The frame of a non-Moro Peacemaker: B. Rudy Rodil

B. Rudy Rodil

It is always refreshing to listen to B. Rudy Rodil. I worked with Ompong for over 4 years in the negotiations and it was to him that we turned to when we needed hope, optimism and some “trivia” information on the Mindanao conflict. Over and above his knowledge of Mindanao local history, what I like about Ompong is his sense of hope and belief in the goodness of persons to do the right thing and to build peace.

In his paper, “Achieving Peace and Justice in Mindanao thru Tri-People Approach”, Ompong offers a “frame” for solving the conflict. While Abhoud’s paper frames the conflict from the point of view of Bangsamoro, from a direct party to the conflict, Ompong takes a more detached, objective, non-party stance. This might be the reason why Ompong focuses more on the “process” and “parties” for solving the conflict rather than facing squarely the reality of conflict. Furthermore, Ompong shows an inclination to view solutions to the conflict from a very practical, grassroots, community level rather than the level of formal negotiations at the national level

As a solution to the conflict in Mindanao, Ompong offers the “tri-people relationship” approach:

Within the whole country, it is only in Mindanao that we speak of a “tri-people” relationship. By “tri-people” we refer to the Moros or Muslims, the Lumads and the migrants, mostly Christian settlers and their descendants, the greater number now belonging to the second, third or fourth generations and are already home grown Mindanawons; also, other migrants who are not Chrisitians. The grouping is loose and there are plenty of overlaps in between but the designations are popularly used in the region.

For Ompong, the assertion for self-determination is not just by the Bangsamoro but also by the Lumads and thus:

the migrant population will have to rethink their position. Although they constitute the majority population, it does not seem appropriate anymore in simple terms of majority rule. Democracy in Mindanao will have to be redefined. There are fundamental rights, interest, sensibilities involved that should be considered.

Ompong ends with a plea:

At this point in history, all givens considered, not a single segment of the population can claim Mindanao as theirs. Mindanao is already shared territory. The three segments of the population are capable of working out a modus vivendi that can make Mindanao a home of peace and harmony. We just have to work it out. Dream, visualize, act.

My Comments.

Firstly, Ompong’s framing does not include a compelling narrative. For example, I was looking for something from our collective past  (or even present) showing that Moros, Lumads and Christians can work, dream, visualize and solve social problems together. Isn’t it that our collective experience has been one of fractionalization, conflict and competition rather than of cooperation and peace?

Secondly, Ompong does not squarely address the issue of conflict and the assertion by the MILF of sovereignty and self-determination. It does not show how the “tri-people” approach can be successful in resolving the GRP-MILF peace process.

Thirdly, it seems that the “tri-people” approach presupposes that the present situation of the unitary Philippine State exercising sovereignty over everyone, including the Bangsamoro, should not be changed. This is evident in the proposal that “LGUs … will be mandated to institutionalize and lead in community dialogues where all concerned citizens can listen to one another and decide on all major issues, especially peace and development problems.”

Despite these limitations, I think that Ompong’s contribution is to highlight and amplify the “missing yet very important voice” in the Mindanao peace process: that of the Lumads. xxx

The Frame of the Bangsamoro: Abhoud Syed Lingga

Yesterday I attended a roundtable discussion on “Framing the conflict in Mindanao” jointly sponsored by the Ateneo School of Government and the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies with the support of the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID).

The roundtable featured 2 papers: one by Abhoud Syed Lingga entitled “The Assertions of Sovereignty and the Right to Self-Determination: The Philippine-Bangsamoro Conflict” and  the other by B. Rudy Rodil on “Achieving Peace and Justice in Mindanao thru Tri-People Approach.

About Frames.

A word about “frames”. Frames are the

…mental structures that allow human beings to understand reality—and sometimes to create what we take to be reality.


