Peace and Prosperity within touching distance in Southern Philippines

I was very excited to see the progress the Government of the Philippines and the Bangsamoro Authorities have made towards peace. Like many of those who have visited Mindanao and the island provinces, I have been charmed by the hospitality, friendliness and resilience of the people I met. It was always with pleasure that I visited our beneficiaries across Mindanao and our IOM staff in Cotabato and Zamboanga.

I always left, however, with a sense of frustration. Frustration of opportunities lost, or at least not realized yet. With such beautiful countryside and such committed individuals, I felt this area of the Philippines could be booming but instead it lags behind its neighbors in most development indicators.

The war between “Moro” groups and the central government has been a major obstacle to stable development for more than 40 years. This has been in contrast to the elevation of the Philippines to low middle income status, and profound political reforms at the national level.  The impact of the conflict on development at the regional level has been devastating.

More than 120,000 people have died as a result of the fighting, with millions affected through multiple displacements, loss of family members, and destruction of property.  The insurgencies have had a cumulative economic cost estimated at more than US$ 10 billion.

The affected areas of southern Philippines have consistently reported the highest levels of insecurity, and among the lowest levels of development in the country. Human development indicators in the region are extremely poor. Most strikingly the poverty incidence in 2012 was the highest in the country with 48 per cent of the population living below the poverty line, more than double the national poverty incidence average.

Now however, the ongoing peace process does provide an opportunity to change this. During my recent visit to Cotabato, my staff urged me of their desire, and the “Bangsamoro” (the term for this area and its people) agencies’ desire, to begin working with the Bangsamoro people now.

They saw the people’s enthusiasm and support created by the Comprehensive Agreement for Bangsamoro, and asked me how best to start implementing the vital programmes needed in these communities. Whilst the political process continues, IOM and its partners know that the time to implement peacebuilding activities is now, not later.

With the promising advances in the peace process still ongoing, IOM can demonstrate potential ways we can support the Government of the Philippines and the Bangsamoro Authorities now. We have been working with these partners for many years and it is wonderful that we may now have an opportunity to further build on this relationship and contribute to improving the lives of their constituents.

IOM has over 20 years of global and local experience in peacebuilding and community stabilization. Whilst not all methods work in all places, IOM has a fine pedigree of supporting post-conflict countries through these difficult times and complex issues. Whether in Kosovo, Iraq, Indonesia, or the many other countries, IOM has always worked with governments to build long-term capacity whilst also working directly with our partners on the ground to ensure the quick impact of the peace process.

With so much on the line we cannot afford to delay. Timing is key. We look forward to discussing the Community Revitalization Initiative for Bangsamoro with our partners, and more importantly beginning the much needed humanitarian and developmental work required to ensure the peaceful and prosperous future this region and the Philippines deserve.