Peace and development isn’t a chicken or egg question

Written by Amina Rasul.

Here in the Philippines, we have learned from decades of addressing ethnic conflict against the state that peace and development is a chicken and egg question.

Over the weekend, I was in Colombo, Sri Lanka to participate in a conference on Preventing Extremism by Promoting Rights, Peace and Pluralism organized by the International Civil Society Action (ICAN) and the Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL). “Wasl” means “connection” in both Arabic and Farsi. Seventy women leaders from 27 countries gathered to connect with each other to share and learn about ways to deal with the closing of democratic spaces in many Muslim communities as well as the tragedy brought about by violent extremism.

Canadian Senator Mobina Jaffer, Chair of ICAN, led the conference. She is Canada’s first Muslim senator, the first African-born senator, and the first senator of South Asian descent. Senator Jaffer and ICAN’s Executive Director Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini successfully managed to steer conference to produce agreements for collaboration on a range of critical and sensitive issues such as the refugee crisis, the mistakes being committed by the West in dealing with ISIS, the persecution of minorities and the deterioration of the status of women in many areas of conflict. This was no small feat considering we had delegates who only spoke Arabic or Farsi and had so much to share. We could have stayed for a week and still lacked time to learn from each other. But then Senator Mobina and Sanam, who used to be a Professor at Georgetown University in DC, are very effective mediators.

A key issue that we tackled was that of development (primarily the lack of it) in many of the conflict-affected communities of the world, from Kenya to the Philippines. The conference agreed to make this a priority, not just to counter violent extremism but also to prevent it. Peace and development need to go hand-in-hand, not one after the other.

Unfortunately, global strategies to counter extremism such as that inflicted by ISIS rely more on military might rather than investment in development -- such as on education and the strengthening of civil society, particularly of women.

Here in the Philippines, we have learned from decades of addressing ethnic conflict against the state that peace and development is a chicken and egg question.

Our government’s successful strategy to address armed conflict has veered away from pure military action of the 70s to one that is supported by the peace process and investment in development. (I shared our successful experiences to give encouragement to the women of Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Southern Thailand, and Myanmar)

The Philippines Development Forum (PDF) held in Davao City last week, chaired by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza, took this into consideration.

The PDF, as defined in its Web site, is the “primary mechanism of the government for facilitating substantive policy dialogue among stakeholders on the country’s development agenda.” Launched in 2005, the PDF highlights the government’s realization that widening the participation in policy making by engaging other stakeholders (such as civil society, academe, private sector, and legislative representatives) into the dialogue provides a more grounded policy. The PDF focused on the Duterte Administration’s 10 Socioeconomic Agenda. Emphasis was given to a comprehensive tax reform (Secretary Dominguez’ priority) and Mindanao peace (Secretary Dureza’s key issue).

Last week, over 200 PDF delegates participated, splitting up to contribute to the five workshops: Macroeconomic and Fiscal Policies, Infrastructure and Competitiveness, Rural Development, Human Capital Development, and Mindanao Development.

I moderated the Human Capital Development Workshop and our group concluded that education is a crosscutting theme that should be incorporated into all the workshop recommendations.

Unfortunately, the Commission for Higher Education and the TESDA did not participate. And yet these are key institutions for development.

Of particular concern to me is investment in the “Last Mile” strategy of DepEd, for those who have not benefitted from the formal education system, particularly the adults. I have been a vocal advocate for adult illiterates, especially in the areas of conflict in Muslim Mindanao where over a third of the labor force (and voters) are illiterate.

I am greatly encouraged by the pronouncement that government is reconvening the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) to ensure agreement between Malacañang and Congress on priorities. The LEDAC was the brainchild of former President Fidel V. Ramos and then Speaker of the House Jose de Venecia, a regular meeting between the executive and leaders of the Senate and the House.

As a member of the Ramos Cabinet, I had the privilege to participate in the LEDAC, which paved the way for the passage of priority legislation of the Ramos Administration. As Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia said: reconvening the LEDAC will give the administration “maybe a better chance of moving things faster.”

While peace as a cornerstone of the development thrust was a priority, still the PDF focused more on the needs to strengthen the foundation for economic growth -- infrastructure, fiscal reform, energy.

Perhaps part of the failure lies in the absence of Muslim Mindanao’s leaders. Where were the ARMM regional governor and vice-governor? Where was the speaker of the Regional Legislative Assembly? ARMM sent its Public Works and Planning secretary. How can the top ARMM leaders be absent when government and its development partners are setting the agenda, agreeing on the funding of the development plan? I did not see any of our governors either. Or the chair of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), MNLF leader Abulkhair Alonto. MinDA’s Executive Director Janet Lopoz gave the briefing on the Mindanao Development Plan or MDP. Perhaps Chair Alonto felt that the MDP is too thin on investment in Muslim Mindanao and the Indigenous Peoples’ communities and did not wish to own it.

I agree with Chair Alonto.

While there is a consensus that developing conflict areas does wonders for lowering poverty, we still invest too little in an effective strategy for development in Muslim Mindanao, clearly the most conflict-affected.

In 2014, there was a special PDF that focused on peace and development in Mindanao, following the Aquino Administration’s priority on the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The MILF’s Bangsamoro Development Agency presented the major issues at the heart of its Bangsamoro Development Plan. Whatever happened to the BDP, which government and its development partners invested so much resources on?

It is timely to review the Aquino Administration’s peace and development plan; a major part of its inclusive growth strategy, to determine what can work and be integrated into the Duterte Administration’s 10-point socioeconomic agenda. Certainly the BDP needs a second look, so that we do not reinvent the wheel. The BDP took over two years to craft, after consultations conducted in all the provinces of Mindanao. Unfortunately, it was not incorporated into the MinDA’s development plan.

Meanwhile, the representative of UN Women, Aida Jean Manipon, asked a very important question: what about the women? This is the same question asked by the 70 women leaders at the WASL conference in Colombo. President Digong, what about the women po?


Amina Rasul is a democracy, peace and human rights advocate, president of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">

Source: Business World Online