Political framing is really applied cognitive science. Frames facilitate our most basic interactions with the world—they structure our ideas and concepts, they shape the way we reason, and they even impact how we perceive and how we act. For the most part, our use of frames is unconscious and automatic—we use them without realizing it.

Erving Goffman, the distinguished sociologist, was one of the first to notice frames and the way they structure our interactions with the world. Goffman studied institutions, like hospitals and casinos, and conventionalized social behavior, like dating and shopping. He found something quite remarkable: Social institutions and situations are shaped by mental structures (frames), which then determine how we behave in those institutions and situations.

To describe this phenomenon, he used the metaphor of “life as a play.” For instance, consider the hospital frame, with its clearly defined roles: doctor, surgeon, nurse, orderly, patient, visitor, receptionist, janitor, and so on. There are locations where scenes play out: the operating room, the emergency room, the recovery room, the waiting area, and patient rooms. There are props: the operating table, scalpels, bandages, wheelchairs, and so on. And there are conventional actions: operations, taking temperature and blood pressure, checking charts, emptying bedpans, and so on.” (Source: Frames and Brains, http://www.

The frame gives consistency, logic and shape to how one will view reality. It is very important then that one makes conscious the “frame” that he or she is under since most of the time, these frames are unconscious, automatic and accepted as true without question.

Applied to the problem of Mindanao, the “frame” is the internal narrative, the story that shapes how one views the problem, determines the basket of probable solutions and provides the emotions to one’s engagement.

The importance of understanding frames.

It is very important to understand the “frames” – one’s own and that of other parties in a conflict. If one seeks to make or build peace, the first act must be to understand the “frame”, the “worldview”, the “stories” and to hear the “voice” of the other. Before one can even think about the possible solutions or the strategies to employ in order to “defeat the enemy”, one must understand the “enemy”. The most difficult thing is to see and listen. We are so full of our our “frame” – our biases, prejudices, theories and traumas – that we fail in that very basic human operation: to listen and to listen intently.

Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga


The Frame of the Bangsamoro People according to Abhoud Syed Lingga

Abhoud looks at the Mindanao conflict from the frame of the struggle and resistance of the Bangsamoro people from the domination and colonization of the Philippine State. Thus, he stated:

The conflict between the Philippine Government and the Bangsamoro People is rooted in the assertion of the Government of its sovereignty and the assertion of the Bangsamoro People to exercise their right of self-determination.

Thus, for him, the Bangsamoro people

…see the problem in a different perspective. They want to exercise their right to self-determination but the Central Government does not allow them. They (The Bangsamoro people) tried to use peaceful and democratic means but to no avail. When they resorted to armed struggle to defend their communities from military incursions, the toll on human lives and properties have been heavy on both the Bangsamoro (people) and the Government. [Emphasis mine]

In sum, the “Mindanao conflict” is about the Bangsamoro people’s resistance and struggle to defend their ummah, their way of life, their faith and their sovereignty as a people from the very powerful, very dominant Philippine State.

The Bangsamoro’s “frame”, his mental structure is resistance and struggle. It is resistance and struggle that provides the narrative, the logic, the emotion, the justification of the conflict.

The “frame” of resistance and struggle immediately defines the roles in the play (freedom fighters, infidels, colonizers, outsiders, local corrupt puppets, sympathizers, fence-sitters, etc.), the locations where the scenes play out (the marshes of Maguindanao, in Lanao, in Sulu, etc.), the props used (military uniforms, insignias, guns, knives, religious symbols, etc.), conventional actions (war, peace negotiations, neutral third parties, ambuscades, attacks on communities, etc). And perhaps, more importantly, resistance and struggle provides the over-arching intangibles: justification, self-sacrifice, self-renunciation, and redemption.

(Next: The Frame of Non-Moro Peacemaker: B. Rudy Rodil)

My unsolicited advice to the new government negotiators for talks with the MILF

Note: I wrote this piece in December 2008 after a new set of negotiators (Seguis, Antonino, Pangandaman, Cabili and Adamat) were appointed by President Arroyo. As we, Mindanawons, await the announcement of President Aquino’s new set of negotiators (which should be soon as the MILF “deactivated” their panel in the meantime), I offer this again by way of unsolicited (and totally “presumptuous”) advice.

