Lessons and Best Practices that We Must Un-learn as NGOs in Times of ‘Peace Talks’

I wrote this rambling just a few weeks after Halloween last year (the time referent is significant and intentional specially to suit this country’s Muslims who most likely remember every consumerist holiday in every month of the calendar; that’s easier to recall than saying ‘Ramadhan’). By the way, it’s a little stale and fermented, so I warn you, it could get you a little giddy in the head…

The GMA administration confidently predicted that a final peace agreement – the OTHER peace – would be clinched with the MILF by year-end, yet the waters are still too murky for any conclusive assessment as to what form the final political settlement for MILF could take. What is certain is that the Philippine government has more or less impressed on the Organization of Islamic Conference and the people of Mindanao, for that matter, of its successful consummation of the OTHER peace with the MNLF. From 1996-2004, the implementation of the Final Peace Agreement is supposed to have been completed. In fact, this is seconded in the vast accounts of “best practices” and “benchmarkers” in every glossy closing-the-book reports made-up by the creative writers of international agencies that have been tasked to spearhead the implementation of peace and development programs. In fairness, the World Bank assessment reports have been more realistic and honest. This success stories, anybody interested can now verify with their own eyes by the kind of “improvements” in the life of the people in the post-conflict Moroland where guns are yet to be silenced as a greater percentage of these areas are still war-torn

But how come, you might ask. Simple. They are now waging an anti-terrorist war in a post-conflict scenario, which you no longer call a “conflict situation” but an ordinary peace-and-order problem. This should be nothing serious to warrant world attention or to invoke the UN. Better believe your President, who casually brushes it aside as trivial and ‘domestic’, just  like running after petty thieves or rounding up the drug addicts in your neighbourhood, except that you have to use tanks and sea and aerial bombers to flush out the pesky “gangs”. Of course, from time-to-time we ask for Superman’s intercession and arms support. And, please don’t talk about human rights here, why, the MUSLIM bandits and kidnappers are inhuman, they have no human rights at all.

The success stories should manifest most in areas like Sulu, Tawitawi and Lanao del Sur, all provinces of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which, to date, still consistently hold the record as UNDP’s top 3 in the country’s lowest Human Development Index. Around Christmastime of 2004, don’t forget to watch out for the fall-outs  from projects in the Central Mindanao region that are financed by bilateral aids and foreign debts that your children and your children’s children will bear as life-time burden. This early, we are already seeing ghosts of these projects hovering in the southern islands; in the four cemented posts of what remains of a multi-million-peso Community Integrated Development Support Services (CIDSS) multipurpose hall or a madrasa building project, that used to stand sore among the clump of make-shift stilt-supported houses now looking forlorn and useless, submerged in Sulu sea like the Titanic must have been. These are million-peso infrastructure investments funded from the World Bank’s Special Zone of Peace and Development or SZOPAD Fund now renamed ASF as in “ARMM Social Fund”.  The crumbling fate of these projects should be able to predict the outcome of the MNLF-mainstreaming and what it meant when government promised of “sustaining peace through confidence-building in Southern Philippines”.

On the other hand, we could also start counting the gains of peace and development by simply tracking down the few Moro political leaders (among them revolutionists-turned-politicos) who have become “developed” and have found their “peace” now as secret millionaires between 1996-2004, and note that the rising trend in their bank balance has been growing directly proportionate to the swarm of refugees and undocumented migrants, mostly women and children, that Malaysian authorities have flushed out and fumigated like pests in those rat-holes in Northern Borneo, many of whom now remain languishing in DSWD receiving centres in Zamboanga and Bongao, what with local government remaining clueless, as to where to get resources to implement a decent plan for their resettlement and reintegration.  But who cares if they were undocumented and illegal migrant workers or political asylum seekers or war-refugees endorsed by an obscure UN protocol in the early seventies? They are rats in an abandoned ship by Pied Pipers who have safely swam back ashore and now burning the homeland.

We would know that the peace agreement has worked well when we are back to graveyard silence of the Marcosian time in the late sixties or early 70’s in record time and sedated enough to feel comfort again in the droning apathy of the mass of hungry and demoralized people and, having been stripped-off of our dignity, we could not stir even the slightest of energy to lift a finger of protest when the joint- Philippine-American troops came a-thundering into the sleepy Tawitawi island for yet another war-game this last quarter of 2004.

