Bridging leadership in the peace process
The peace process is in a stalemate, and this is not good. Our Muslim brothers and sisters recently celebrated the final rites of the annual Hajj—Eid’l Adha, or “The Feast of the Sacrifice,” reflecting the story of Ibrahim’s obedience to God through his willingness to sacrifice his son Ismael. Alongside this important commemoration, I hope we have pondered on the need for the public and our government to return their attention and commitment toward bringing sustainable peace and security in Mindanao. Our people living in the conflict zones of Mindanao have sacrificed enough in continuing to place their trust in our bureaucracy, pleading through prayers and hope amid a seemingly endless volatile socioeconomic environment.
After three decades and five administrations, the peace process between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) started with good impressions during the early months of President Duterte’s administration. To accommodate the interests and concerns of both parties, the negotiators decided to run through this settlement within the arrangement of multilateralism. But the talks are still far from achieving the end goal; the NDFP’s insistence on radical agrarian land reform has been the stumbling block for the government to return to the negotiating table.
In the NDFP’s proposal draft, the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (Caser), provisions for free agricultural land conveyances, to be made possible through expropriation and “confiscation,” are being put forth as solutions to poverty in the countryside. In turn, the government has signified its willingness to agree to the proposal, and has even communicated a readiness to fund it. But questions linger regarding the fiscal and economic viability of implementing such a plan and its legal feasibility under Philippine laws.
The use of multilateralism in conducting negotiations concerning critical agrarian issues is a complex and delicate task to pursue. Although this pushes for greater inclusivity as it tries to address the interests of all sectors including the indigenous peoples and other constituencies, this process involves high stakes that may also call for renegotiation and, thus, the termination of previous developments.
Due to the number of times the peace talks have been stalled, and with multilateralism innately requiring a more unyielding involvement of various policy perspectives, the peace process may have developed into a conglomerate of bureaucratic and organizational entities, in which decisions are done by competition, bargaining, and compromise. The participating entities have differing economic and political leverages to fully comply with the demands of multilateralism. The tension is undeniable because there are interests that cannot be compromised in this complicated issue of contradicting ideologies.
Given this arrangement, every stakeholder in the negotiation, especially the government, needs to be a bridging leader.
A bridging leader needs to have self-awareness in order to deepen the sense of ownership of the issues and challenges. For example, the government as a whole needs to understand the dynamics of the divisions that have been induced within the negotiation, and should identify what roles it needs to take to bridge the divides. Then, based on its systematic understanding of the induced divisions, and the scale of its bureaucratic leverages, the government needs to envision the equitable and realistic outcomes it wants to create. The outcomes should be a potential source to bring together the stakeholders for collaborative policy formulation.
Bringing together the stakeholders in the negotiation is not merely about the exultant exchange of professional or academic perspectives. For the bridging leader, relationships must be forged toward a common understanding and a collaborative
response to the divisions. Finally, specific objectives need to be identified, policies crafted, and mechanisms for appropriate compliance solidified — all done collaboratively.
To be fair, the problem of free land transfer has been gradually addressed by the Duterte administration. With the hope of finally realizing the long-overdue government agrarian reform program, free land distribution was institutionalized under the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022. The nationwide undertaking will cost a hefty P98 billion, on top of the roughly
P72-billion coconut levy fund that President Duterte promised to give back to the farmers, and about P2 billion — probably rising each year — in free irrigation subsidies.
But since the government has a hold only on publicly owned property while the NDFP demands land reform that involves select private lands, compromises would play a big part in how this negotiation will work out. Therefore, we cannot afford to keep the peace process in a long hiatus. This particular issue in the Caser would not only change how the local farmers earn, but also cause a commotion in the national agricultural system, and in the appropriate interpretation and practice of our legal system on land acquisition.
The progress in this particular agreement will reflect the administration’s capability to work with different actors, both the private and the public sectors, without sacrificing one in favor of the other.
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Jonathan Eli Libut, 27, is a research consultant at the TeaM Energy Center for Bridging Leadership of the Asian Institute of Management.
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