Let me begin by offering my profoundest congratulations to the Chairman and the members on their recent appointments to the government negotiating panel for talks with the MILF. I assure the panel this is going to be a great challenge and, as I may add, an exciting one! It is an enterprise worth embarking upon as it provides an opportunity to do a whole lot of good – peace, development, justice not just in Mindanao but the whole Philippines as well. Alas! It also an enterprise which, if not handled well, will bring this country to perdition. Peace or perdition? The future of peace negotiations is in your hands.

Of personal paradigms and the 5BQs

As we begin our work in negotiating a possible political settlement with the MILF, we bring into the negotiating table our own set of “paradigms”, our worldviews, our set of assumptions about the world and everything in it. Paradigms are made up of our life experiences, our “oughts”, our sense of “right” and “wrong”, our principles and values. It is always good to start by taking stock of these things. In my 4 years of helping out in the negotiations, I learned that the right “WHO” is most crucial, over and above the right “WHAT”. The “WHO” is right when the following conditions are present: (1) the negotiator has the full confidence, backing and unimpeded direct access to the principal, the Chief Executive, (2) the negotiator has a clear understanding, not necessarily agreeing with, of where the other party is coming from, (3) the negotiator is perceived as authentic by the other party and lastly, (4) the other party trusts that the negotiator is in good faith and is committed to “do the right thing”. Without the right “WHO”, no amount of the right “WHAT” – agenda, facilitation, monitoring, etc. – will move the peace process. In short, it is the person of the negotiator that will spell the big difference between success or failure. Nobody joins the peace process without his or her mind already set. There is no such thing as “independent”, “neutral” or “open-minded”.

No need to despair, such is a given and is not a problem per se. It is the fact that these paradigms are usually unconscious and unexamined that constitutes the problem. It is the nature of “paradigms” to resist being challenged and yet peacemaking requires a capacity and a confidence of being able to state one’s paradigm out in the open, subject it to scrutiny and to seek out a solution that most probably will not fit one’s initial paradigm. In short, openness to change and the ability to escape the clutches of “groupthink” is an essential requirement and this “openness” begins by making the unconscious conscious, by awareness. This is not to suggest that the panel be totally transparent to everyone. It is however suggested that the panel be clear to themselves and to each other what they think and how they feel vis-a-vis the Moros and the problem in Mindanao. Sa simula pa lang, dapat nagkaintindihan na kayo: Saan ba tayo nanggagaling? Saan ba tayo tutungo? The Chairman and the members must be clear, personally and collectively, about their “paradigms” vis-a-vis the Moros and the Mindanao Problem. Operationally, this would require honest and brutal answers to the following 5 Basic Questions (5BQ):

Can the Moros (or the MILF) be trusted? Who are the Moros?

Is there a Moro Problem?/What is the Moro Problem?

What are the roots of the Moro Problem?

How should we solve the Moro Problem?

How can we build peace in Mindanao?

I need not belabor the tremendous benefit of having clarity with respect to the 5BQ except by saying that it will make all other things manageable. Answering the 5BQ will inform and determine the nature of your proposals on the table, the speed and tempo of the negotiations, the content and directions of your communications plan, etc. It will also clarify potential (and inevitable) debates and disagreements within the panel and even within the Cabinet. As they say in Christian language: Seek ye first.

The alternative of not having clarity at the onset is grim. Without clear answers to the 5BQ, the panel will be confused, disunited, given to individual and independent kanya-kanya moves and will be focused on “tactical”, not strategic, decisions. The panel’s time and energy will be dissipated by urgent but not so important matters. It will be immersed in the thick of thin things. Sayang naman.

