The OPAPP Story: Three decades in pursuit of peace

Written by OPAPP.

ITS NAME IS LUMBERING AND PROSAIC: Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP); its location nondescript—several floors of a building dwarfed by the high-rises that now dot the Ortigas business center in Pasig City.
Sec. Deles welcomes former communist rebels to civilian life in Loreto, Agusan del Sur.
In the past year, it has been at the center of a firestorm, a consequence of its mandate to end two major insurgencies through negotiated settlements. And in the vortex of the firestorm is a woman who, with others like-minded, has sought to craft a new vocabulary of peace making which includes a peace lens that counts the cost and causes of conflict, and a gender lens to surface the dynamism of the roles of women in conflict: victim, survivor, advocate, negotiator, healer.
At the start of the Aquino presidency in 2010, the OPAPP was a house divided, caught in stasis, scrambling for creative approaches to peace.
The new Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (PAPP), Teresita Quintos Deles, came into the house with trepidation, but also with confidence and hope in the singular opportunity to reshape the narrative and discourse of peace that had heretofore been, at best in drift, at worst muddled and militaristic.
The past six years have netted OPAPP clear gains: the revival of three peace tables; the passage of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB); mainstreaming the concept of the Bangsamoro; bringing completion and “closure” to decades-old peace accords; developing a technology of winning the peace on the ground through Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA); and a work-in-progress: Gender and Development (GAD) and the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (NAP WPS). It also leaves OPAPP with a challenge: the lumad or indigenous peoples whose ancestral domain has been turned into a battlefield.
Early pre-OPAPP days
The narrative of armed conflict andpeace making in the country is now entering its fourth decade and OPAPP has helped steer that narrative in the last two. OPAPP’s back story begins, presciently, with two female protagonists: Cory Aquino and a nascent women-led peace movement.
A decade-and-a-half of martial rule starting in 1972 under Ferdinand Marcos left the economy in tatters and fueled two insurgencies: the Communist rebellion seeking to overthrow the socio-economic-political order, and the Muslim secessionist movement spearheaded by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
Cory Aquino, riding the crest of People Power, quickly moved to restore constitutional democracy. In one of her first official acts, she declared amnesty for political prisoners and offered the olive branch to the MNLF, the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front (CPP/NPA/NDF), and the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA), a breakaway group from the latter. The talks with the CPP/NPA/NDF and the MNLF faltered, but negotiations with the CPLA fared better, leading to the creation of the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) as an interim structure of regional self-governance.
To rebuild the momentum for peace, President Aquino appointed a peace commissioner whose office supported peace initiatives that included conflict resolution conferences, peace education and peace zones. The peace zones were an assertion of People Power on a smaller scale: entire communities demanding that their public and private spaces be violence-free, effectively banning the use and display of arms within their boundaries.
At the same time, the military’s counter-insurgency efforts intensified (particularly after the failure of talks with the CPP/NPA/NDF in 1987), bringing down the NPA’s armed strength from 25,800 regulars in 1988 to 11,900 by the end of Aquino’s term in 1992.
When Cory Aquino declared 1990-2000 as a decade for peace, sectors of civil society engaged in peace advocacy formed the National Peace Conference which took on a more defined structure during the term of Fidel Ramos. Ramos targeted economic development as his paramount goal, predicating this on peace and order and political stability, and making the “just, comprehensive and lasting resolution of the armed conflict a priority agenda” (Palm-Dalupan, 2000). Like his predecessor, Ramos sought reconciliation with the Left, endorsing the repeal of the Anti-Subversion law, initiating fresh talks with the CPP/NPA/NDF, and creating the National Unification Commission (NUC).
The NUC launched a comprehensive consultation process in 1993 that covered 90% of the provinces, and reached out to peace zone communities and armed rebel groups. Its final report became the basis for Executive Order 125 on “Defining the Approach and Administrative Structure for the Government’s Comprehensive Peace Efforts”. EO 125 created the OPAPP headed by a cabinet-level PAPP.