The signs are all in the birth and resurrection of NGOs and peace advocates (who scoff and flick away like fleas cynics and non-believers like us) crying “Peace not War!” as they scramble one on top of the other, their principles and visions racing to the bottom of the dark pit where spring forth the overseas-aids for humanitarian projects, like this relief operation that costs at least 150,000.00 pesos (quickly convert that with 55 pesos now to a dollar) for travel, subsistence and allowances of the staff alone, that is, for every 10 sacks of rice (P700 per sack)  and 1,000 packs of 3-peso instant noodles paired off with some boxes of rejected tinned sardines solicited from some rusty canning bodegas in Zamboanga, with ukay-ukay clothes to go, distributed to the multitude of evacuees. Looking at the income generating projects like livestock-raising for fisher-folk or ampaw-making and bleaching-soap production for peasant women, allow yourself to be fooled by reports of how war-shocked Moro women have all been successfully turned into entrepreneurs and peace advocates overnight, thanks to a multi-million gender-sensitized peace program funded by a famous international humanitarian agency. You can always suspend your disbelief and for an instant pretend that you did not know from history that as early as the 17th century the Moros had established a flourishing maritime commerce that made the Spanish crown so green with envy (not all that’s green is islamic, Mr. Khaddafy!) that in the mid-1700s, it summoned every armada ship at its command to barricade the Sulu islands, cordoning the eight-mountains and virtually cutting-off Moroland from the rest of the world and dethroning it as one of the global trading hubs in Asia. That campaign would eventually give way to the opening of the Manila-Acapulco trade route. And conveniently forget, too, that this is the same legacy that fuels the wanderlust of present-day Tausug, Sama and Maranao sea-farers and other entrepreneurial ethnic Moro traders (and there were many women among them, too), that no instant skills-training by any business expert could claim credit for nor any enterprising NGO should have the right to fund-raise and cash-in on.

Yet who are we to complain about those endless hours of confidence-and-capability building seminars and consultation-conferences in air-conditioned hotels, tempered to a coolness enough to freeze our brains as well as our hearts? After a long bout of being in the crossfire and suddenly given a chance for a shopping-spree in Mindanao’s chic metropolis like Davao, Cagayan de Oro, General Santos or even Zamboanga City where these events usually take place, what woman in her right mind could resist?

In government, they come by many names: the standard operating procedure or SOP, “shopping money”, “gift” or honorarium – but all serving the same purpose of zipping up our mouth and numbing us like a shot of Valium in the arm or a quick gulp of Serenase. Like the management and program staff of this popular international program used to receiving per diem at P1,200.00 for activities held in third class towns or P2,400.00 in first class cities. The DSA or daily subsistence allowance, for that’s what they call this war booty, could be claimed for its full-day’s worth even by just warming your butt in a quickie 30-minuter “meeting with stakeholders” outside of the base. That was until the great “enlightenment” came and the realization of how “un-peaceful” the practice was and the immorality of it all especially when the community volunteers were barely making it out on a 1,500 pesos monthly allowances when this reputed world-program is supposed to be in the frontline promoting culture of peace. The fiction-writers should have written success stories, as well, of how sweet and intoxicating the war booties are.

Hush, woman, never mind if you have been getting this same workshop or training over and over again from a variety of NGOs. You, ungrateful uneducated hag, are supposed to get empowered, not pissed out, from their forced insemination, err…I mean… free counselling from the god-fathers of family planning, safe motherhood and ideal- wifehood while assured of your divinity-after-death and reserved of a special place in heaven, of course, sans the male houris and the flowing sweet wine. Ugh! Gender-discrimination is pervasive, sparing nothing and no one, not even THAT holy place. All these can be yours, for just a little complacence, indulging the brute in your mate by giving in to his “natural male instinct”. For goodness sake, stop feeling pleasure from your erotic zones, girl, better for you to atone your sins by making yourself invisible in yards and yards of veil-cloth. Ah, how such familiar lines heard during Friday sermon cast its magic spell of muting and rendering women invisible, become even more potent now that it gets institutionalized and anointed by high-profile international foundations and agencies in events funded in dollars. How swift did you think it took the pious men to sanctify a pronouncement endorsing Family Planning? Less than half-day. Amazing. And the sponsors generously paid for all the round-trip airfares and footed the hotel bills for two-nights, at least, for each of the participants from our part of the region, covering as well the wives or other relatives they had in tow? Wonderful. And we smiled and waved at each other like some holiday-makers in Gaisano Mall, Victoria Plaza and SM in Davao city that afternoon pretending for a while that back home things were normal.

Meanwhile, young Moro intellectuals have been sent to the US for such and such exposure programs reminiscent of the turn-of-the 20th century pensionado program. There, the more brainy among our academicians and professionals were also brain-picked in the guise of demonstrating their liberated minds in the various debates on Islam and democracy, forums about conflict management, all in the behest of the world’s Superman whose mission is to police and “moderate” Islam.

And the media-hounds tracing even the most obscure of links in every Muslim dissenter to the Al Qaeda and JI should convince the world, once and for all, that there are no more Moro ideologues and patriots left standing in this land, only terrorists. “Only a dead Moro is a good Moro” reverberates as in olden days.

Most interesting to note of these significant changes and…well, if you insist… success story or ‘best practice’, is that there have been less and less angry voices, like mine, heard from the formerly rumbling south. Indeed, peace-and-development, like a shroud of creeping darkness at sundown, has already befallen this charming southern string-of-pearly-islands.

May we all find rest in each of our respective peace’s.



About Mucha Q. Arquiza
Supports the preservation and promotion of indigenous knowledge systems

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