(Author’s Note: Published in the December 2008 issue of the Bangsamoro Journal)

Development is not the way to peace. It never is. It will never in any way whatsoever build the foundations of lasting peace in Mindanao. The reason is simple. When development is introduced into a community without first tackling governance issues, then justice issues, and subsequently, peace issues, it would more often than not be perceived by those who are receiving it, or to the more aware as a pacification strategy or a “counter-insurgency’ approach by those doing the development interventions. Development as a “stand alone”, or as a first intervention to troubled areas, would be seen as something that would “fill up the stomachs and the pockets” of the people so that the injustices of the past would be forgotten.


But let us just say for the sake of argument that development is the way to peace. With a “despotic” government implementing poor policies and manned by a substantial number of over qualified yet incompetent personnel that struggle to be righteous and politically correct by employing a highly ineffective and culturally insensitive “top-down” approach, development would still remain unsustainable, or even worse, development interventions would never become a reality. There is red tape, corruption, myopic attitudes and wrong work ethics everywhere. There is a state of “unpeace” in the very halls of our national public institutions, where partisan politics is the order of the day and the usual dynamic is between the “power-seekers” and “power-keepers”.

Then on the ground, there are a lot of local government units (LGUs) that are either in a state of “poor-governance” or “no-governance” at all. You have local chief executives who do not hold office in the local government halls, but are most of the time in their posh mansions in urban centers such as Davao City, Iligan City, Cotabato City, General Santos City and Cagayan de Oro City, to name a few. Elected leaders who strongly, though narrow-mindedly, believe that the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) of the LGU is his/her personal pocket money, that the 20% Development Fund is for salaries and MOOE, and that external funding is for LGU projects that were originally identified under the 20% Development Fund. You see LGU buildings that are magnificently built but are practically empty, or used for the wrong purpose originally intended, or unused at all. You see LGUs that are, for all intents and purposes, barely functional or totally non-functional, or are operated by one-men-armies. Development interventions would never reach the people who are supposed to benefit from them.

Public participation in decision-making processes is a pathetic myth in these types of LGUs, because there is no government institution that the constituency or civil society sector can go to or engage with for such democratic purposes as partnership, cooperation and collaboration. There is, therefore, “unpeace” also in the halls of local government.

What adds insult to injury in this sorry scenario is the reality that international development interventions, whether coming from bilateral or multilateral arrangements, donor agencies, or international NGOs, by the mere fact of their continued push towards providing as much “development” to Mindanao as possible, turn a blind eye to these very glaring gaps in national and local government. It is as if they are condoning this unjust condition of “poor-governance” or “no-governance” to perpetuate. This is very un-peaceful indeed. Development can, therefore, have the devastating potential of “doing much harm” by promoting the cycles of structural violence and injustice if implemented half-heartedly.


Billions of pesos worth of Official Development Assistance (ODA) and development interventions has poured into Southern Philippines through the years, particularly after the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). But until now, twenty of the poorest provinces are still in Mindanao. Five of whom constitute the entire ARMM. Since the 1996 Final Peace Agreement, there has been no positive change in the plight of the Bangsamoro people. It has remained negative. The Bangsamoro are still the poorest in Mindanao. They still grow old the earliest and die the youngest. They still are the least educated. Some even say they have been “mis-educated”. They still are the most affected by human rights abuses and violations. And they still are the most adversely impacted by a war that they had not initiated nor had wanted in the first place. If the donors and international NGOs have seen this “Moro-Moro” before and had not done something about this, then shame on them. But if we allow this act of blatant disregard to continue, then shame on us.

What is more shameful to tell is that the Bangsamoro is literally sitting on a pot of gold. Its natural resources, both on land and under the sea is so rich that the Bangsamoro could live in “honor, dignity and prosperity” for many generations to come if they are only able to tap these to their own benefit. But they are not the ones tapping this “pot of gold”. It is the government that has the constitutional right to tap this, by virtue of the principles of “national sovereignty”, the “archipelagic principle” and the “one-nation policy”. That is, if one uses the “constitutional lens” and not the “historical lens”. There would have been no problem had the government given the Bangsamoro their rightful and equitable share of the produce. But out of the total amount of natural resources being tapped by government, 65% of which comes from the original Bangsamoro homeland of MINSUPALA, and less than 20% of that goes back and is shared among the Mindanawon – not only the Bangsamoro. Much of this produce is used primarily in Luzon and secondly in Visayas. And much of that is used – at a profit – by those with power, whether in government or in business. So, where is peace there?

That is the very reason why the Bangsamoro has “deputized” the MNLF and then the MILF to fight for their rights and welfare in an armed struggle against government, and then later mandated them to represent their interests in separate peace processes with government.


So, let us try to shift our seemingly obsolete paradigms on development and try this four-fold conceptual framework instead.

Let us first advocate for national, regional, provincial and local government structures to practice genuine and sincere governance and for other stakeholders to practice good governance in their respective spheres as well. Let us change the status quo that graduate and post graduate degrees, or pleasing personalities, or “guns, goons and gold” are requisites for public positions. Let us work towards establishing and operationalizing schemes or mechanisms that would require would-be-leaders to undergo the proper formation needed so that they would possess the values and attitudes that would make them more attuned to their constituency and less attuned to their political patrons and the desire to plunder public funds prior to their assumption to office. If we are successful, we will have started to make these structures practice genuine transparency, accountability and responsiveness to the needs and rights of the people.

However, it is a sad fact that a very miniscule percentage of the international community has allocations for projects on good governance, for transparency and accountability, or even for responsible public leadership. Most donor funds are allocated primarily for development projects, and secondarily for peace and human rights projects. If there actually are allocated funds for good governance projects, it would still be based on a process where such projects would be implemented by the same government unit in question. To use a metaphor, “the fruits (development aid) don’t roll down to drop in the bin, because the funnel (government) it passes through is riddled with holes.” So the cycle continues.

