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Can Bangsamoro Growth Push Take Political Priority in Muslim Mindanao to Next Level? 

bangsamoro speaks

The norm for politicians in Muslim Mindanao could be more particularly religious for ‘moral governance’ if we leave former liberation front leaders to their own devices. If religion were to intrude into the ‘government-of-the-day politics’ can it be far beyond for their voters in the 2025 election? Given the establishment clause of the country’s constitution that separates religion and politics, the all-appointed MPs work in the pretext of cabinet ministries run under color of authority (colorum). That’s why my contribution to the Voices from Moro Land published, in 2007, already posed the hard question: “Political Islam in the 21st Century Philippines: Can It Survive?” The emergence of Islam siyasi or political Islam was an outgrowth of revolutionary ideologies during the latter half of the 20th Century. Today, a little more than a decade (in 2023), those so-called “people of faith” and their religious beliefs are perhaps no more intertwined within an imposed majoritarian composition of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) than in public life. 

The Challenge: Asymmetrical Devolution  

The Constitution under Article X recognizes the asymmetry unique only to two regions, namely: the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and the Cordillera Autonomous Region (CAR) relative to Local Government Units (LGUs) in other regions of the Philippines. Our starting point goes beyond an academic understanding of what the political priority is about. The challenge is how and when do we transition to the parliamentary system? The essence of the challenge we face is: an exclusionary power at the helm of Muslim Mindanao autonomous region cannot continue to remain in office for political action alone.

The Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) vests power and authority in the chief minister and cabinet ministers responsible to the Bangsamoro Parliament. During the transition period, however, the BOL devolves the executive authority to an interim Chief Minister appointed by the President while the legislative authority is vested in the BTA. As such, it still derives from the unitary presidential system of check and balance drawn from the fundamental principle of separation of powers. [The words in italics define the nature of the authority to be exercised, see Sec. 2, Art. XVI].

First: Who makes decisions that relate to the way in which the Bangsamoro Government should be run consistent with the founding ideas of the parliament? This is the key issue to take the Bangsamoro institutions into the next level. Pursuant to the BOL, the operative provision specifically provides for plenary power: 

“All powers and functions of the Bangsamoro Government as provided in this Organic law are vested in the Bangsamoro Transition Authority.”  

Second: What constitutes the Government of Bangsamoro in the interim period? The following paragraph guides the functioning of the layers of political subdivisions and units constituting the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM): 

“For purposes of mechanisms for intergovernmental relations with the National Government and local government units in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, the Banagsamoro Transition Authority shall be deemed as the Bangsamoro Government for the duration of the transition period” [italics mine]. 

The Political Conduct: Theory and Practicalities

Overall, what aspects of political conduct then need to be monitored based on the Plan of Transition? Does the incumbent MILF-BTA leadership seriously promote “moral governance” according to Muslim traditions? Power entails the ability to compel obedience whereas authority issues from moral force. But a project of moralizing the world publicly projected by MILF-backed brand of proxy politics simply suggests it is not economics above all (haram vs halal)—which the party claimed to pursue when they first came to power. The prerequisite to the performance of this function is a knowledge of the sharia sciences to command lawful obedience in fulfillment of the oath of allegiance (bay‘ah). To reach out to Islamic scholars we apply Arabic loan-terms for Muslim worldview in broad strokes treatment of our subject. 

Both in theory and the practicalities of circumstances, the core values of policy makers as well as cabinet decision making processes are spiritually united in the promotion of the common good. Moreover, in common cause with moral guidance from the Office of the Wali and the Office of the Mufti, BARMM can adhere to the authority of religious institution in Islam vis-à-vis the political institution in a way that in practice the chief minister finds an intermediary with ulama and council of leaders. But the growth-points in basic rule of law and public order (al-amr vs an-nahy) is debated by the most politically aware being obligatory (fardu kifaya) upon the community. The Sharia Court (and office of the judge) or qadi is the institution most concerned with enjoining the good (maaruf) and forbidding evil (munqar). Here all we Muslims face a moral challenge to determine the validity or invalidity (sahih vs batil) of their acts according to sharia ordinances and Islamic jurisprudence (fiqhi); that is, if we are to follow “moral governance” strictly.