The Ramos administration launched fresh talks with the CPP/NPA/NDF, concluded Final Peace Agreement (FPA) with the MNLF, and opened talks and sealed a ceasefire agreement with the MILF. Several agreements were signed with the CPP/NPA/NDF, including the Hague Joint Declaration, the Bruekelen Joint Statement, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL). The Hague Declaration provides the basis for reopening talks and CARHRIHL is the first of four projected agreements that are to constitute a final peace settlement. Negotiations, in fits and starts, have invariably ended in a stalemate on various contentious issues.
The two-and-a-half year term of Joseph Estrada (1998-January 2001) followed by 10 years of the Arroyo regime were confusing and perilous times for the government’s peace initiatives. Estrada bulldozed his way through the peace process with a declaration of “all-out war” against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2000.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo immediately restored the ceasefire with the MILF but, in 2003, a military assault in Buliok in Central Mindanao’s marshlands initiated another round of violence and displacement. Peace talks—and the ceasefire—resumed, with Malaysia now serving as third-party facilitator on the invitation of government. However, the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) reached by the two parties in 2008 was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Smarting from the rebuff, two MILF rogue commanders attacked predominantly Christian settlements in northern Mindanao causing massive devastation and displacement. The peace table would reopen in the last remaining months of the Arroyo presidency, but this time also including the participation of the International Contact Group, composed of international state and non-state “friends of the process” invited by the two parties.
On the CPP/NPA/NDF front, at the end of Arroyo’s term, the peace negotiations was on a seven-year impasse in an increasingly militarist atmosphere ushering in the specter of impunity.
The second time around
How to straighten and revitalize a dysfunctional OPAPP? How to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of renewed fighting between the military and MILF forces and the broken down peace talks with the communists? This was not a task for the faint-hearted, but Deles had several things going for her.
For one, she had served briefly as OPAPP head in 2003 to 2005, her term cut short when she joined the collective resignation of ten cabinet members and heads of agencies over the issue of high-level electoral fraud. That first stint gave Deles an insider’s view of what ailed OPAPP (and the larger structures of which it was part) and what was needed to restore its integrity and function.
For another, Deles had built networks of support within civil society, the product of decades of activism and advocacy in the women’s, and later, the peace movements.
Third, the need for conceptual clarity was borne, in no small measure, out of her engagement in the women’s movement. Along with her feminist colleagues, she believed that gender could not be a mere afterthought in, or appendage to, government programs. Gender had to be mainstreamed in the bureaucracy and placed at the center of government thinking and practice.
By the same token, peace could not be a mere “add-on” or supplement to government’s business as usual. It could not be relegated to one small office whose only task was to prepare for, and undertake, negotiations with insurgent groups, with what happened before, or what would happen after, the talks of little or no concern to the peace office.
For Deles, peace, like gender, had to be a driving force in government, informing its vision of development and good governance, and infusing its programs and services on the ground.
Deles’ first term at OPAPP was marked by the crafting of a comprehensive peace plan that was mainstreamed in government, as Chapter 14 of the Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan: 2004-10.
House cleaning
As a returnee to OPAPP in 2010, the first order of the day was housecleaning, which meant reorganization not once, but several times, followed by stabilization, then consolidation.
OPAPP undersecretary and executive director Louie Montalbo who helped Deles in the post-Arroyo transition recalls coming upon a “damaged organization, people distrustful of each other”. After Deles’ resignation in 2005, Arroyo had appointed five heads of office (or PAPPs) in as many years; consequently there was no “continuity of leadership”, nor of programs and services. Not wanting to “get caught in a crossfire (of leadership change)”, the staff were on “survival mode… each unit operating independently of the other.” This was also true of the (negotiating) tables, where each table kept pretty much to itself. OPAPP, says Montalbo, “was not moving in the same direction.”
Returning to OPAPP in 2010, Deles’ “vision (of what OPAPP should be) was very much in place,” Montalbo says. President Aquino’s agenda included a just conclusion of all internal armed conflict during his term and Deles, from experience, saw the need to pursue “complementary tracks” to ending armed conflict.
