CAGAYAN DE ORO City, July 18, 2011â€”The peace negotiations the government and various non-state armed groups are engaging in are only 50 percent of the solution to the Mindanao problem, a former lawmaker and veteran peace advocate said over the weekend.
â€œThe peace process is an important process but it may only represent 50 percent of the solution. The other 50 percent is how to demobilize Mindanaoâ€™s armed groups,â€ stressed Ariel C. Hernandez of Action Asia Leaders Forum during the Bishops, Governors and CSOs Conference on Conflict Transformation Towards Good Governance at the International Center for Peace (IC Peace) in Mindanao of the Balay Mindanaw Foundation, Inc. (BMFI) last Friday.
Hernandez, former congressman representing the party-list Anak Mindanao and an Eisenhower Fellow who studied the role of government agencies, non-government organizations and business groups in security sector reform, said that conflict transformation has two sidesâ€”formal peace process with rebel groups and the illegal firearms, armed groups and state-sponsored militia.
He lamented that â€œwhile the island region is poor and lacking in basic social services, it is flooded with weapons.â€
The former executive director of BMFI also said that based on conservative estimates of Philippine National Police, at least 80 percent of the more than 2 million illegal firearms all over the country are in Mindanao in the hands of state-sponsored militia, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front-Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (MILF-BIAF), Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peopleâ€™s Army (CPP-NPA) and private armies of big politicians.
â€œApart from the peace process, the biggest challenge of the governors, mayors, bishops, priests, civil society organizations, is how to make sure that these armed groups are creatively demobilized. No man in his right mind will surrender his firearm as long as there are threats. Not unless the security environment is very good, no one will really surrender his firearm,â€ he said.
Hernandez also lamented that this aspect of the so-called Mindanao conflict is not being discussed exhaustively.
â€œUnfortunately, in all discussions of the peace process, this aspect is not being discussed,â€ he said, adding that since the peace negotiations is only 50% of the solution and the other 50% is the disposition of these armed groups and firearms, this aspect should also be given equal importance by all stakeholders.
The government is now negotiating peace with the MILF and the National Democratic Front (NDF).
He cautioned that stakeholders must partner with the government in finding a solution to this situation because there are already indications that these armed groups have already converted into criminal groups and/or transformed into local terrorist groups.
The former co-chairperson of the Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) of Misamis Oriental also issued a warning that the Department of National Defenseâ€™s Balik-Baril Program is just being used by the armed groups to â€œupgradeâ€ their firearms.
Under the Balik Baril Program, those who surrender unlicensed firearms get P60,000 reward from government as capital to start a livelihood.
But Hernandez said that armed groups go around this program by surrendering old firearms and buy new ones using the money they get from the government. And it is this very situation that makes â€œour disarmament program a failure,â€ he added.
The proliferation of loose firearms contributes to make Mindanao so conflict-ridden that although the island is very rich in natural resources, â€œit continues to lag behind the rest of the Philippines in economic and social development.â€
The Philippine Human Development Report of 2008-2009 placed four Mindanao conflict-affected provinces as having the lowest life expectancy in the country â€” Tawi-tawi, Sulu, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur.
Also, people in seven Mindanao provinces â€” Saranggani, Maguindanao, Zamboanga del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi â€” have some of the lowest real per capita income and the lowest HDI in the Philippines.
â€œ[The] HDI levels of the provinces [are] not significantly different from those of Uganda, Nigeria and Senegal. The same provinces, except for Zamboanga del Norte, were also among the ten provinces with the lowest human poverty index, which captures deprivation beyond income poverty,â€ he added. (Bong D. Fabe)