LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Could ethical business be the key to ending one of Southeast Asia’s most intractable separatist conflicts? That is the hope of lawyer Anwar Malang, who has campaigned for decades to bring peace to a Muslim enclave of the Catholic-majority Philippines.
The conflict in Mindanao, the second largest island in the Philippines, has killed about 120,000 people, displaced 2 million and helped radical Islam gain a foothold in the region.
Now a pioneering new law that Malang, a local government minister, helped to shape seeks to end the violence by giving greater autonomy to the region and - crucially - providing much-needed jobs by boosting ethical businesses.
“If people have some productive activities, they will be more focused on their productive activities than entertaining the thought of the conflict,” Malang told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Cotabato on Mindanao.
“Working together ... builds a peaceful relationship and coexistence with the community.”
Malang believes the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), approved earlier this year by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, may be the first attempt to shore up peace by enshrining a commitment to ethical business into law.
The BOL includes a commitment to promote social enterprises - businesses seeking to benefit society as well as make a profit - to assist with development and offer solutions to social issues.
It is the culmination of a lengthy and rocky peace process during which militants linked to Islamic State have expanded their influence, most notably in a devastating occupation of Marawi City last year.
An estimated 5 million Muslims live in the Bangsamoro region, which has the country’s lowest levels of employment, income, education and economic development.
The area includes part of the island of Mindanao, and a chain of dozens of smaller islands.
“The challenge here is how to somehow satisfy the expectations of the people,” said Malang.
“The government could come up with policy programs of how to promote and how to provide incentives, and of course I do hope that in the coming years the government would also provide financial support for social enterprises.”
The number of social enterprises in the Philippines has more than tripled in the last decade to 165,000, according to the Philippines Social Enterprise Network, although many are struggling due to a lack of funding.
Some - such as Coffee for Peace, set up in 2008 - are already bringing together native Muslims and Christian settlers and other ethnic groups to harvest and process beans together.
CfP was set up in 2008 on Mindanao, after its founders stopped Christian and Muslim neighbors going to war over the ownership of a rice field, and seeks to encourage dialogue between communities.
Malang was part of a Filipino delegation that visited Northern Ireland in 2017 to see how businesses helped with conflict resolution.
“The good thing there is the government is very much supportive of social enterprises and that’s what we are trying to do now,” he said.
Reporting by Lee Mannion @leemannion; Editing by Katy Migiro and Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org