Deles began by constituting full panels for renewed talks with the MILF and the CPP/NPA/NDF. Along with designated senior staff, she would assume responsibility for the other tables which were focused not on negotiating new political settlements but on completing the implementation of existing agreements. The MILF and the CPP/NPA/NDF constituted the two major insurgent groups in the country, the former with over 10,000 core combatants and the latter with over 4,000 armed regulars.
Two other tables were categorized as “closure” tables aimed at achieving the final disposition of arms and forces a decade or two after the signing of their peace agreements; and a third table was in an over-extended review process. The closure tables were with the CBA-CPLA in northern Luzon and the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa-Pilipinas/Revolutionary Proletarian Army/Alex Boncayao Brigade-Tabara Paduano Group (RPMP/RPA/ABB-TPG) primarily based in western Visayas. The third table consisted of the OIC-facilitated Tripartite Review Process (TRP) of the implementation of the GPH-MNLF 1996 FPA.
The MNLF table
Publicly announcing its existence in 1972 with university professor Nur Misuari as chair, the MNLF spearheaded the Muslim secessionist struggle against the dictatorship, its armed strength peaking to 30,000 according to sources, capable of engaging the military in large-scale warfare. In 1976, the MNLF signed the Tripoli Agreement with the Marcos government brokered by the Organization of the Islamic Conference or OIC (now Organization of Islamic Cooperation), which provided for autonomy in southern Philippines and a ceasefire.
The truce broke down in 1977, the year Hashim Salamat left the MNLF to form the MILF. The MNLF’s numbers declined and, by 1983, it had only 15,000 armed regulars. In 1996, Misuari reached a FPA, which constitutes the “full implementation of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement”, with the Ramos government. With the full backing of the national government, he was elected governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and concurrently appointed chair of the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development covering the original 13 provinces under the Tripoli Agreement. His term was generally marked by corruption and mismanagement. In 2001, following the passage of RA 9054 which amended the earlier organic act and expanded the area of coverage of the autonomous region, Misuari led a failed uprising against government and was eventually jailed. The MNLF further split into several factions.
In 2007, at the behest of the OIC, the GPH commenced the TRP, with the aim of identifying obstacles to, as well as modalities towards pushing, the full implementation of the 1996 Agreement. After the 4th Tripartite “ministerial” meeting in 2011 and two Ad Hoc High-Level meetings in 2011 and 2012, respectively, the government moved for the completion of the extended review process. In September, 2014, one week before the scheduled TRP meeting to discuss the GPH proposal, MNLF followers identified with Misuari attacked Zamboanga City leading to two-weeks of hostilities that claimed over 100 lives and displaced over 100,000 civilians. Finally, in January 2016, the government, the MNLF, and the OIC issued a joint communiqué marking the conclusion of the TRP eight years after it began. The joint communiqué identified four areas for implementation. Its most important provision centers on the forging of “common grounds” between the MILF, as the Party to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), and the MNLF, as the Party to the 1996 FPA, “to ensure that the gains of the 1996 FPA … are preserved and the CAB are fully implemented with the end goal of integrating the gains achieved in these peace agreements in the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL)” (OIC Resolution 2/42 P.3). The parties further assure “the vital role and participation of the MNLF” in the transitional authority to be set up under the BBL.
With the completion of the review process, the Tripartite Implementation Monitoring Committee (TIMC) will be set up before the end of the Aquino term. This will monitor the implementation of the specific commitments in the joint communiqué. Thus the way is paved for closer coordination, if not convergence, between the two main forces that have been in contention in leading the Bangsamoro struggle for self-determination for nearly four decades.
The GPH-MILF table
Starting talks afresh with the MILF was not easy following the debacle of the MOA-AD.
“Can we trust you?” the MILF asked government. The newly constituted government (GPH) panel, led by Dean Marvic Leonen of the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law, needed to maneuver an often tense and tenuous table. In August 2011, in what the MILF has termed a “grand gesture”, President Aquino broke protocol to personally meet with MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Narita, Japan. In September 2012, the panels signed the milestone Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB).
