[OPINION] Transformation of the mind: The School of Peace and Democracy-Bangsamoro

Selva Ramachandran

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[OPINION] Transformation of the mind: The School of Peace and Democracy-Bangsamoro

David Castuciano/Rappler

'The program provided MILF commanders and community leaders an opportunity to play civilian leadership roles'

Sustainable peace and “dividends of peace,” particularly in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), are key for growth and development. Among the key actions that have significantly aided in setting the regions trajectory towards peace and growth are the signing of a peace deal between the government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2014, the subsequent approval of the Bangsamoro Organic Law by the Congress in 2018, and the establishment of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) in 2019. 

But while these important agreements are pivotal, the region’s full potential can only be fully realized when its key leaders, some of whom were former revolutionaries, are able to implement an inclusive vision for peace and sustainable development — one that is rooted in the pursuit of moral governance and sustainable development. 

In March 2020, the School of Peace and Democracy-Bangsamoro or SPD-Bangsamoro was launched through the collaboration of the Bangsamoro Government, UNDP Philippines, and the Australian Embassy in the Philippines. SPD-Bangsamoro was founded on the belief that one of the most important transformation for peace is that of the mind. Under this belief, the program provided MILF commanders and community leaders an opportunity to play civilian leadership roles. The SPD-Bangsamoro sought to support the Bangsamoro Government and accompany the transformation from armed struggle to civilian socio-political leadership and to mainstream the transitioning combatants into socio-political inclusion and participation. 

The SPD-Bangsamoro continued its implementation from 2022 to 2023, under the leadership of the Peace, Security, and Reconciliation Office (PSRO) and the Development Academy of the Bangsamoro (DAB), with an enhanced curriculum composed of three phases focused on personal and community resilience, conflict resolution and mediation, leadership, and social movement building. 

Recently, close to 200 top leaders of the MILF completed the SPD-Bangsamoro and have now been organized into four tracks according to their specialization. The SPD-Bangsamoro fully supports the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and under this stage, strongly featured the meaningful and substantive participation of women leaders. Out of those who graduated from the program, there were a total of 44 women leaders from the MILF. UNDP Philippines is honored to able to accompany former MILF combatants and community leaders in this journey through the SPD-Bangsamoro. 

Testimonials from those who graduated from the program show that the experience equipped participants to value their past efforts for social justice and empowerment, and to envision themselves continuing these struggles through peaceful means. They feel empowered in a new way to continue the struggle for peace and development.

The message of SPD-Bangsamoro is clear: that lasting peace and sustainable development cannot be achieved without addressing the intangible factors that contribute to conflict and instability. Hope, resilience, empowerment, and social cohesion are factors that are all interrelated, and they all play a role in creating a sense of belonging and purpose, which is essential for peace and development.

While the agreements in the past decade are pivotal, it is ultimately the personal and social transformation that will determine the strength of our joint commitment for peace. –

Dr. Selva Ramachandran is UNDP Philippines’ Resident Representative.

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