Majoritarian Rule: Authority and Power

At institutional level, the lack of accountability drawn from electoral constituencies explains the absence of crucial cabinet collective responsibility to BTA members, even if they are in transition status. The Muslim faithful and devout supporters are not mutually exclusivists. They include non-elected MPs from MNLF grouping and a few Indigenous peoples as well as other Christian settler members. 

The Sync System:  On the question of inclusive representation in Parliament, we must take the issue to a functioning level of cabinet system and parliamentary practices to work out this principle—purposely sync in the Electoral Code and the Party List System (PLS) with Proportional Representation System (PRS)—to function within the framework of mass democratic competition in politics. 

Can reconciliation emerge in the context of the transitional entity? For brevity, the BTA was meant to be a primary stage of the transition to democratic order. Giving voice to the excluded groups sought to find ways that would respond to moral variance and cultural diversity. In the course of implementing the peace accords it has been discovered that power relations and moral conflicts shifted from “votes” to “voice” described in the literature as discursive democracy. With the advent of digital applications, social media platforms established their own constituency. Quite the opposite MILF-UBJP ushered in “trollies” mushrooming in social media during the 2022 presidential and local election. One misstep was they entered into “proxy politics,” a code word for populist mob rule, heightened by rock-throwing chaotic scenarios during the voting hours synchronized with exhortation of rebel-induced crisis. 

The Government-MILF peace settlement has not gone intractable to the educated lay observers. So how was the project of reconciliation traction pursued by the Office of Presidential Assistance on the Peace Process (OPAPP now OPAPRU to include reconciliation)? 

The Intractable Trajectory: It was assumed the MILF-BTA leadership had conceded to convert the “struggle between enemies” to the “struggle between adversaries” as a corrective remedy to the deficits within the democratic order. 

Can pragmatic shift lean toward Islam in public lives? Jihad traction and takfir agitation at face value demand all efforts to be sensitive to conflicting trajectories of what is labeled the “agonistic democracy” inclined towards: “the spoils (al-ganimah) belong to the victors.” When Agit-Prop became synonymous with Agon-Dem the so-called leaders of “revolutionary” change ought to function in the world of growth-mindset leaders.

The implementation phase laid the procedural steps to follow the Framework Agreement that is subject to verification (such as the decommissioning and amnesty programs); and for solving controversies (over geographic areas and legislative redistricting of seats). Legitimate interest in building Bangsamoro national allegiance (not a hyphenated identity) is not about “culture war” and yet “cancel culture” can spoil the normalization process that comes with the justificatory concept of citizenship. 

The Group-Dynamics: What has gone awry with the reconciliation phase? Contrary to the intent of the BOL, during their first three years in office the appointed all-MILF-led transition authority (i.e., statutory “forty-plus-one” proviso) had evinced their political desire to perpetuate its dominance in power relationship on the majoritarian model: 

  1. Mechanisms through the electoral systems of populist-styled “proxy politics” to seek political capital;  
  2. Manipulative fiat of “partisan gerrymandering” of the municipalities into parliamentary district seats; and 
  3. Disruptive factors of involuntary “partisan de-alignment” resulting into volatile voting behavior or mob rule. 

The misguided perception of total control under majority of plus-one by power-seeking individuals in BARMM is counterproductive. In consideration, the right support for growth push with decisions made in the political market—including the voter’s exchange value in it—would not generally be accepted legitimacy, moral or legal. In this, the leaders must possess justice as a metaphorical cord: ‘the rope of Allah’ to bind (citizens) one to another to the justification of political authority. Consider the factual conditions, the people affected, and the option open to political preferences as limits to experimentation with reformist (mujadidun) ideas. Ask whether a marketplace for “transactional religion” exists in public life? Further, there are questions, if morally permitted (harus), for those who hold strong moral views. How to measure the pulse of spiritual struggle in the moral governance of BARMM is difficult to quantify? How can they uphold the common good (al-maslahah) or speak in what terms of “religiosity” to deliver service more selflessly as public servants? 

