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Peace is everyone’s business

A group of us had the unique opportunity to join a dinner this week with the Norwegian special envoy to the Colombian peace process, Ambassador Dag Nylander. The small dinner was held at the Makati residence of Ambassador Erik Forner of the Royal Norwegian Embassy in the Philippines. Ambassador Nylander is in the Philippines to share his experiences in cofacilitating the Colombian peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and in participating in the current round of negotiations that has achieved numerous breakthroughs and is expected to culminate in a political settlement in the first semester of 2016.

We are all too aware that in the Philippines, there remain two critical peace processes that have so far eluded a final political settlement—one with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the other with the National Democratic Front (NDF). Ambassador Nylander’s key message is that, in his experience with Colombia, three critical elements are essential to moving a peace process forward.

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The first is commitment by both parties to the belief that peace is possible. Such a commitment must translate to concrete and often bold and brave initiatives that build confidence in the process. On the other hand, a deficient understanding and analysis of the conflict by representatives of both parties will make commitment impossible.

The second is inclusion of stakeholders. Often, a peace process fails because key stakeholders are left out of the dialogue and the critical discussions and debates from which a settlement can be distilled. In Colombia, the key stakeholders included are women, indigenous peoples, the military and police, and groups of abuse victims.  The ambassador warns, however, that there has to be realistic limits to inclusion.

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The third is the involvement of an independent party. This is simply about accepting outside help from the international community and acknowledging that the peace process is not purely an internal matter that we must resolve ourselves.

In the peace process with the MILF, it can be argued that these three elements are present, thus contributing to its much more advanced stage compared to the process with the NDF. Certainly, a bold and brave initiative that demonstrated the government’s commitment was the meeting in Japan of President Aquino, early in his term, with MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim. The MILF dubbed that meeting as “a great leap forward” and it put the peace process on a fast track toward achieving political settlement.

From the two roundtable discussions that the business community had with the government, it can be gleaned that there were significant efforts made to ensure broad stakeholder inclusion. Could the level of inclusion have fallen short, as demonstrated by the Mamasapano incident? Apparently, the Philippine National Police saw nothing wrong with pursuing an operation that would clearly have put at risk a process that was nearing conclusion. Was the PNP not sufficiently “included” in the process? Or was this, on the part of the President when he authorized the operation, a most unfortunate moment of relaxing his commitment to the process?

Over dinner, Ambassador Nylander said the current process with the FARC did have its own “Mamasapano” that, fortunately, did not derail their peace train. How they went beyond their “Mamasapano” is something our legislators may want to learn from the ambassador and understand.

The Philippines’ helping hand from outside is primarily Malaysia, with a number of other international friends, including Norway, providing

additional critical support. Not many may know, for example, that a multinational force acting as a third-party monitoring team (TPMT) has been present in Mindanao and has helped address and prevent confrontations. The TPMT also contributed significantly toward easing tensions on the ground after Mamasapano.

Norway has also been providing outside help to the peace process with the NDF, although the process is stalled under this administration. The visit by Ambassador Nylander is part of Norway’s continuing commitment to peace efforts in the Philippines. I understand that it continues to encourage and facilitate dialogue, not just between the Philippine government and the NDF, but also among key stakeholders. My presence at the dinner table together with Vic Lao of the Mindanao Business Council is Norway’s way of encouraging Philippine business to get involved in this other peace process.

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Ambassador Forner of the Royal Norwegian Embassy in the Philippines explained to me that it is their hope to see Philippine business become part of the negotiations when the peace process with the NDF resumes. As in the Colombian experience, there is a chair at the peace table occupied by a representative of the Norwegian business community.

Responding to the challenge, Vic Lao and I confirmed that at the very least, our respective organizations and our members are committed to helping bring about a just and lasting peace in the country. Clearly, one role is to help bring investments into conflict areas to help boost the economy and create jobs once components of a political settlement are put in place. On my part, I reiterated that there is growing commitment in the business community to pursuing truly inclusive businesses and that inclusive business models must be built in and around the conflict areas sooner rather than later.

After all, as I have said before, peace is everyone’s business.

Peter Angelo V. Perfecto is executive director of the Makati Business Club.

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