When Leonen accepted a second presidential appointment as associate justice of the Supreme Court, panel member Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, a UP professor, was appointed panel chair. Ferrer ably steered the GPH panel in its negotiations up to the signing of the CAB in 2014 and beyond. What helped keep the negotiations on course was a ceasefire agreement signed by both sides as early as 1997 which “held the peace when things were difficult on the table,” says Montalbo. With both the FAB and CAB signed, and the BBL awaiting legislative approval, the Bangsamoro train seemed unstoppable. But in fact it was.
A botched encounter between police commandos and MILF forces at Mamamsapano in January 2015 gravely, although not fatally, wounded the Bangsamoro peace process. It wasn’t immediately clear what happened and why the tragic loss of lives. Top police officials were less than forthcoming in Senate hearings and there were gaps in testimonies that allowed oppositors and unscrupulous politicians to derail the BBL and discredit the peace process.
However, both the GPH and MILF have worked to establish, and they continue to expand and strengthen these mechanisms to ensure that hard-won gains will not be reversed. Through a tight and often confusing run-up to the May national elections, OPAPP efforts persist to ensure that that the legal-political track to the full implementation of the CAB, inclusive of all major stakeholders, successfully crosses over to the next administration.
Multiple tables
Much attention has been given to the “multiple tables” or the robust architecture that has been set up to support the main negotiating table. Hence, the GPH-MILF joint Coordination Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) was established with additional support from an International Monitoring Team (IMT). The IMT is also charged with monitoring “humanitarian, rehabilitation, development and socio-economic aspects of signed agreements” and observance of International Humanitarian Law and respect for human rights. Another body, the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) is focused on the isolation and interdiction of all criminal syndicates … including so-called “lost commands operating in Mindanao.” The terms of both the IMT and AHJAG are renewed annually and have been extended until 2017.
The list of support bodies and mechanisms which have been set up by the panels includes the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission as part of the CAB annex on normalization and the Joint Task Forces on Camps Transformation (JTFCT) as part of the decommissioning process. A Third Party Monitoring Team, composed of local and foreign experts, has been put up and will function up to the signing by the parties of the prescribed Exit Agreement.
Yet another buttress for the GPH-MILF peace process is the peace constituency, which is most robust in Mindanao but also vocal in Metro Manila and elsewhere. This vital support encompasses academe, big business, the churches and interfaith bodies, and other civil society groups which, time and again, have rallied in numbers whenever the process is imperiled and spirits are flagging.
This wholistic approach to peace building and peacekeeping informs OPAPP’s vision of the peace process: aggregating the strength of many and holding fast in the face of political grandstanding, groundless recriminations, ugly mudslinging, bureaucratic indifference and generations-old biases coming to the fore.
High hopes attended the resumption of government peace talks with the CPP/NPA/NDF in 2011, after a seven-year impasse. The reconstituted GPH panel was headed by a human rights lawyer, Health Undersecretary Alexander Padilla, and its composition reflected a geographical, sectoral, as well as gender balance.
A December 2010 ceasefire, the longest Christmas ceasefire to date, and two informal talks augured well for the conduct of negotiations that sought to tackle three comprehensive agreements—on socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and the end of hostilities and disposition of forces—which, along with the already-concluded CARHRIHL would comprise the final peace agreement between the GPH and the CPP/NPA/NDF.
In the first formal peace talks in Oslo in February 2011, the GPH panel pressed for an accelerated timetable of negotiations to ensure there would be ample time for implementation after the conclusion of the Final Peace Agreement. The GPH panels engaged in a “side table” to address the release of alleged political offenders as well as the issue of safety and immunity guarantees that had derailed past negotiations. The main table was to focus on completing in the next 18 months negotiations on the three remaining agreements. Finally, the panels agreed to the release of the NDF’s detained “consultants” but subject to the verification detailed in the JASIG. Four months later, in June 2011, the verification process failed when the sealed envelopes that had been stored in a safety deposit box in a Netherlands bank contained no photographs of the NDF consultants who had been listed under their aliases, as prescribed by the JASIG, but rather old, encrypted diskettes which the NDF could not decrypt.