Schooling for Skilled Workforce

Turning to this point says a little of the inattention to the economy. So far what sets up as a measurable rubric for the evaluation of legal as well as economic institutions and norms of human behavior is political education. Village thinking is to stay watchful of the government day-to-day activities in which conflict is minimized. 

The Color of Authority: Why BARMM stays unproductive despite the term extension of its transition period finds explanation in what Professor M. H. Kamali termed nisf al-istiqlal (meaning “independence by half”) legacy under colonial cultural sway. We know why partisan Islam cannot facilitate Muslim Mindanao transition to ummatic level. No amount of planning can propel Islamo-politico changes in the Bangsamoro Government strategic thinking that obviously neglects institution-building and favors intergovernmental solutions or interim moves under color of authority (colorum). Experts say the education poverty in BARMM could spur a workforce crisis in which our future human resources will become a major challenge to economic development.  

Finding faith in benefits of positive economic growth, it is economically rational for the Bangsamoro Government to devote more resources to health care and education because they bear “returns in the labor market” and skilling for socio-economic ladder. The BTA got tied down to Ayuda (dole outs) mass subsidy during lockdowns suitably organized since the OPAPP head was tasked to run the Anti Covid-19 Task Force. Even though this was an elevating point in social policy and services, BTA leadership came unprepared to address the shutdown of the education system. The Ministry of Basic, Higher and Technical Education (MBHTE) contingency planning did not include the pandemic-driven shift to remote learning. Because at that point in time blended learning proved more suitable (munasib) circumstances to pandemic-related lockdowns. Aligning national standards to classroom practices and recovery needs for reskilling exit can alleviate education poverty consequences. 

The Future of Workforce. The recent trend in global schooling for skilled workforce is a way in the world that has opened its job market. Global strategy to stay competitive for working adults is part of micro-credentialing to fill identified skill gaps for the future of the workforce. Once skewed to top priority for reconciliation efforts, the disbanded groups and ex-combatants (e.g. with verifiable learning and real work experience) desiring occupational shifts can gain targeted skills. But again, BARMM leaders have to concede programmatic support to partnerships between educational institutions and industry stakeholders. Combined with society level they form the key resource instruments. 

Yet, in the field, the availability of industry partners in suburban and far-flung areas, focal persons and business experts pose a challenge to Bangsamoro rebuilding lives. There are obstacles. One is difficulty in convening LGU and BTA officials to form technical working groups related to conflicting schedules. On moral grounds, coordinating stakeholders with political differences makes it harder to create trust and the willingness (even experts will learn) to assume “neutrality” running into many difficulties whether to help “a lot of people or a little” or “a few people a lot” in the main currents of social and economic life. 

A project partnership between Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) and the Community Family Services International (CFSI) to implement the Bangsamoro Camps Transformation Project (BCTP) signed in July 2023 includes communities of transitioning former combatants and their families: women, youth, and indigenous peoples. Financed under the Bangsamoro Normalization Trust Fund (BNTF) administered by the World Bank Philippines, it aims to increase access to socio-economic servicers and basic infrastructure in the six previously acknowledged MILF camps. The Support for Bangsamoro Transition (SUBATRA) program funded under the European Union-Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) reported constructive progress in BARMM engagement with Civil Society Organizations (CSO) for effective outcome of community-driven activities:

  1. Alternative Learning System 
  2. Awareness on Health, Hygiene & Child Protection
  3. Community Cooperatives Learning
  4. Consumer Education & Entrepreneurial Workshops
  5. Indigenous Peoples Training for Human Rights
  6. Psycho-Social Support & Mental Health Assessment
  7. Sexual and Reproductive Health & Outreach Projects

Working with partners UNICEP, UNHCR and UNFPA at the grassroots level extends to Disaster and Risk Reduction mechanisms and humanitarian aid. The CSFI Executive Director Steve Muncy carefully directs a cross-cutting mechanism of Monitoring Evaluation and Learning (MEL) template. Systemic applications and best practices put into place the means for ownership of project development gains and learning for beneficiaries and partners. The Civilian Protection Component (CPC) is undertaken by the Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) that works in locally-led social processes to reduce incidents of violence. At the onset, ownership of the process is measured on a qualitative basis through Impact Assessment Survey of changes lowering levels of destructive behavior. The 2010 Swisspeace evaluation on the tangible effects, even if gains are spread unevenly, “a string of survey sessions” enhanced the growth of hybrid institutions to mediate rido, or clan incidents of violence. 

