NOTE: This is Sultan Abdul Hamidullah Atar’s talk during the Development Entrepreneurship Mentoring Conference held last October 20, 2022 in Discovery Suites, Pasig City.
Muslim Mindanao is in a continuous struggle for self-governance with its own government in conformity to the distinct beliefs, culture and aspirations of the Bangsamoro people. We constantly strive by all possible means to redeem what was forcibly taken from us because of external and internal colonization. More than 40 years of fighting between the Moro Secessionist Group and the Philippine Government has caused the demise of innocent lives along with the destruction of their properties. This has led to Moro communities consistently experiencing high levels of poverty, low literacy rates, poor infrastructure facilities, poor governance, and rampant communal violence locally known as “rido.”
Rido or clan conflict cases in Mindanao have been occurring since the early decades of the 20th century and is sadly an ongoing phenomenon. The proliferation of rido has been one of the prime barriers in the development effort of both Government and Non-government institutions in Moro communities. It has also become part of Moro culture and tradition despite its damaging effects.
Many conflicts in Moro communities are effectively settled through the processes of the Traditional Law. However, efforts to harness the role of traditional leaders, structures, systems and practices in conflict resolution and peace building are not enough. The countless rido or clan feuds are one of the major impacts of the presence of more than one justice system and the disempowerment and disintegration of traditional leaders.
Rido has brought numerous untold losses and sufferings. Its effect in Moro society is oftentimes subsumed under larger leftist or separatist conflicts. Aside from numerous civilian casualties, it has also caused the destruction of countless properties, crippled the local economy, displaced communities, and has led to socio-economic, political, and spiritual instability. Easy access to firearms is considered a major contributing factor to the spate and escalation of violence and conflicts as it has become a symbol of power, authority, and security. The concept of honor and pride (maratabat) also plays a significant role in the increase in violence and conflict.
Alternative Dispute Resolution Bill
My policy reform involves the writing of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Bill, which is a response to the problem of rido. This initiative dwells on the principle that local conflict can be best addressed through local initiatives with local mediation actors, using home-grown strategies and approaches. The proposed Alternative Dispute Resolution bill is a collective effort that aims to help build a peaceful region by addressing the community level conflicts to build on the gains of the peace processes between the government and Moro liberation fronts.
The drafting of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Bill also hopes to start the institutionalization of peace mediation initiatives in order to continuously address all forms of violent horizontal conflicts in the communities. The bill aims to provide support for both actual mediation actors and managers of conflict mediation projects.
The constant presence of violence and unrest is a major obstacle to achieving sustainable peace in the region. The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) through the Ministry of Public Order and Safety (MPOS) and other government institutions has been actively taking the lead to resolve these problems particularly rido or clan conflicts. Hence, I felt that taking The Asia Foundation’s Development Entrepreneurship course was imperative to support the formulation and institutionalization of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Bill to BARMM’s governance.
In my six months policy reform journey, some of the actual outcomes we achieved include: holding two consultative meetings with local mediators and traditional leaders; conducting regular Zoom meetings and Write Shop activities; and the drafting of the “Bangsamoro Alternative Dispute Resolution Act of 2022.”
Challenges and the path to peace
One of the most challenging tasks in peace and development initiatives is the actual mediation and conflict resolution processes, especially when there are more killings inflicted by disputing families. The proposed bill does not only promote harmony among people or provide recognition to informal state actors such as the traditional system in conflict resolution. It is about harmonizing the available structures in the community to establish peace in our society. Peace is an aspiration of all human beings, and this can be achieved if we ensure justice and social stability through formal and informal institutions, practices, and norms. The intention of the ADR Law must recognize and value the interdependent relationships among groups fostering long-term cooperation during periods of agreement, disagreement, normality, and crisis. I believe that the learning tools provided by the Development Entrepreneurship course must be “indigenized” or Islamized to attract more advocates to participate in the mentoring program.
The challenges in the actual policy lobbying for this project include the delays of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) appointment; the priority policy of the BARMM government to include or exclude the ADR law; the issue of legal over moral; the limited movement during the Covid-19 pandemic; the limited financial assistance from the sponsoring organization; and the distance and the time frame for the mentoring program, among others.
Appreciation of DE Principles
The final draft of the Bangsamoro Alternative Dispute Resolution Act of 2022 is a result of the hardworking efforts of various stakeholders both in the community and selected BARMM agencies. At first, I did not know where to start in policy lobbying but my mentor, Atty. Ona, encouraged me to continue talking and engaging with the regional parliamentary leaders who were interested in peace and security. I was convinced to “just start” in my advocacy.
After I engaged with the Ministry on Public Safety and Order in the Bangsamoro Government, the Bangsamoro Attorney Office, some members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, lawyers, selected local government units, civil society organization and the community local mediators, they all expressed their full support for the realization of the proposed policy. I made “small bets” by initiating face to face dialogues and conversations with these various local players who positively responded to our advocacy. Considering my track record in peace work, it was easy for me to “harness partnerships and coalition- building” with various individuals and organizations to support our initiative.
During our dialogue and personal conversation with selected members of the Parliaments and the Ministry of Public Order and Safety, we shared with them the evidence data through the Theory of Change on the impact and effect of local rido, which hampers peace and development in many areas in Bangsamoro communities. During the plenary session with the experts, I showed that our policy reform is “politically feasible” and sustainable. I always mentioned that “no matter what we pour into the development programs and projects in our communities, if our communities are unstable and unsafe due to local rido, our hard work for change and peace building will not work.” Therefore, the enactment of the policy on Alternative Dispute Resolution is indispensable to address the societal divide in our community and showcase the real meaning of moral governance in the Bangsamoro government.
I am very thankful to have a mentor like Atty. Ona who cared and shared with me the important tools needed for policy lobbying that were anchored on the principles of Development Entrepreneurship. She always explained the norms, ethics and principles of engaging influential politicians to help influence and support our proposed policy. Atty. Ona was untiring— reiterating what is negotiable, and non-negotiable regarding the policy that we were pushing.
My mentor and I regularly talked via virtual and actual meetings and consultations so I could deepen my understanding of my policy advocacy and anticipate the multiple challenges during my reform journey. Moreover, my energetic mentor provided motivational words and encouragement, helped me analyze the Theory of Change, and utilize stakeholders mapping to come up with a clear direction of my journey.
Sultan Abdul Hamidullah Atar