British Ambassador to the Philippines, Asif Ahmad wrote an op-ed in the Philippine Star, a top newspaper in the Philippines, about the Mindanao Peace Process, the role of the International Contact Group which the UK is a part of and the challenges that lie ahead.
A few days ago I was speaking to retired former colleagues visiting from the UK who recalled their experiences of working on the implementation of the peace process in Northern Ireland. The conversation brought back memories of a time when domestic conflict in the UK made it more difficult for British diplomats to project a positive image of our country. We experienced many challenges in our own quest for peace in Northern Ireland. Eventually, bitter and violent divisions were set aside in the name of peace. We were able to call on international friends to help with the negotiations. Today, former combatants govern together, differences are settled through discussion and there is a settlement on how Northern Ireland can prosper as an integral part of a United Kingdom. There is still more to do but our hard won peace is now a process we can look back on with some pride.
I recall a frosty morning at the Foreign Office in London in October 2008 when news came in from Manila that the Supreme Court had ruled that the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain was unconstitutional. Ten years of talks had reached an impasse but there were some visionary Filipinos who wanted to persevere with the process. The successful transformation in Northern Ireland gave me confidence to suggest to the British Foreign Secretary that the UK may have experience, often painfully acquired, that could be useful to our friends in the Philippines. Ultimately, this would lead to the UK’s participation in the innovative support systems for the Mindanao peace process designed by the Philippine government and we joined the International Contact Group. Negotiations subsequently resumed in Kuala Lumpur and when asked, we shared experience and brought in experts who had direct experience of Northern Ireland.
The Philippines is now within touching distance of securing peace in what will become Bangsamoro. There is a fundamental acceptance of a single republic where sovereign powers will remain vested in the executive, legislature and judiciary. The agreement paves the way for a devolved administration that is able to deliver economic and social benefits to people who have hitherto been marginalised. By definition, a negotiated settlement requires compromise and sacrifice of some lesser claims in pursuit of higher goals. In a country where there is no shortage of lawyers, I hope that energy is focused on justice when the Basic Law is scrutinised. I believe that lawmakers in both houses will show statesmanship and help secure the platform on which essential administration and governance can be built
There will be those who may feel that they were not the architects of the Framework Agreement and their cause remains unresolved. Even if the vehicle is not designed by you, you have the opportunity to take part in the journey. Claim a stake in the future of your community and participate in the elections to obtain a mandate that you have earned rather than asserted.
Those who will assume key roles in Bangsamoro, carry the hopes and wishes of the nation on their shoulders. They will be judged not by the importance of their positions, but by the tangible improvements they bring about in the daily lives of citizens — livelihoods, education, municipal services and personal security. Universal rights under the Constitution will need to be upheld with particular emphasis on issues affecting women and children.
For the majority community in the Philippines this is an opportunity to embrace the diversity of the country. The table of the nation’s festivals should feature not just the lechon and tuba but also tiyula sug and tiyateg. A lady in a hijab waiting for a taxi in Metro Manila should be seen as a valued customer rather than treated with indifference. People of good faith can also be good citizens.
The opportunity for Bangsamoro is to be a beacon of best practice for the rest of the Philippines and indeed in other parts of the world where there is a history of strife. The UK will remain a committed friend as the peace dividend is realised.