International Alert's CEO Harriet Lamb made her first country visit to the Philippines in February, to gain a first-hand and in-depth understanding of our work in the region.
The Philippines is Alert's second largest country programme after the Democratic Republic of Congo. "I'm here to listen and to learn," said Lamb, who took up the post of CEO in November 2015.
Lamb was joined on her trip by representatives from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, one of Alert's largest supporters, who likewise wanted to deepen their understanding of the Philippine conflict context and Alert's work in the country.
During her five-day visit, from 8–12 February, Lamb met with local journalists, partners and Alert staff, to familiarise herself with the various components of Alert’s work in the country.
A major part of this work seeks to address the interconnection between violent conflict and exclusion in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. Lamb held meetings with our partners to discuss the peace processes with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). She also met with Teresita Quintos Deles, the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (pictured above right), and the heads of the House and Senate committees that heard the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which aims to create the Bangsamoro, a potentially larger autonomous region for Muslim Filipinos in Mindanao.
Progress on the peace process between the government and MILF has been challenged by the non-passage of the BBL, while the peace process with the NDFP has suffered from a lack of trust between the communist insurgents and the government. Alert has called for a ceasefire through the national elections in May, and for presidential candidates to prioritise the resumption of peace talks between the NDFP and the government in their first 100 days in office.
"We wanted to showcase our successes, but also our challenges," said Alert’s Philippines Country Manager Francisco Lara Jr.
During her visit, Lamb was interviewed by journalists from local newspapers, an international news agency and a development media website. She was also a guest on ABS-CBN News Channel’s ‘[email protected]’ and CNN Philippines’s 'Network News’ (watch here). In the interviews, Lamb highlighted the importance of underpinning peace with prosperity and of peacebuilding in general, and what she thought were the next steps forward for the proposed BBL.
A further focus during Lamb’s visit was 'conflict-sensitive economic governance’ (CSEG), a framework for preventing conflict that arises from economic or social change by bringing together businesses, local governments, and people's organisations and indigenous communities through dialogue and partnerships. Lamb met with faculty members of the Asian Institute of Management, who, with Alert, co-developed the CSEG curriculum in the Philippines and Myanmar, which has been delivered annually since 2012 to national and international participants. The group was joined by students who had gone through the programme, who shared how they have utilised the concepts and tools in addressing challenges they face in their work in high-risk and complex natural resource-rich areas.
A dialogue was also arranged with members of the Panlalawigang Asosasyon ng mga Ayta sa Bataan and the Bangsa Iranun Kababaihan, an association of Aeta councils and a federation of Iranun women's groups based in Bataan and Maguindanao provinces, respectively. The two groups have worked with Alert in organising a federation of women's associations, to strengthen women's voices and participation in local development and governance. Its members are now active participants in community development and in preventing community conflict.
In Davao City in Mindanao, where Alert has a satellite office, Lamb met with officials of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and the Mindanao Business Council, as well as representatives of the local governments of Compostela Valley province and the town of Parang, Maguindanao, to discuss the resource use and management planning (RUMP) process and the Mindanao Indigenous Peoples (IP) Desk, which help indigenous peoples to peacefully manage and protect their lands.
The RUMP is a tool for mapping out a locality, such as an ancestral domain, into areas that are currently used and those that are available for commercial use, to enable the protection and rehabilitation of lands. It also provides a platform for community residents and local experts to come together to discuss issues such as competing claims, disputes and negotiation strategies with local governments, private investors and other interest groups. The Mindanao IP Desk makes use of RUMP maps in matching indigenous peoples' development plans with investors’ projects. It is a joint initiative developed by Alert along with members of the NCIP and Mindanao Business Council who had taken the CSEG course.
Lamb also met with Alert's partners in the business sector, including participants in the Davao Multistakeholder Group on Energy Concerns (DMGENCO), which was established as a dialogue group composed of representatives from a power firm, civil society organisations and communities directly affected by the company’s coal-fired power plant. DMGENCO seeks to manage violent conflict risks, and discuss issues and ways to address them. Other attendees included business partners supporting our work on the peace process with the MILF and NDFP, including members of the Mindanao Business Council.
Alert's team in Davao also demonstrated the capabilities of the Bangsamoro Conflict Monitoring System, which covers the proposed areas of the Bangsamoro autonomous region, and introduced Lamb to the Southern and Eastern Mindanao Conflict Database, which covers the southern and eastern corridors of Mindanao and will be launched in the first half of this year.
Other meetings attended by Lamb included with Alert’s partners in a three-year project on establishing hybrid mechanisms for mitigating conflict in the ‘shadow economies’ of firearms, land and trade between the islands of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, which are part of the current autonomous region for Muslim Filipinos, and Sabah in Malaysia. Lamb also held discussions with Alert funders, such as the Australian and Norwegian embassies, and local peacebuilders, including Alert’s former senior policy adviser Prof. Ed Garcia.
"I am thrilled about how innovative and dynamic the programmes in the Philippines are," Lamb said of her visit.
Photo © Judy Gulane/International Alert