My advice: immediately after the reconstitution of the new panel, go up to the mountains, close the doors and discuss the 5BQs first. The rest, i.e. negotiating strategy, strategic communications, constitutional and legal review, coalition building, public diplomacy, can follow. These are the easy parts.

Determining the Status of the MOA and the Extent of the Authority of the Executive.

While the ultimate goal of the peace process is a signed final peace agreement, the immediate goal of the panel is the resumption of formal talks. The resumption of talks is however not without historical context. We have been negotiating with the MILF for almost eleven years and in fact, the much maligned MOA-AD was negotiated for about 3 years before its signing was scuttled first by a TRO and then eventually a final decision by the Supreme Court declaring it “contrary to law and to the Constitution”. The Philippine Government has made it clear that the MOA-AD “will not be signed in the present form or in any other form” while the MILF has taken the position that the MOA-AD is a “done deal” and that they will only go back to the negotiating table if and only if the agenda is MOA-AD. There is a clear chasm that divides the two positions and ways must be found to go back to the negotiating table with those positions in mind. Of course, GRP can insist on what it wants and adopt a hardline “take it or leave it” position: No more MOA. Lets move on. What is the status of the MOA-AD? While Government may have taken the position that the MOA-AD will not be signed in the “present form or any other form”, there is still a need to determine what the “status” of the initialed MOA-AD is.

What does Government mean when they say that the MOA-AD will not be signed? The MOA-AD is a fruit of serious negotiations, bargaining, and back-channeling between the GRP and the MILF for almost 3 years. Is the Government totally disavowing the MOA-AD? Is it changing its mind and saying that it was a mistake in the first place for the previous panels to even agree on the provisions and principles of the MOA-AD? If this is the case, then Government must state it in plain terms and tell the MILF.

On the other hand, If Government is not changing its mind and is intent in keeping its word, which provisions of the MOA does it continue to honor? If Government is saying that the initialed MOA-AD will be “reference point” for further negotiations, then it has to spell out what that exactly means. The determination of the status of the MOA-AD is important because Government cannot simply shove it under the rug and pretend that its not there. While the initialed MOA-AD has been declared unconstitutional, the fact remains that it is a real fruit of real negotiations.

Furthermore and as a practical matter now that the panel is reconstituted, what will it advise the facilitator? That Government is ready to go back the negotiation table? To talk about what? Are we taking up the MOA-AD? If not, what will the panels talk about? What is the extent of the authority of the Government to negotiate? The question, of course, is rhetorical. But let us outline the problem from the perspective of the MILF. MILF says: “Look, we have been negotiating with you the MOA-AD for three years and just when we already have some sort of agreement and ready to sign it, the Supreme Court struck it down as “unconstitutional”. And added to that, even before the Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional, you unilaterally made a decision that you will not sign the document anymore. It is clear then to us that you (or the Chief Executive for that matter!) has no authority to bind the Philippine State with some degree of finality. Your words are never final. Whatever agreements we hope to enter into in the future can always be questioned by anyone – whether it be a Vice Governor or an ordinary citizen – via the simple, expedient tool of petitioning the Supreme Court to nullify or disallow it.

Why negotiate then with you in the first place? What is the extent of Government’s authority?” Of course, Government can respond by saying: “You must understand that our authority to negotiate and enter into agreements now and in the future, while complete and with force, contains an inherent congenital infirmity – that it is always subject to judicial scrutiny as a postulate of the legal order.” Such is the correct textbook answer. But it will not inspire confidence between and among the parties. It brings forth images of a vicious cycle of initial agreement, legal challenge, and then nullification. It brings no closure, no stability. The peace process is an inherently volatile issue and there will always be oppositors to any agreement. Is the peace talks then condemned to a future of endless litigation? We need to find a balance between the demands of “constitutionality” and inspiring confidence that whatever agreement we will enter into in the future will be, in some degree, honored and kept. We need to find it soon. Milllions of lives are at stake. ###