Differentiated Humanitarian Approach

Connectivity to ‘religious actors’ partnering with ‘secular’ civil society (siyasat madaniyyah) assumes a few introductory points. To identify variables we need to understand the processes of cultural lag behind the changing aspects of culture dealing with scarce resources. At once a professor of religion and development at Vrij Universiteit of Amsterdam, Azza Karam noted: “Decades of study, however, point to some simple questions to ask to distinguish the transactional nature of “religious affairs” claiming to be for the good of all from those actually serving the common good.” We paraphrase the questions posed: 

The Diverse Actors: How many actually hold the institutions of political and financial power equally accountable? How many actually give off or share their varied resources; how do they plan and deliver jointly the same set of services to the same set of needs. What positions do they take on women issues beyond gender equality? Differentiating humanitarian approach enables the different actors to focus and enhance the challenge level. Which human rights do these actors work on, and for religion, value more? Clearly, “those engaged in transactional practices wearing religious garb will invariably prioritize some rights or privileges over others.” 

One practical reason for a differentiated humanitarian approach to respond to an array of needs, socioeconomic backgrounds, and social protection awareness is that culture affects the way we understand justice. Because traditions bound people to religious beliefs and practices we might see Bangsamoro claims as having weight for the faithful and valid claims for justice. In a predominantly secular society or priestly order community the circumstances would be different, but the humanitarian values of Islam bring in the objective (maqasid) of sharia. 

The way the costs and benefits are shared for volunteer service in vulnerable areas and case work on victims is evidence of reciprocity across culturally divided societies. Civil society—the not for profit component of concomitant growth—have made efforts to hold the Bangsamoro Government decision makers who are vested with the business of religious affairs accountable for the vulnerable and for the common good and public interest (al-mursala). The general point boils down to a fair reciprocal outcome made concrete. Sure enough, the inertia to respond with relief efforts (such as ayuda) serves as a just behavior from the perspective of social justice and moral governance.

Our jurist of the classical period Al-Mawardi circumscribed the political to the management of temporal affairs and the protection of religion. Academics who study the intersections of religion and public life are evolving into contemporary epistemic communities. 

The Temporal Template: Research into religions for peace apply the notion of revolutionary (al-taghyir) change, without politics eclipsing religion, just to characterize political Islam as a template opposed to exclusivism and extremism. Analysts of public lives, too, examine the role of places of worship as a public health setting. What is to heal with strong faith and belief (al-iman wal aqidah) as moral compass against health ignorance (jahilyah) responds to challenges: needs, interests, and preferences. The role of religious belief systems and practices to promote mental, physical and well-being provides evidence that challenges public institutions as independent variables.

Development seen as the remedy against deficit in peace and stability is a breakthrough but not a closure to the Bangsamoro quest. Regarded as the prerequisites for foreign investment this point has often been discussed in general terms for risk-sharing. What has changed over the past decades was the global dimension of armed conflicts and vulnerability to violence in low intensity conflict. So adverse action and moral dimension of hazard (threat) interact to exert influences on the realities on the ground and impact on employability or changing (dis)-utility of work

As for a survey on winning hearts and minds, the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG) conducted a follow-through study of “Youth Vulnerability to Violent Extremism” (2022) and found socioeconomic motivation for VE in which poverty is the push factor. Muslim mindset, too, reflects tolerance evidenced by sound iktilaf or juristic differences. Adherence to Islam in divided societies follows the principle of wasatiyah (or moderation) along with religious practices that mitigate the dictum al wala wal bara (or fealty and disavowal) bearing pluralism with open-mindset to diverse cultures. 

From Endless Crisis to Growth Push

In this section we argue that the Bangsamoro Government should increase awareness of the realities of economic facts of life with public concern. Appreciation of the benefits of economic growth for improved public services of BTA and also to overcome the lowest level of poverty in BARMM can be framed in operational form to take priority for growth push. 

