Sharing with you my short talk during the Mindanao Development Forum yesterday. I added the last portion on the state of Mindanao CSOs which I read after the open forum…
Mindanao Development Forum 2023 Peace, Governance and Institutions
18 May 2023, Davao City
Good afternoon everyone. I am Kaloy Manlupig, founder and president of Balay Mindanaw, a Mindanao-based, Mindanao-focused and Mindanawon-led NGO engaged in community-based and barangay-focused equity, development, humanitarian and peacebuilding work in Mindanao. I am also Chair of Kusog Mindanaw – one of the broadest multi-sectoral advocacy platform for Mindanao development and peace.
Thank you very much for inviting me to share with you some of my impressions, insights and some recommendations on the three subject matters.
On Peace: I will share with you my thoughts as a fulltime NGO peace worker. Balay Mindanaw has community-based peacebuilding teams in the Bangsamoro, Northern Mindanao and Caraga. Their basic mission is to help plant the seed of peace in areas that are directly threatened by violent conflicts. I was also involved in the GRP-RPMM Peace Process as the Independent Mediator with Balay Mindanaw as the Independent Secretariat which produced an agreement on the cessation of hostilities in 2005. I was also involved as a resource person in the GRP-NDF Talks. (Since Atty. Bennie has focused his reaction to the Bangsamoro/MILF concerns, I will dwell more on our experiences and insights in our work in areas affected by the communist issue).
Let we first focus on the fourth key message from the OPAPRU presentation which states: “The meaningful transformation of combatants, their families and communities, lies in its community-based, community-driven approach. Under this strategy, all members of the community, particularly local government units (LGUs) and the residents themselves, are part of the peacebuilding process.”
This is significant as it captures so many critical elements in peacebuilding. It puts emphasis on the centrality of people and community and LGU participation in conflict transformation. It also reminds us that the challenge of transforming violent conflicts does not end at resolving the vertical angle as the the horizontal aspect is equally (or even more) critical. It also attempts to translate into a strategy Pres. Marcos Jr.’s policy on addressing the roots of the conflict thru a whole of nation approach.
While there exists no formal peace negotiations between the Government and the NDF at the moment, we believe that the effort to search for and pursue a peaceful, just and lasting end to this violent conflict (with or without a formal peace process) must continue. One thing is quite clear to us: we must continue to help create spaces for genuine and inclusive dialogues for peace. Why? Because it is not for the national government to say that there is already peace. This has to be left to the people who live their lives daily in their respective families and communities.
Let me also add that interventions aimed at capacitating local communities, LGUs, the security sector and other stakeholders to analyze, understand conflicts, and find solutions to these have significantly helped in resolving and even preventing local violent conflicts. Peace education courses offered by various public and private agencies have to be sustained and enhanced. Balay Mindanaw has been conducting peace courses called OP Kors! for the past 22 years having graduated at least 3,000 military and police oficers. I believe this has modestly contributed to the formation and development of peacebuilders.
The presentation summary is the key first step in addressing the condition of the Indigenous Peoples: “In summary, we must acknowledge the challenges faced by indigenous peoples in Mindanao and emphasize the need for their active participation, cultural preservation, and empowerment in achieving peace, governance, and economic development. It highlights the importance of inclusive strategies, recognition of indigenous rights, and the integration of indigenous perspectives into policies and programs.”
I would like to avail of this space to talk briefly about carbon markets. In a nutshell, carbon markets are trading systems in which carbon credits are sold and bought. Companies or individuals can use carbon markets to compensate for their greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing carbon credits from entities that remove or reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
This could be a great opportunity for the IPs to sustainably manage their ancestral lands. Aside from offering prospects for huge incomes, it most importantly allows them to protect and preserve their ancestral lands.
However, this could be a threat as they might open them to exploitation by enterprising groups or individuals. Recently, we heard about the conflict in Sabah. I respectfully suggest that Government should be very careful in committing ancestral lands to this scheme. IPs need to be capacitated to be the main market player.
Balay Mindanaw has been working in partnership with barangay, municipal/city and provincial LGUs for the past 27 years. Our work with LGUs is based on the belief that Governance is not just government or government officials governing but also creating spaces for dynamic and constructive interaction between and among government, the private sector – business, CSOs, Church, academe, and most importantly, the communities. It presupposes acknowledgment of the multipolar power relations among each other.
Over the past 27 years, we have worked with around 350 barangays in 8 cities, 30 municipalities and 11 provinces. This is still not that significant considering that Mindanao has 10,084 barangays, 33 cities, 422 munipalities and 27 provinces.
Item number 2 in the Moving Forward Chapter particularly rings a bell to us. Transition towards full devolution entails an effective capacity development plan to lessen the disruption in the delivery of devolved basic services, in terms of additional personnel, competencies, and expertise to manage the delivery of various devolved functions and capacities in project preparation, procurement, and managing local public works. It also raises the importance of strengthening medium-term planning, investment programming, budgeting, and M&E to help balance the relationship between expenditure management and local development.
Through the years, we have seen how many of these LGUs struggled and succeeded in overcoming the multi-faceted challenges of local governance. Let me share with you for your consideration Some Basic Capacity Development Needs of LGUs: Participatory Development Planning – while a significant number of LGUs have embraced participatory approaches in planning, many still do not have access to the technology and service providers that could guide them in doing so. Thus, some stil resort to availing the services of consultants who actually do the formulation of development plans, annual investment plans, Peace and Order Public Safety Plans, and other mandated plans. There is thus a need to localize and trasfer these participatory technologies to the LGUs. There is a significant difference in the quality and relevance of plans formulated by the people themselves especially if we consider stakeholders sense of ownership of the plans.