Given this bleak scenario amidst an escalating word war, rising violence on the ground, and an intractable framework for peace negotiations, the time seemed ripe for a different approach.
In 2011, CPP founder and NDF chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison proffered a special track (ST) to negotiations that would not be burdened with the usual conditionalities invoked by the NDF. By late 2012 after several discreet meetings, the parties agreed to carry out discussions on a joint declaration of national unity, a ceasefire, the creation of an advisory committee to recommend reforms, among others. But when both sides met in early 2013, the NDF did a turnaround and presented three draft agreements that would not only return the talks to the onerous framework of the regular track but even add more objectionable preconditions, such as the termination of government’s Conditional Cash Transfer program and PAMANA.
On the heels of the ST’s collapse, the GPH panel engaged in a series of “public conversations” nationwide to update peace constituencies and the public on the state of the peace talks and generate proposals on how to move forward. Drawn from insights gleaned from these consultations, along with lessons distilled from the experience of past GPH panels, a “new approach” was proposed to include the following components: talking to the right authority within the Party, agenda bound (doable) and time-bound engagement, and a ceasefire or measures lowering the level of violence on the ground. In the remaining months of this administration, the panel is focused on refining its recommendations to be able to turn over a peace table to the next administration that is less burdened by the rigidities of the past.
As early as 2014, the CPP/NPA/NDF has said that they were willing to wait for a new administration to resume negotiations. Notwithstanding singular efforts by the Third Party Facilitator, the Royal Norwegian Government, to revive the talks, they remain at a standstill.
The government has stood fast on principled negotiations based on good faith and a sincere desire to achieve peace. As long as the CPP/NPA/NDF holds on to the primacy of armed struggle, with the peace negotiations as subsidiary to it, the peace process will not go far. The repeated collapse of GPH-CPP/NPA/NDF peace talks under five presidencies in over three decades bears testament to this.
The CBA-CPLA table
The CPLA split from the NPA, constituting its first major splintering, in protest over the latter’s lack of respect for indigenous Cordillera culture and identity which was under grave threat from the martial law government’s plan to build the Chico River dam which would have extensively inundated portions of the Cordillera mountainous homeland, including forests, farmlands, and sacred grounds. Responding to President Cory Aquino’s early peace overtures, CPLA founder, the former priest Conrado Balweg, reached agreement with the government with the signing of a sipat or a ceasefire agreement in 1987.
With the signing of the sipat, the Cordillera elders signified a renewed pursuit of their aspirations, embodied in the autonomy ideal, under a political climate where they no longer saw the need for armed struggle. With the legislative process for autonomy aborted in two failed plebiscites, however, they have since engaged the government from one administration to the next seeking concessions and the completion of government’s commitments under the sipat. In time, the original group has splintered into factions. While it no longer fought government, its members continued to hold arms and follow a command structure which has lent itself to lawless and criminal undertakings.
The CBA-CPLA finally signed a Closure Agreement, entitled “Towards the CPLA’s Final Disposition of Arms and Forces and Its Transformation into a Potent Socio-Economic and Unarmed Force”, with the present Aquino government in July 2011, thereby constituting the first peace accord to be signed under this administration. With the understanding that a renewed autonomy track should be pursued with Congress and no longer on the peace table, the agreement includes the following components: the disposition of arms and forces; socio-economic reintegration; community development projects; and legacy documentation, all of which are meant to contribute to the CPLA’s transformation into an unarmed socio-economic force.
Under disposition of arms and forces, a total of 337 firearms have been turned over to the Philippine National Police (PNP) for safekeeping. These firearms are due for demilitarization and destruction in March 2016.
Under the socio-economic integration component, a total of 168 sons, daughters, and next-of-kin of the former CPLA members have been integrated into the regular force of the AFP.
Another 511 former members have been hired as Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) forest guards. The rest of the profiled CPLA members have organized themselves into people’s organizations availing of livelihood with capability-building support from Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Agriculture (DA), and the Offices of the Cordillera provincial governors.