The Economic Literacy. Understand what choice behavior (e.g. scarcity, supply and demand) does mean as defined in economic literacy terminologies. It is recognizable in economic reasoning in an aware-way as informed consumers, producers, and citizens. Additionally, the UP-OCTA Research group has stressed the importance of science as part of public governance, enhanced disease surveillance and management, including infrastructure for health, education and agriculture. In context, econometric figures matter but much more if science is to be understood on how it works for BARMM and involves issues of social policy in BTA agenda. 

Growing pains after the world war years went on to the 1950s ravaging rat infestation and “crops loan” failures.  Agricultural production in the Cotabato Pulangi River Valley wetlands declined due to the insurgency during the 1970s and the Maguindanao flooded plains never recovered because of deforestation largely blamed on forestry companies. 

The Growth Push: Most economists believe that the “growth push” for Muslim Mindanao hinges still on agriculture because the BARMM economy (iqtisad) is predominantly an agricultural economy. Agricultural smuggling (i.e. income volatility) and hoarding that spark fluctuations in market prices affect farmers and consumers. Contemporary close relationships between economic growth and security instead called for specific categories of food security and biosecurity to produce food for improving BARMM quality of life in other ways. 

Consider: Fermin Adriano (who is keen to pinpoint gaps in Mindanao economy with empirical evidence) seeks to cluster or consolidate farm lands to grow high value crops. Plantation economy never attracted Bangsamoro farmers to inspire the Bangsamoro Development Agency to create post-miles. Admittedly, “BARMM registers the highest fish catch in the country next to Navotas, not to mention a proliferation of mining activities.” As for the mining industry the economists are not alone to warn pointedly: “In the absence of more effective regulation, the detrimental impacts on the environment would be disastrous.” 

Garnering growth push historically has recurred in a cycle of storied-era since American colonials engaged in agricultural pioneering farms of the Moro Province. It was plantation economy that helped to found “land grant colleges” in Basilan, Bukidnon, Cotabato and Lanao. Cesar A. Virata’s underappreciated growth benchmark harks back to historicity of National Development Corporation (1936, 1978a) to weigh in access to primary industry model. Alejandro S. Melchor built up the Mindanao Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Program (1974) that leads many today to conclude that the use of stimulus package spurs “a promised land of growth.” The presidency of Fidel V. Ramos launched in 1998 the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD) mechanism to implement the peace accord with MNLF. No doubt SPCPD is a legacy of political will hampered by budgetary constraints to develop Peace Zones in Mindanao. 

In 2006, the Japan-Bangsamoro Initiative for Reconstruction and Development (J-BIRD) worked out with MILF the socioeconomic package component of the Peace Process. Assistance for capability-building aimed to entrench NGO community-ability tackled problems from the bottom up. Although intended to bring structure and stability to the International Monitoring Team (IMT), beneficiaries gradually learned that once a threshold level of absorptive capacity is available social benefits accrue to sustain and continue the growth in place.  

On the ideological side, our leading experts produced in 2018 the Routledge Handbook on Economics and Social Policy only to write the Philippines “a poor country democracy” where issues of poverty, stability, ethnicity and migration are analytically crucial. The country’s economy by 2022 has been on a path of robust growth (7.5% rate) but inflation remains a fiscal challenge. 

The Socio-Economic Ladder. Affording a family in BARMM is hard where wage growth practically stays stagnant in that wages (nominal or real) are eaten away by inflation. After a brisk rise in economic growth in 2021, Bangsamoro performance pace in 2022 slowed at 6.6 percent rate. Even more compelling, BARMM has the lowest electrification in the county at a 44-percent rate; and ironically, the Lanao Great Lake region is the biggest source of hydro-electric power in Mindanao. For historical analogies, the politicians and pundits had not laid enough groundwork for the socio-economic ladder. The right track may be gradualism (tadrij) with visionary resolve to accelerate decommissioning to a new normal with a regularly elected Parliament mandated by electoral process in 2025.