We can find many success stories of LGUs setting up and strengthening effectively functioning mandated local mechanisms especially the local special bodies – the Local Development Councils, Local Health Boards, Local School Boards, and local POCs. There are also critical local bodies such as CADAC, Child Protection Councils and Council of Women. I suggest that we continue to be in the lookout for LGUs needing immediate assistance in this area of concern.
After presenting my reaction to the three presentations, please allow me to briefly share with you my insights on the CSOs work for development and peace in Mindanao.
Article 1, Section 23 of the 1987 Constitution states that the “State shall encourage non-governmental, community-based, sectoral organizations that promote the welfare of the nation.”
This is further asserted in Article XIII, Sections 15 and 16 that the State shall respect the role and rights of independent people’s organizations in the pursuit of their collective interests and aspirations and ensure their effective and reasonable participation at all levels of social, political and economic decision-making.
This participation was institutionalized so that socio-economic and political structures may be moved by the efforts of people together with the government. And through people’s organizations those who have no wealth or political influence can empower themselves.
By far, the most concrete expression of people’s participation in governance is the role played by the non-government organizations (NGOs) and people’s organizations (POs) in the so-called local special bodies, such as the local development council (LDC), which according to the Local Government Code, should be constituted from the barangay level up to the regional level. The LDC and lately, the peace and order councils have a crucial role: it formulates plans that would determine what development projects should be pursued and how these would be financed, among others, and how local conflicts are resolved.
Indeed, the CSO/NGO/PO community has contributed significantly to the empowerment and development of peoples and communities by creatively exploring the windows of opportunities offered by the gains of the People Power revolution and the 1987 Constitution.
It is also inportant to note that the CSOs’ advocacy for federalism has led to the formation of various initiatives that had become the leading federal movements even before the current administration declared it as a priority agenda.
CSOs’ peace advocacy has contributed modestly but significantly to the gains of the Bangsamoro struggle for self-determination. The Bangsamoro has won a significant major but incomplete victory. The Moro leaders have repeatedly declared that failure is not an option for BARMM. The CSOs must continue journeying with them so that the gains of this victory reach each and every Bangsamoro community.
There is a long menu of meaningful NGO work in BARMM – organizing for empowerment, transitional justice, camp transformation, peacebuilding, peace education, social enterprise, disaster preparedness and emergency response and many more. There are also real prospects for resources to support these engagements.
The GRP-NDF peace process remains in limbo. We were hoping that a just resolution and an end to the decades old conflict were already at hand. However, we continue to help create safe spaces for community peace conversations.
So how are the Mindanao CSOs today?
The threat or fear of being redtagged is among our biggest challenges. While we understand and respect government’s effort to secure the nation, we are quite concerned when paranoia becomes a kneejerk reaction. Securing a security clearance could be daunting for a small local NGO. We believe that the process can still be streamlined to be more applicant-friendly. We were finally granted our security clearance a few days ago. So we are now even more committed to principled engagement with government and other sectors thru the various partnership mechanisms like the development councils, peace and other councils from barangay to the region.
We also continue to face the Challenges to us Southern CSOs: By “southern CSOs” I refer not just to geography but also to the North-South power dynamics.
When I began as an NGO worker more than four decades ago, we would always write in our project proposals that we would eventually be self- sustaining and independent after a certain period of time. We believed then that this was important because this would give us the freedom to set our own agenda and priorities. Sadly, this remains a dream to many CSOs.
The Philippine political, economic and socio-cultural structures are still highly centralized, with most of the decisions made in the center.
The North-South and Center-Periphery Relationship is very real in the Philippines when we look at the relationship between Manila and the rest of the country.
All the Embassies are based in Manila, most international and national CSOs are based in Manila, an overwhelming majority of the international donor agencies have their HQs in Manila. And these agencies are most comfortable dealing with those who have annointed themselves to be the representatives of those who are in the periphery – the provinces and the local communities. Some of these individuals and groups have presented themselves as the gatekeepers, the clique that has a monopoly of understanding the problems and knowing the solutions.
Some International donor agencies deal with Manila-based national NGOs as contractors, and Local/provincial NGOs treated as subcontractors.
They prescribe the agenda – for humanitarian work, development work and human rights work.
Thus, the Manila-based national NGOs usually have the access to contacts, information, and resources. They usually get the funds, and treat the provincial groups as mere sub-contractors.
International and Manila-based agencies create PMOs that become additional layers and costs
And because these Manila-based agencies usually do not have local presence, they hire new staff for every new project, and create project management offices that only add to the bureaucratic layer and costs.
Prescribed menu of fundable projects discourages comprehensive approaches.
Because priorities are set by the international agencies and the Manila-based agencies, the local groups are reduced to being mere implementors of canned projects that are not that responsive to local realities.
Rigid system of monitoring discourages initiative, flexibility, relevance and creativity.
Most if not all the International agencies have their well-established systems – operations, financial and others. Corporate or business practices and systems have creeped even into the NGO/CSO systems in the name of professionalization and accountability. Most of these only serve to discourage innovation, flexibility and relevance.
There are however bright spots and inspiring cases.
We just have to continue pursuing not just our mission but also our advocacy for a better state of CSOs especially in Mindanao.
We must continually remind ourselves about respect for local initiatives and local knowledge. As local CSOs we must also work on building partnerships among equals.