Under community development projects, 62 out of 81 projects have been completed, with the remaining 11 projects ongoing. The former CPLA combatants have been organized and registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as the Cordillera Forum for Peace and Development (CFPD, Inc.). CFPD now sits in the Cordillera Administrative Region’s (CAR) Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC), representing civil society.
The legacy document has been completed and officially turned over to the CBA and the CFPD, Inc. As the only table that has completed the cycle of signing and implementing a peace agreement, the legacy document is an invaluable contribution to the peace process. It is also a necessary part of closure – to give due recognition to the crucial role the group has played in Cordillera’s proud history.
In December 2000, the RPMP/RPA/ABB-TPG, a splinter group of the NPA primarily based in Western Visayas, signed a peace agreement with the Estrada government one month before it was ousted from office. While the implementation of the agreement proceeded under the Arroyo administration, it remained unfinished business when the Aquino government assumed office ten years later, with the group still holding arms and operating as an army.
The GPH and the TPG have agreed on the elements of the closure agreement that the parties are targeting to be signed before the end of this administration. Similar to the GPH-CBA-CPLA Memorandum of Agreement, one major component is the disposition of arms and forces. The parties have agreed to a full and immediate disposition of the group’s weaponry, based on the results of the inventory of firearms, ammunition and explosives belonging to its profiled members. Accordingly, 556 firearms and 404 ammunition and explosives have been gathered from its members and will be turned over to the government for destruction upon the signing of the closure agreement.
With the turnover of its arms, the group commits to transform itself into a legal entity engaging in legitimate socio-economic and political activities. In this regard, the group has been organized as a cooperative and registered with SEC under the name Kapatiran. Its party list Abang Lingkod won a seat in the House of Representatives in the 2013 elections.
Community Peace Dividends (CPD) refer to 100 barangays, jointly identified by the TPG and government agencies, which will benefit from development interventions to reduce their vulnerability to armed groups and ensure that they experience the concrete, inclusive benefits of the Closure Agreement.
Upon the signing of the Closure Agreement, the government shall commence with the processing of alleged political offenders (APOs) towards providing them with the available and appropriate legal relief.
Since 2013, interagency technical working groups at the provincial level in Negros Occidental, Aklan, Negros Oriental and other affected areas have been undertaking preparatory work in anticipation of the eventual signing of the agreement. Since 2013, a total of 128 TPG members have been employed as forest guards by DENR, while another 55 have availed of livelihood opportunities under DENR’s National Greening Program with Kapatiran.
Members have also been provided support and assistance in the form of health insurance from PhilHealth and study grants from the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).
Tough as it is to win the war, winning the peace on the table, or on the ground, is even harder. And it is clear to OPAPP that when the table gets stuck, and especially when it stalls, winning the peace on the ground becomes all the more necessary. PAMANA, the Filipino word for legacy, is also is the acronym for Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan, which refers to peaceful and resilient communities. PAMANA is the Aquino government’s framework to bring peace and development to conflict-affected and conflict-vulnerable areas, many of which are remote and inaccessible.
OPAPP has envisioned a development program for conict-affected areas (CAAs), with specifications relativeto the status and requirements of the five peace tables. PAMANA is present in seven geographical zones that were chosen and prioritized to complement the ongoing peace processes. Using available government and other data, the total number of barangays to be covered was whittled down from 8,000 to 5,000, representing nearly 12% of the total 42,000 barangays nationwide.
PAMANA aims to reduce poverty, improve governance and empower communities. It draws together over a dozen government agencies to deliver social services such as health and education, infrastructure, and livelihood, including farming and fishing equipment. PAMANA agencies include the DA, DAR, DILG, DOE, DOH, DPWH, DTI, DSWD, CHED, NCIP, NEA, NIA, PhilHealth, and the ARMM Regional Government. Local governments are important partners in the implementation of PAMANA. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the PNP provide the necessary security support and sometimes AFP’s Engineering Brigade undertakes construction work in high-security areas. OPAPP exercises oversight over PAMANA and is tasked with training, providing guidelines, and monitoring and evaluation.