Second, after good governance, let us next advocate for human rights and justice. Such incidents as the massacre of seven civilians and one MNLF integree of the Philippine Army by elements of the Navy and Army in Ipil, Maimbung in Sulu, or the killing of a farm boy by a Marine detachment in Baas, Lamitan City should become taboos to government and would cease to be an oft denied common, convenient and necessary practice of government personnel, or dare I say as an “unfortunate collateral damage”.

If we are likewise successful in this endeavour, both national and local government structures and mechanisms and other stakeholders in society would genuinely uphold the virtue of justice and sincerely promote the basic civil and human rights of the common people. Of course, we do not need to wait for good governance practices to perpetuate first before we start advocating for human rights and justice, because it would take time. The second advocacy can begin while the first is still being propagated. But the concept framework here is that, for us to have an effective and sustainable promotion of human rights and justice – then peace and then development – we must first address governance as an indispensable priority and at the very least try to begin the process of transforming our government structures into becoming genuinely “pro-people”. Because government, and not civil society, is the permanent structure and is the duty-holder. Civil society only enters into the fray when, and only when, government is not doing anything, or is doing it wrong.

After good governance and human rights and justice, let us next advocate for genuine peace. Not just a peace that is the absence of war or the mere cessation of hostilities, or a peace that is based on money, as what many have wrongly believed. These are manifestations of negative peace and are, thus, very temporary and limited to surface appearances only. What is needed is a peace that is based on the first two issues of good governance and justice. It is more meaningful and is assured to be more lasting and more “pro-people” this way.

Rebuilding a peace in Mindanao that incorporates the complete historical aspect of the conflict and the injustices in Mindanao – the truth, in other words – has a much greater chance of becoming sustainable. By studying our 400-year history of conflict first and using this as basis of the government framework in order for it to attain its long eluded dream of attaining “NIC-hood” (Newly Industrialized Country) we get to accurately address the prevalent issues in our personal and relational life, as well as in the sub-systems and systems that we are part of today, which are perpetuating violence, biases, prejudice, cultural chauvinism, and all the other ingredients that make Mindanao a hell-hole. In lay man’s terms, we don’t rely purely on the doctorate degrees and the law degrees and the megalomaniacal personalities of those in power to plan the future for all. This damnable practice has been the biggest mistake of leaders since time immemorial. Instead, we actually ask the people what has been missing all this years and what still remains due to them as humans and as a people that duty-holders must give to them. And then we make government and the other state and non-state stakeholders really listen to all of these and make them sincerely act on these.

In this way, the majority Filipinos and the leaders of the Philippines would understand the reason why the Bangsamoro people have never considered themselves part of the greater Philippine body politic – because their sovereignty as a people and a nation is centuries older than the Philippine government. Older even than the Malolos Constitution, which is the “progenitor” of the present 1986 Constitution. As an example, interpreting documents such as the MOA-AD within the framework of the 1986 Constitution, and subsequently acting on such limited interpretations, can be considered as a blatant disrespect of that pre-colonial sovereignty by those in power.

In one episode of the Clinton Global Initiative hosted by the former US President Bill Clinton himself, HE Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said in so many words that the economy of the Philippines is healthy, and will continue to be healthy “with or without the peace process”. If we use a metaphor on this statement, it would be like picturing a fat Philippines with a cancerous lung. She may believe that the Philippines is healthy because she uses its being fat as an indicator of being healthy. But with the peace process in shambles (plus accusations of the insincerity of government and all that), the cancer has already become malignant. 600,000 civilians, almost all of whom are Bangsamoro, have been displaced. Prior to that, two million had been displaced, and prior to that, a 400-year long history of injustice, marginalization, disenfranchisement and displacement. Global crisis aside, can we now say that the Philippines is indeed healthy? Not by a long shot.


So, therefore, by using this paradigm, we thus make our vision for a just, peaceful and prosperous future more attainable. Also, mercy and reconciliation between parties-to-conflict, be it small or large, can easily be made at the latter part of a peace process if peace is worked out through this indispensable process.

When we will have started the process of perpetuating these three preconditions of good governance, human rights and justice, and finally, genuine peace, then and only then will development interventions can be more significant and lasting. Any development intervention that is utilized with utter disregard to the first three, and used as a sole point of entry to the communities, as was proven by so many precedents in the past, would more often than not end up as a waste. So many rice fields in Mindanao had been seeded and reseeded again from out of ODA, international aid, donor funds, and even government funds after a battle or after a war, only to be destroyed again and again by more battles and wars. How many health centers and other small scale infrastructure projects had been constructed in Mindanao using these funds, only to be damaged again by war? How many of them were built only to become white elephants because of the prevalent top-down mentality of overqualified but thoroughly incompetent bureaucrats, or if used, were relegated to the level of goat pens or evacuation centers? Finally, how many times have we given hope to the people, Filipino, Bangsamoro and Lumad, make them toil with a promise of a new tomorrow, only to rip it out from them again and again because of political necessities?

In conclusion, if development interventions will continue to be done in the same manner as it had been done since the past and up to the present, not even the most honest minded analyst would make any sense of it at all. One would now, therefore, invariably question the motives and reasons behind this “blind” downpour of development interventions in Mindanao. Are they indeed for the Mindanawon and the Bangsamoro, or are they for someone else?

(Tommy Pangcoga is the Training and Project Development Officer and a member of the Western Mindanao Cluster Team of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society, Inc. CBCS’ main office is in Cotabato City).