USAID in Mindanao: The Other Side of the US COIN: Page 6 of 10

Posted on 22 June 2017

supports that peace objective. This model assumes private sector-led development and facilitating engagement within established governance processes is related to peace and stability. This might be seen as a donor-led model which, at least, should consider the following: 1) assessing long-term effects of private-led economic growth such as displacement of communities and increasing inequalities, 2) acknowledging issues that might arise due to relationships of local elites to localities, and 3) factoring in fundamental economic issues of the peoples of Mindanao which are tied to a history of US colonial and government land dispossession in what are now conflict-affected areas of Mindanao.

While not an economic development program per se, the ENGAGE project is still oriented towards contributing to stability, this time through supposedly streamlining government performance and engagement with civil society. For a program directly targeting governance outcomes and stability, there needs to be more cognizance of local elite structures and dynamics -- which are not necessarily inscribed in formal institutions and practices of governance.

In addition, the peace and stability objectives of GEM and ENGAGE need to be reassessed in light of the established roles of USAID economic and good governance programs – and development in general – in US national security objectives (as seen in USAID documents). Both GEM and ENGAGE, as peace and stability programs, attempt to change economic and governance conditions to counter the emergence of insurgency, from legitimizing government (USAID, 2016) to gaining popular support (e.g. address the lack of “community loyalty”) (USAID, 2015: 25).

In US counterinsurgency strategy, both appear as part of a “consolidation” phase, of attempting to render insurgent groups irrelevant, with “police [2], intelligence, governance, information and economic programs assum[ing] the lead, and political leaders work[ing] to resolve key grievances and mobiliz[ing] popular support for ending the insurgency” (Interagency Counterinsurgency Initiative 2009, 26).

US and Philippine state actors in USAID programs

Also noteworthy is the participation of American state actors, and Philippine state actors involved in counterinsurgency operations, in the programs. Both the GEM project and the 2012-2016 Country Development Cooperation Strategy are outputs of the US Embassy’s Mindanao Working Group, a decision-making body tasked to coordinate “all US Government assistance to Mindanao” (USAID 2014), which is “led by the Deputy Chief of Mission” and made up of members from USAID in addition to the “Department of State, Department of Justice, Department of Agriculture and Department of Defense (USAID 2015). Their consultations of stakeholders for programming decisions had also involved Philippine government actors that participate in counterinsurgency operations.

For instance, ENGAGE was programmed after discussions with communities, local governments, non-governmental organisations and also with the Philippine Armed Forces. There remains the open question on whether civil society participation throughout this process was considerable and had an important impact to the Working Group decisions, and whether the Mindanao Working Group is mandated by the US policy of forwarding security interests through defence and diplomacy, and most importantly, development. If the latter is the case, this would be a violation of the national sovereignty of the Philippines.

When it comes to the GEM project,

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