In 2011, its first year, PAMANA programs were pilot-tested: with ARMM-DSWD for shelter, DAR for agrarian reform, and local governments for sub-regional development. With its oversight function, OPAPP, by 2014, had visited all 5,000 PAMANA barangays. Under DSWD’s Community Development Driven (CDD) program, each barangay receives PhP300,000 annually for a period of three years to undertake a peace and development project of its own choice. According to Asec. Howard Cafugauan, CDD projects are designed to avoid “elite capture” with processes that involve a wide range of stakeholders. Training is also provided under DBM’s “bottom-up budgeting” or BUB which engages local stakeholders in the budgeting process.
Since PAMANA communities must contend with both poverty and confliict, the usual parameters and performance standards often do not apply to its projects. Government agencies would ordinarily steer clear of conflict areas because of security and related concerns. For instance, under its regular program, DPWH will not undertake infrastructure building in high-risk areas with no return on investment (ROI). But under PAMANA performance indicators are based on peace and security, not ROI. Thus “roads are built where no roads would have reached,” observes Cafugauan.
The Spanish funding agency for development, Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo (AECID), has provided support to train PAMANA-participating national agencies and local government units (LGUs) in confliict-sensitive planning and peace building processes. The way has been opened to mainstream the peace agenda, or install a “peace lens”, in the work of government across different agencies from the national to local levels. An evaluation of PAMANA will soon be undertaken by De La Salle University which will review national government projects for conflict sensitivity and peace promotion (CSPP).
PAMANA regional managers and coordinators are from the area and therefore have a strong sense of ownership. Two CARAGA regional staff members report that PAMANA projects are helping win back people’s trust in government which they perceive had long neglected them. As of December 2015, barangays in Butuan City and in Surigao City highly vulnerable to conflict have benefited from nearly 1,200 projects under DSWD’s CDD program: potable water, sustainable livelihood, farm development including rice mill and pre- and post-harvest facilities, provision of fishing equipment, etc.
Lumad communities used to view road projects negatively, associating them with the entry of mining firms. Community meetings were held to explain that the project belonged to the community, not the mayor. Thus the people had to learn to protect it. IPs have started to return to their AD especially with the entry of such PAMANA projects as delineation and titling of the AD, and construction of a tribal house. PAMANA has also helped resolve intra- and inter-tribal conflict.
PAMANA staff point to the technical working group (TWG) as a best practice because it pools the expertise of various agencies for smooth project implementation: DILG serves as fund manager; NCIP ensures observance of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC); DPWH ensures that roads are well built and completed; and the PNP-AFP provide security In high-risk areas.
Indeed, PAMANA projects pose extra risks to staff. For instance, a CARAGA area coordinator was with a group inspecting a reservoir intake box in Surigao del Sur when they were held by around 15 NPA members for three hours, given lectures (“gi-doktrinahan”), warned that PAMANA projects must stop, and threatened with death if they reported to the military.
Still the PAMANA workers persevere, saying that most PAMANA projects help unite and solidify the community. A water system, for instance, motivates residents to return to the village and community ownership encourages them to maintain and improve the facility by moving it from level 2 (tap stands) to level 3 (households).
Truly, barangay by barangay, PAMANA is living up to the promise of peaceful and resilient communities.
Like PAMANA, the Philippine NAP WPS is a “value added” to the OPAPP as it seeks to strengthen its mandate and practice of peace making in a variety of ways.
Where PAMANA is a means to mainstream a peace lens at various levels of governance and the communities they serve, the NAP WPS adds gender to the equation.
The Philippine NAP WPS was spurred, in the main, by United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1035 which focuses on the impact of armed conflict on women and girls, and seeks protection of their rights. A later resolution (UNSCR 1890) highlights the issue of sexual violence against women and girls in situations of armed conflict.
NAP WPS’ twin goals are (1) protection of women’s human rights in armed conflict and prevention of violations; and (2) participation and empowerment. Two support mechanisms are (1) promotion and mainstreaming; and (2) monitoring and evaluation.
