In Mindanao, there is growing social awareness of peace and its myriad dimensions, and of the cumulative outcome and positive impact of grassroots and middle-range peacebuilding strategies. Such awareness, however, has not led to development of a collective consciousness to support transformation of relationships at various levels. Nor have these efforts influenced national and other policymakers to make decisions in favour of peace, healing and reconciliation in Mindanao.
Collectively, grounded efforts have had an impact within grassroots communities and middle-level sectors, especially in conflict-affected areas. Case studies of these initiatives described by Rosalie Arcala Hall in 2015 show that some low-profile rido (vengeance killings) cases have been solved, and peace and order in former ‘hot spots’ in Central Mindanao have improved: largely through peace and governance interventions of locally organised NGOs alongside hybrid conflict resolution mechanisms.
The impact seems to have stopped at local communities and specific social sectors; such efforts have not, for example, created a peace constituency among the larger Philippines population. There is still a lack of understanding of the root causes of conflicts in Mindanao, such as longstanding discrimination, human rights violations and land dispossession, or of the effects of the violence and conflict on the Mindanao population.
A core issue is that the grounded and middle-range peacebuilding strategies did not have the strategic coherence to link the cumulative outcomes of diverse healing and reconciliation efforts. This required a strong, coordinated and strategic framework for elevating the issues and root causes of conflicts in Mindanao to the national consciousness, especially among legislators and executive levels in the Philippine bureaucracy.
The TJRC Listening Process provided several insights into why elevating the root causes of Mindanao’s conflicts to national consciousness is important. The narrative of social exclusion dominated the sharing of experiences and lived realities in the different Listening Process sessions, as participants expressed their sense of alienation. It concluded that legitimate grievances, historical injustice, human rights violations, and marginalisation through land dispossession are the consequences of three mutually reinforcing phenomena: (1) systemic violence by the state expressed in terms of political, socio-economic, and cultural exclusion and in the disproportionate use of direct violence; (2) a pervasive culture of impunity that undermines the practice of the rule of law; (3) deep neglect by the state combined with the lack of vision for the common good.
In particular, the government has marginalised local histories and narratives of the diverse Mindanao ethno-linguistic groups, especially their struggles against both colonial masters and oppressive national policies and structures.
The education system also has a largely Christian perspective. For instance, class schedules only consider the holy day for Christians (Sunday), without recognising that for Muslims, Friday is the day of congregational prayer in the mosque. School calendars are also timed to coincide with Christian-based holidays such as Christmas and New Year, which Muslims do not celebrate. The curriculum of almost all higher educational institutions does not include the history of Mindanao and Sulu. This omission reflects the national government’s Christian bias and its focus on Luzon, the largest most populous island in the Philippines and location of the capital, Manila.
Most troubling is the imposition of a ‘homogenous’ Filipino identity and Philippine state on people with diverse Bangsamoro ethnic identities, who see themselves as pre-existing nations and whose core characteristics and values revolve around Islam. For many in Mindanao, Islam is a total way of life and its precepts do not separate the religious from the political and social realms. In contrast, the Philippine state, forged largely through the efforts of Luzon-based ‘nationalist’ struggles, is quite explicit in its doctrine of the separation of Church and State.
There is also the challenge of where to draw the line between historical injustices and legitimate grievances. If you wear the hijab and apply for a job in the Philippines today, for example, there is a high chance you will not get it, since the majority Christian society frequently finds traditional Muslim clothing unacceptable. Should such issues, then, be treated by the authorities as requiring active state intervention?
Politically too, the Bangsamoro have been marginalised, despite the establishment of an autonomous regional government in Muslim-dominated Mindanao provinces in 1989. Throughout its existence, the ARMM has never been truly autonomous. Past and present presidents interact with autonomous region leaders in a patron-client relationship, including different types of rent-seeking behaviour. Anointment by the sitting president is a guarantee of being elected governor, as shown in the past and present ARMM leadership.
An overall communications plan would help wider Filipino society understand the rationale for entering into a peace process with a group that was previously denounced, most recently as part of a global network of ‘terrorists’. There is a long history of prejudice and demonisation of Muslims. The Listening Process highlighted the need for a rewriting of histories from the Mindanao population’s perspective.
The TJRC recommends the creation of a National Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission on the Bangsamoro to oversee a National Dealing with the Past strategy and to develop specific initiatives related to historical memory, impunity, promotion of accountability and rule of law, address land dispossession and promote healing and reconciliation in the Bangsamoro.