Today, members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Philippine government are signing the framework for the creation of an independent Bangsamoro jurisdiction in the extreme south of the country. If you’d like to know more about the whole deal, you may read more about it at the official gazette.
But one of the things most average northmen – folks residing in the upper parts of the Visayas all the way up to the Batanes group of islands – are bound to say is this: what does this matter to me?
The truth is, it matters a lot. And not just from a political analyst’s point of view. I’m just like you guy in that I am nothing more than an amateur observer, a citizen from an otherwise unrelated portion of the country. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t feel the benefits of a peaceful solution in Southern Mindanao, and here are some reasons why.
It unifies a relatively large part of our nation’s resources. The Bangsamoro framework is an agreement between one of the biggest rebel groups in the country these past few decades. A lot of resources, manpower, and taxpayer contributions have been spent on the pursuit of military security in the region. This agreement will not only free up the resources that have been used in military security in the region for more peaceful pursuits, but opens up the region as a center for a new economic hotspot in the country.
In connection to number one: it opens up a previously inaccessible portion of our country to third-party developers. The land and aquatic resources stretching from the western part of Mindanao to the Tawi-Tawi islands at the southwestern-most border of our country are filled with a lot of aquatic and land resources that have largely remained untapped due to the threat of violence. With this framework, we are opening up these resources to tempered commercial and economic development by third parties interested in investing on these regions. The Sulu sea, in particular, is a resource-rich region of the country, one that the rest of the Philippines can greatly benefit from, with a little bit of responsible land and resource development.
Security in southern Mindanao is a less pressing issue. Let’s face it, one of the biggest stains on the reputation of the country for the past decade has been the threat to foreigners and locals alike posed by the MILF. With the MILF granted autonomy, the likelihood that they’ll be cooperating with the central government is higher, and the peace and security in the region will be the combined general interests of both Malacañan and Bangsamoro. This will be sure to attract tourists to the area, since safety will be a less pertinent issue. This will also open up the area for residential and economic development.
In connection with #3, it opens up more space for residential hubs. One of the glaring realities in the big metropolitan areas in the Philippines is that we are overcrowded. It isn’t just because of overpopulation (although that’s one of the underlying causes). The lack of proper urban planning has ensured that city centers like Manila are full of informal settlers uprooted from their original provinces with no real opportunities to improve their livelihood. With the opportunity to develop the economic and urban development peacefully in the furthermost corner of Mindanao, opportunities for individuals in the area can flourish, reducing the need for people to uproot themselves for better opportunities in the bigger metropolitan areas.
And lastly, it shows that we are progressive and serious about our desire for a unified, peaceful country. Say what you want about the Bangsamoro / ARMM being a separate independent political region in the Philippines, but the fact that it’s still part of a country that tried, despite calls for all-out warfare, to pursue a more peaceful, diplomatic solution. Rather than showing the weak political will of our government (which still remains to be suspect), this shows a solid backbone to the world. It says that we are a country who would rather not seek war when we can foster peace in the midst of strife. It shows that we are a people who, from north to south, know how to prioritize action-oriented talk in the pursuit of peace. And it shows that we do not give up despite the odds.
Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of problems with the Bangsamoro framework, most of which the ARMM is complaining about. But there are plenty of opportunities here as well, for development, for reform, and for peace. I believe that this is something that we, as a nation, should educate ourselves about in order to ensure that we don’t just approve or disapprove of things without knowing just what the pros and cons are going to be.