Digressing to crisis-torn Marawi, the CFSI hosted and guided the journalist-sociologist Randy David to the most affected area (MAA) of the post-siege Marawi city called Ground Zero. Professor David saw little in the development that could serve “as a basis for a hopeful closure of accumulated grievances.” Just causes which asserted claims to ancestral domain and fights for self-governance resonate with Islamic discourses on urbanity (madaniyyah). Why is this publicly verifiable? David argues: “There is substance to the acronyms that reduce the complexity of the post-siege reality to something administratively manageable,” i.e. when it overlaps with track-one decommissioning process and if it fails to reduce uncertainties. Adequate response to the crisis of the track-two normalization level of mass displacement is the most serious aspect of BARMM growth and risk profile in the context of management processes. More to improve efficiency in interagency coordination, the military and security sector prepared the 2012 Core Manual of Contingency Plans and emergency operation when a crisis occurs anytime. Planning comes out in reality as a major third track process of crisis prevention.  

Endless Quest without Breakpoint

My book Bangsamoro Quest (2012) explained in one chapter the valence of MILF leadership: peering into their mindset is instructive. The top leaders have not had any experience of civil service career and bureaucratic workplace concerns in process and growth. In political economy context, our current Bangsamoro Government public choice behavior and the rent-seeking activities of MILF-led-BTA have resulted in certain ways to misallocation of Block Grants (a) without reciprocating advantages to mainland LGUs, and (b) almost no gain added to the island Provinces. Finally, both citizens and critics have a point to prevent self-seeking pilfering of public money. 

Attention to the latest Bangsamoro Government’s pair of partisan gerrymandering that draws electoral seats for the regular Parliament commits reform for voting laws. The move stood out to rope out competition without easing a breaking point with LGU political leaders. With no economy of scope, BARMM partisan redistricting has turned to reductive partitioning of stable first class towns. Without workable standards, currently outright challenges to the Bangsamoro Electoral Code have reached the Court for judicial review. Already the interim administration suffered reversal in procedural values and set back in Province of Maguindanao Del Norte vs. BLGF-RO No. XII and BARMM-MILG, (2023). All this attentiveness into the interim spin-off-turfs could have morphed into a transformative BTA ruling party coalition to rein in “partisan de-alignment” by mending bridges during the reconciliation process.

In sum, the incumbent leaders of the Bangsmoro interim government have had a three-year transition plus one extended term where they have neglected to produce private-sector jobs to address job mismatch. Sloganeering “from arms to farms” never really gained momentum as incentives to disarm for easier money. Nor attitudes towards work-utility in ways that they value “farms to market roads” equated to arms register might define the end state to decommissioning. Fundamentally, work is the basis of property rights in Islam but ideologically the theory of value of labor as a set of premises might yet reprieve the harm done, and unleash the peasantry class to move away from slack to grow for its formation. As a fact of life, grievances barely push the “justice and jobs” issue for resolution into an “exit agreement”. Perhaps over the next couple of years or so historians will look back at the turmoil of this decade to write a concluding episode to the endless quest sans breakpoint.

Note: *This paper was presented via zoom session to the Bangsamoro Research and Legal Network (#BROC2023) on December 2-3.

As a Muslim public intellectual, lawyer Michael O. Mastura is well acquainted with the attitudes of the Bangsamoro intelligentsia in which Islam becomes a source of identity if not ideology.  His major books are: Muslim Filipino Experience (1984), Bangsamoro Quest (2012), and the latest The Rulers of Magindanao in Modern History (2023). He edited C. A. Majul’s collection of essays entitled Islam and Development (1984). As a lawmaker, congressman Mastura crafted the Code of Muslim Laws in the Philippines (1976); Charter of the Islamic Investment Bank of the Philippines; Philippine Passport Law; and The People’s Television Act. He has been an Amicus Curiae to the Supreme Court. His seminal work on “Legal Pluralism in the Philippines” appeared in the Journal of Law and Society (1994). Also as professional lecturer, he has contributed chapters to books such as Southeast Asians in the Era of Globalization (2014); Islam and Civilizational Renewal; published articles on Islam, Muslim law, and history; other journals devoted to politics, peace negotiation, and contemporary issues.

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