report.

Creating peace is difficult and takes time, especially where poverty and conflict have become routine. In the Philippines, that means maintaining a commitment to the Bangsamoro peace agreement by all who desire a better future for the people of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and greater Mindanao.

We at the World Bank Group are committed to working with the Philippines and its people in this continuing search for peace and progress. We hope everyone will persevere, stay the course and push ahead to bring an end to conflict and give peace a chance.


Authors

Axel van Trotsenburg

World Bank’s Senior Managing Director (SMD)

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