The Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS) undertook a three day Staff meeting and workshop last August 26-28, 2019 held in Cotabato City. Spearheaded by the CBCS Chairperson Mr. Guaimel Alim, the activity was attended by the CBCS staff composed of Area Coordinators, Project Managers, Project Officers, Support Staff, personnel from the Admin and Finance Unit and including three Community Development Facilitators. The staff meeting was aimed to a) level off the staff’s understanding of the current socio-economic-political challenges during the period; b) review of internal capacities especially staff needs and gaps in skills and competencies c) learning new updates and issues arising from activity implementation and d) coming up with recommendations that the organization needs to pursue in terms of its planning and programming.

The staff had intensive exchange of ideas around socio-political and normalization challenges after the area coordinators presented the political situation and issues faced by people in their respective provinces. The session levelled off a common staff understanding of what is happening especially in the grassroots communities. Among others, issues like “contained” military operations and presence of IDPs, human rights violations needing civilian protection, continuing narratives of IDPs and threats of radicalization and violent extremism continue to surface.

The discussion of the political situation, was followed by a discussion on the milestones, perspectives and challenges faced by the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). Chairperson Guiamel Alim led the discussion in looking back on the milestones that were achieved throughout the process of pushing for the transition from ARMM to BARMM. The political and fiscal autonomy are windows of opportunity for the government to lead in the transformation process needed by the Bangsamoro communities to enjoy the dividends of the peace process especially during the transition period. Herein also lies the challenge for the CSOs, like CBCS to accompany the Bangsamoro Transition Authority in the transformation process.

These challenges need to be faced by the consortium collectively and several areas will be addressed:

Developing new communication strategies and messaging. There is need to provide regular updates on the milestones of the BARMM which is also a way of managing people’s expectations. The creation of the BARMM raised high expectations for immediate changes to happen – not to be worked out – but to be given already during the transition. The messages have to be nuanced not to give false hopes to people.

Strengthening current programs and advocacies. In the light of the challenges in the BARMM, the Chairperson briefly reviewed the current programs. The core programs of Peacebuilding, Governance, Promotion of Human Rights / Transitional Justice, support to Delivery of Social Services including Livelihoods. CBCS reaffirms that all these programs will lead to building the capacities and resilience of communities to manage their development.

Staffing. The current staff reviewed their understanding of their functions and tasks with the view of further determining staffing needs and gaps in skills, competencies and capacities. The end exercise renewed the commitment of the staff to pursue the development goals of the organization and learn from the challenges that can be managed.

Developing new initiatives, new platforms to expand and consolidate the CSO ranks. CBCS puts premium in addressing the needs of young men and women, of children, of BM communities outside of the BARMM. How to engage the “old leaders” but also at the same time, developing the younger generation in recognition of the complexity and volatility of the peace and conflict dynamics in Mindanao. How to reach out and engage the indigenous peoples in both the mainland and island provinces to continue interfaith / intercultural dialogues in promoting social cohesion that is very much needed in the BARMM. CBCS believes that the establishment of the BARMM should not be seen as a panacea to the conflict dynamics in Mindanao. But rather than be a bystander in the peace journey, CBCS chose to journey together with the key stakeholders in the peace process in a post conflict agreement phase.

The three day activity was ended with the Chairman throwing these challenges and asking the staff to be more “creative” and “vigilant” as CBCS continue its engagement in governance and in the peace journey.
“We will continue to pursue our goals for as long as there are challenges”, he said.