Strategic advantages of peace in Mindanao

At Home & Abroad - by Jun Abad

Posted at Mar 27 2014 02:04 AM | Updated as of Mar 27 2014 10:05 AM

It is said that peace is its own reward. Nevertheless, I suppose there is nothing wrong with thinking beyond peace. So as we enter into a milestone agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), I could count at least three strategic gains that we could potentially realize from this achievement.

From internal to external defense

First, it will advance the process of redirecting the operational focus of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) from internal to external defense. The AFP will be able to devote greater time, attention and constitutional duty to being the protector of all Filipinos. It could commit whatever limited resources it has to the most important goal of securing Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity.

In that eventuality, the AFP will find a more supportive Filipino people. The AFP will have an opportunity to rebuild or strengthen its relations with the people. Unlike when it is doing its duty of fighting local revolutionary and secessionist movements, an AFP protecting the whole Filipino nation will not find itself in any unnecessary and uncomfortable defensive position. We must therefore continue to work and expand the peace process including with that of the National Democratic Front.

Indeed, instead of fighting each other, we should close ranks to define our common security and not allow some countries to bully us. We must expose moves aimed at dividing us and distracting our attention from building a strong, united, and developed nation. Some countries would like us to be unstable for their own advantage.

Economic and social development

Second, it could significantly promote peace and order situation in Mindanao, which is a fundamental condition for any economic and social development.

Mindanao accounts for more than one-third of the country’s total land area and one-fourth of the population. But it only contributes 14 percent of the country’s GDP. Almost 40 percent of Mindanao’s population live below the poverty line.

Time and time again, it has been proven that the space created by successful peace processes results in positive gains for concerned countries. This led the United Nations to create the Peacebuilding Commission precisely to seize opportunities for the international community to help enable post-conflict societies consolidate gains and prevent recurrence of conflict. According to the UN, nine out of the poorest ten countries in the world are in conflict situation or have experienced conflict within the past 20 years. There is definitely a nexus between peace and development.

The role of private sector is very crucial in the development of Mindanao. The Makati Business Club was among the first business groups that have already expressed support for the government’s peace agreement with MILF. Its members know Mindanao’s potential, particularly in the fields of agriculture, fisheries, and minerals. While it is sizeable by itself, Mindanao possesses even more strategic advantage by being within the contiguous zone of resource rich Borneo – the largest island in Asia and third in the world.

But as former U.S. General and Secretary of State Colin Powell likes to say, capital is a coward. It flees from conflict and unpredictability. It hides at any hint of threat. It goes where it is welcomed and allowed to gain and grow. The peace agreement must, therefore, result in day-to-day peace and order.

At the same time, for business and people’s opportunities to thrive, peace and order must be accompanied by good infrastructure, good governance, and good policy environment.

Relations with Muslim neighbors

Third, it will solidify our relations with our Muslim neighbors in the South, particularly, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei Darussalam individually, but also in ASEAN as a whole.

It is unrealistic to expect some of our Southeast Asian neighbors not to be sympathetic with their Muslims brothers in the Philippines, particularly when everyone could see the sad state of their economic and social conditions, not to mention injustice and prejudice.

The late O.D. Corpuz, in his classic "The Roots of the Filipino Nation," reminded us that where Spaniards were often beset by their fellow Christians during the colonial period - the Portuguese, Dutch and British - the Muslims of Maguindanao and Sulu were supported by Muslim sultans and royal datus of Ternate, Tidore and Borneo in their campaigns.

Genuine peace and development in Mindanao will make it easy for our neighbors to be objective in dealing with the Philippines on other regional issues of common concern. This is very crucial because some of them have similar problems like us, such as for instance the plight of migrant workers and the question of the West Philippine Sea. These are long-term issues that require us to partner with as many like-minded countries as possible.

Peace in Mindanao will enhance the Philippines’ standing not only in the region but also in the entire Islamic world. It will be a statement of our nation’s maturity and ability to live harmoniously together despite our diversity and even differences. It could open doors for the Philippines to participate in both inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations among those who profess Islamic faith and way of life in our own region and beyond.

Quality of peace

In the end, it is the quality of peace that truly matters. And the quality of peace depends greatly on the quality of peace agreement and its implementation. Peace in Muslim Mindanao means more to Filipinos in Mindanao. It is about the righting of history. It is about reconciling our diversity while pursuing mutually-agreed measures of self-determination. We should aim for an inclusive peace where everyone benefits and could pursue his or her potential and happiness.

We do not dare to second-guess the great Mahatma Gandhi when he said that peace is its own reward. But at times when the road to peace is not easy, we must work hard to ensure that peace is preserved by producing something good out of it for all concerned while, at the same time, building defenses against persistent threats and bullies at home and abroad.

Let us all embrace this historic opportunity. There is time for everything, including a time for war and a time for peace. Now is a time for peace.

Jun Abad is Senior Fellow of the Institute for Strategic and Development Studies (ISDS) in the Philippines and former director of the ASEAN Regional Forum Unit at the ASEAN Headquarters in Jakarta. He is the author of “The Philippines in Asean: Reflections from the Listening Room.” The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations of his affiliation.

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