DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 04 February) — As we move forward in this time of transition in the Bangsamoro, let’s look at world leaders who are former rebels turned politicians and learn from the challenges that they encountered.. By looking at their life experiences in the revolution and in terms of governance, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority may learn some lessons and ways of uniting our people.
Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, political leader and philanthropist who served as the country’s first black president from 1994 to 1999. He was a key figure in the struggle against apartheid, a system of racial segregation and discrimination in South Africa, and was imprisoned for 27 years for his activism. Upon his release from prison in 1990, Mandela worked to peacefully negotiate an end to apartheid and was elected as president in South Africa’s first fully democratic elections in 1994. He is widely regarded as a symbol of reconciliation and is remembered for his commitment to forgiveness, human rights, and social justice. After leading the anti-apartheid movement, Mandela faced the challenge of unifying a divided nation and implementing policies to address racial inequalities.
Aung San Suu Kyi (born 1945) is a Burmese politician, diplomat, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who served as the State Counsellor and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) from 2016 to 2021. She is best known for her pro-democracy activism and her leadership of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party. Suu Kyi rose to international prominence during the 1988 pro-democracy uprising in Myanmar, where she became a symbol of resistance against the country’s military dictatorship. She was placed under house arrest for much of the 1990s and early 2000s, but was eventually released and went on to win the 2015 general election, becoming the country’s first female head of government. Despite her reputation as a champion of human rights, Suu Kyi has faced criticism for her handling of the Rohingya crisis, in which the Myanmar military has been accused of widespread human rights violations against the Rohingya Muslim minority. Thus, after leading the pro-democracy movement, Suu Kyi faced challenges in balancing her commitment to human rights and democracy with the need to maintain stability and improve relations with the military.
Fidel Castro (1926-2016) was a Cuban communist revolutionary and politician who served as the Prime Minister of Cuba from 1959 to 1976 and as the President of the Council of State and President of the Council of Ministers from 1976 to 2008. He was a key figure in the Cuban Revolution, leading a guerrilla movement that overthrew the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959. Castro established a communist state in Cuba, and the country became closely aligned with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Despite facing opposition and numerous attempts to overthrow him, including the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, Castro remained in power until 2008, when he stepped down due to poor health. He was a controversial figure, revered by some as a charismatic leader and symbol of resistance against U.S. imperialism, while criticized by others as a repressive dictator who violated human rights and stifled political dissent.
Muammar Gaddafi (1942-2011) was a Libyan politician and revolutionary who served as the country’s head of state from 1969 until his overthrow and death in 2011. He seized power in a bloodless military coup in 1969 and ruled Libya as an authoritarian dictator for 42 years. Gaddafi pursued a mix of socialist and pan-Arab policies, and became known for his eccentric and controversial behavior. He was a major player on the international stage, and was both praised and criticized for his leadership and his role in supporting various revolutionary and militant groups around the world. During the Arab Spring of 2011, Gaddafi faced a popular uprising that quickly escalated into a full-scale civil war, and he was eventually overthrown and killed by opposition forces with the assistance of NATO-led airstrikes.
Yasser Arafat (1929-2004) was a Palestinian political leader who served as the Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from 1969 until his death in 2004. He was a key figure in the struggle for Palestinian independence and the recognition of a Palestinian state. Arafat co-founded the Fatah political party in the late 1950s and played a major role in the Palestine resistance movement against Israeli occupation. He was instrumental in establishing the PLO as the main representative of the Palestinian people and in securing international recognition for the Palestinian cause. In 1994, Arafat was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres for their efforts to reach a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. Despite this, the peace process broke down and negotiations between the two sides were difficult throughout his life. Arafat’s leadership and commitment to the Palestinian cause made him a symbol of resistance for many Palestinians, but also led to criticism and accusations of corruption and terrorism.
These examples of political leaders illustrate that former rebels turned politicians often face significant challenges in transitioning from a revolutionary movement to leading the government, including the need to balance competing interests, manage a complex political landscape, and uphold the principles that drove the revolution in the first place.
Moreover, some may apply the principle of “weather-weather lang yan” which means leadership in the government is just seasonal. Before it was the time of the traditional politicians, then the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and now the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Thus some of them may be corrupted by the internal cultural dynamics that the institution has been deeply embedded with. Therefore, we can see that there are several factors that revolutionary groups may become corrupt when they hold power.
The following are red flags that we need to see if they are present in the current regional government in the Bangsamoro. The principle that “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely” may be present if there can no longer be checks and balances. This means that holding power can bring temptations and lead to abuse of power and corruption.
In terms of decommissioning of combatants, we also need to look at the system in place. If proper systems of transparency, proper monitoring, and evaluation are not in place then this may lead to lack of accountability. Thus, revolutionary groups may lack established systems of checks and balances to hold leaders accountable in programs and activities that are spent from the taxes collected from the people.
There may also be instances when those who lead the revolution may have broken idealism, which means that the ideals and values that drove the revolution may be forgotten or disregarded as leaders focus on maintaining power.
And lastly, when the system of conflict and violence became a cycle, the problems now become systemic. Corruption may be deeply ingrained in the political and economic systems, making it difficult to eradicate.
As a former member of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, I know how hard it is to work in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao where there are several matters and concerns that are urgent and need to be addressed properly. But if those mentioned are not properly addressed by the Government of the Day with the help of all stakeholders, then we need to ask ourselves, “what are we transitioning for?”
If you ask me, we should move forward in transitioning to set proper institutions that will put in place the rule of law and justice mechanisms. Oftentimes justice is very much neglected by peacebuilders. Most people in the government think that you have to forgive the various violent actors because that is the only way to agree to peace if they know they will not be put in prison or tried and face the consequences of their previous acts.
We need to have a strong national government that will be able to deal with the violations of human rights, and criminal acts (such as graft and corruption). Otherwise we will never solve the problem.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Mussolini Sinsuat Lidasan is Executive Director of the Al Qalam Institute of the Ateneo de Davao University. He was a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission from 2017 to 2019, Member of Parliament of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority from 2019 to 2022)