The Philippines scores high in terms of participation of women in peace processes, formal and otherwise. Miriam Coronel Ferrer, head of the government panel negotiating with the MILF, signed the CAB. Few women, if any, can lay claim to the singular honor of signing a major peace accord. In OPAPP’s approach to peace processes, women make up a critical mass on center stage (as panel members) and behind the scenes (as heads and key members of secretariat, legal and technical staff, and the like).
In a sense, drawing up the NAP WPS was like fitting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Women are at the front, back and center of armed conflict in the country, yet they are mostly cast in passive roles of victims and survivors. That their roles as advocate, mediator and healer needed to be recognized, and that their special needs as women in situations of armed conflict needed to be addressed was one part of the puzzle. Another part were the legal and policy mandates for gender mainstreaming in government which moved slowly, unevenly through the decades. Yet another part was the fact that peace, like gender, needed to be mainstreamed within and outside government.
The NAP WPS is the pairing of the peace lens (or conflict sensitivity lens) with the gender lens for a clearer view of why armed conflict occurs, how armed conflict is sustained, who pays the costs of conflict, and what it takes to disarm the conflict.
The GAD fund, enshrined in Philippine law and policy, provides the wherewithal for NAP WPS programs in government. “Let GAD be NAP” sounds like facile sloganeering, but in fact it makes a lot of sense. On the one hand, all government offices— (National Government Agencies) NGAs and LGUs alike—are mandated to allocate at least 5% of their budgets for GAD activities that will make a difference in women’s lives. Yet the GAD fund has often been abused, misused or left unused.
On the other hand, taking on the agenda of peace and security for women on a national scale is no walk in the park. There are gender sensitivity sessions to be undertaken, gender planning to be done, gender monitoring to be formulated. And the concrete projects and programs emerging from all this comes with a bill of particulars.
Many excellent Philippine laws languish for lack of funds. Pairing the need (NAP WPS) with the wherewithal (GAD Fund) was a tour de force by OPAPP. The various structures and mechanisms that make up the NAP WPS, the capability-building activities to match form with content—have been documented in past issues of Kababaihan at Kapayapaan. This long-overdue pairing of peace and gender is slowly bearing fruit.
The journey continues
The journey of OPAPP in the past six years has been a perilous one, with five ambitious peace tables, each with its own set of problems, set-backs and dilemmas. But it has enabled and even enriched these processes with a unique vision that has moved these processes out of their traditional boxes with the introduction of the peace and gender lenses through PAMANA and NAP WPS. This has aided government in winning the peace on the ground, community by community, even as it struggles with the various insurgencies at the peace tables.
The end note, however, is also one of unfinished business, With the clock ticking on the Aquino administration, OPAPP is working double time to ensure that today’s gains will not be reversed tomorrow.
There is the BBL which failed to be passed by the last Congress, on which the Bangsamoro peoples continue to pin their hopes for peace and development. The talks with the CPP/NPA/NDF must be revived under a more flexible framework so that it has a chance to succeed. The RPMP/RPA/ABB-TPG closure agreement must be completed with a better understanding of the needs of the former rebels on the ground.
PAMANA’s success in bringing water systems, electricity, roads and other basic services that have changed the lives of communities in distant conflict-affected areas must be expanded, replicated, its lessons internalized. PAMANA has shown that if reforms, or services, are genuine and motivated by love of country and people, they can never come too little, too late.
PAMANA will soon undergo a formal evaluation process. It might help to ask how many villages have fought back against revolutionary taxation, and whether they succeeded. Like the CBA-CPLA legacy document, that would be a template in great demand.
Many lessons have been learned and insights gained from OPAPP’s endeavors in the last six years. These have to be documented, analyzed, manualized, popularized, shared, celebrated.
Finally, there is the matter of the lumad or katutubo, the indigenous peoples whose ancestral domain has become both boon and battlefield. Both the NPA and corporate interests have cast covetous eyes on the lumad as recruits or on their territory where mining has supplanted logging as a source of riches.
We leave the OPAPP with more questions than answers. But as the poet Rainer Maria Rilke says, “Live the questions now…”

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