Armed conflict in Phl continues to evolve PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 15 November 2011 14:38


The evolution of the armed conflict in the country has dealt a heavy toll in lives and property the past four decades with a genuine and lasting peace as elusive as ever.

Be that as it may, the government is still confident of wrapping up a separate peace agreement with two main rebel groups – the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the communist National Democratic Front (NDF) during the six-year term of President Benigno S. Aquino III.

The armed conflict in the Philippines is unique compared to other countries facing the same problem. The government has to deal with insurgent groups, not to mention the all-out war on terror against the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf.

The Philippines has the longest running-insurgency in Asia that has mutated into breakaway rebel groups over the years.

For example, even after the government had signed a final peace accord with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) on Sept. 2, 1996 under the Ramos administration, the MILF broke away from the MNLF and continued the war in Mindanao which the government has to deal with.

However, there are these so-called “Lost Commands” within the MILF who pealed off from the MILF hierarchy by forming their own armed groups, like the breakaway group of MILF renegade Umbra Kato.

Not far behind are the breakaway groups of the New People’s Army (NPA) that later signed separate peace accords with the government. These are the Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA) and the Rebolusyonaryong Partidong Manggagawa ng Pilipinas-Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPMP-RPA-ABB) which signed separate peace accord with the government in 1987 and 2000, respectively.

In 1986, the NPA strength reached 25,600 but through the years, the number had been cut down drastically to about 4,300 as of September 30, 2011 due to mass surrender and internal purges.

On the other hand, the MILF has about 12,000 fighters to date, according to military estimates.

The Mindanao war initiated by the MNLF, the forerunner of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), broke out in 1974 with the burning of Jolo fueled by the 1968 Jabidah massacre during the Marcos regime.

The 22-year MNLF warfare killed over 150,000 people and tens thousands wounded. Records also show that the government spent P73 billion in that war operation against the MNLF.

The war ended with the signing of the 1996 peace agreement between the government and the MNLF, but the MILF opposed the accord and continued to fight the government.

However, then President Fidel V. Ramos acted swiftly and tasked then Executive Secretary Ruben Torres to meet with MILF Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar to start peace negotiations to prevent another outbreak of hostilities in southern Philippines.

On Sept. 10, 1996, Torres and Jaafar agreed to the creation of a Joint Committee to prepare a ceasefire and establish a favorable condition for negotiations.

Ramos also designated then Ambassador Fortunato U. Abat as chair of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines’ (GRP) peace panel to negotiate with the MILF.

On July 18, 1997, the GRP and MILF Panels signed the “Agreement for General Cessation of Hostilities” in Cagayan de Oro City that implemented a ceasefire that lasted for the next 30 months.

Then on February 6 “Agreement to Sustain the Quest for Peace” was forged in Marawi by Technical Committee Chairpersons then Assistant Secretary Jovenal Lazaga and MILF-Shiekh Moner Bajunaid and the “Cessation of Hostilities” Sub-Committees between Maj. Gen. Joselin Nazareno, representing the government, and Omar Umpar of the MILF.

Both parties agreed on: (1) repositioning GRP forces in Buldon, Maguindanao; (2) resolution of watershed issues involving the Minabay-Banganan-Ambal Rivers; (3) suspension of logging by Cotabato Timber Company and others; and (4) formation of joint Quick Response Teams.

Perseverance on both sides resulted in significant reductions of hostilities and, therefore, casualties/dislocation/collateral damage throughout Mindanao.

During the ceasefire period, development in Mindanao was in full swing climaxed by the establishment of the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area.

Among the projects undertaken by the government were: (1) installation of potable water systems for Camp Abubakar using solar power; (2) irrigating 2,500 hectares of farmland around Abubakar from the Malmar System; and (3) concreting the 15-km. road to Abubakar from the highway between Cotabato City and Malabang, Lanao Sur.

There was relative peace in Central Mindanao until then President Joseph Estrada declared an all-out war against the MILF after Moro rebels launched a spate of attacks in some parts of Mindanao.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) practically conquered all MILF camps during the fighting but the MILF was not totally crushed and was able to rebuild its forces over the years.

Off-and-on fighting continued until 2008 when another war broke out between the AFP and MILF following the aborted signing of the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, which was declared by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.

But even during the fighting, backdoor negotiations between the government and the MILF continued as the two sides resumed the peace talks during the time of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

When incumbent President Benigno S. Aquino III assumed office on June 30, 2010, he pursued the peace process vigorously.

At the same time, the government has also pursued peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front (NDF), despite some problems, particularly the insistence of the NDF for the government to release first from detention some of their so-called NDF “consultants” before resumption of talks.

However, the government peace panel, headed by Undersecretary Alexander Padilla, said the NDF had earlier agreed to restart the negotiations without preconditions.

Padilla said the precondition imposed by the NDF was a violation of their agreement signed in Norway and Netherlands.

Because of the NDF’s precondition, the peace talk was virtually in a stalemate. Padilla is hopeful the two sides will resume the negotiation sooner than later.

Meanwhile, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles noted that “the past two weeks have been quite challenging for the peace process”, citing particularly the Al-Barka incident that had resulted in the killing of 19 Army Special Forces and the wounding of 14 others during an ambush by the MILF and Moro outlaws in Basilan which the military claimed was a violation of the ceasefire agreement.

The soldiers were on a mission to serve a search warrant of a wanted MILF commander when the troops were ambushed.

Earlier, the NPA also attacked three mining firms in Surigao del Norte, virtually adding more problem to the stalled peace talks.

Deles said that “the unfortunate incidents that have happened in the recent past have led some groups to question the peace framework and approach under the Aquino administration.”

However, Deles said that there had been a major shift in perspective in making and building peace under the Aquino government, citing “the importance to win the peace, with the goal for the medium term to bring all armed conflicts to a permanent and peaceful closure.

“There are no sinister schemes, no plans hatched in darkness,” she assured.

Deles also said that under the Aquino administration, “we intend for the peace process to flourish under broad daylight, with all stakeholders present and very much
engaged as advocates for peace and progress.”

She said that talks with the MILF definitely “on track.”

Formal negotiations resumed in Kuala Lumpur last February, followed by an exploratory talks also in Malaysia last August wherein the government peace panel submitted the so-called “Three for One Formula” to resolve the Bangsamoro problem in Mindanao.

Last September, third party facilitator Malaysia conducted shuttle facilitation between the government and the MILF to determine ways of moving forward the peace talks.

Deles said this resulted in the Nov. 4 informal executive meeting in Kuala Lumpur, where “both sides cleared the air about pressing issues regarding the negotiations, leveled off on each other’s concepts and identified common grounds and differences to move the substantive agenda forward.”

In the Al-Barka incident, Deles said that “the two parties likewise agreed that investigation through the ceasefire mechanisms shall continue to be conducted. Such investigations will include those to be done by the International Monitoring Team (IMT) in coordination with the Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (JCCCH) and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG).”

Deles was glad that “the MILF itself reaffirmed that it will cooperate with government with respect to its efforts to interdict kidnap-for-ransom groups, criminal syndicates, and ‘lost commands’ pursuant to the AHJAG. And make no mistake about it, we will hold them to their word.”

“What is clear to us is that the search for a lasting peace in Mindanao cannot just focus on the negotiations between the government and the MILF. The peace process with the MILF faces what is perhaps a unique challenge: the reality that current negotiations with the MILF involve the same core territory and the same people that are already the subject of a peace agreement with another group, the MNLF; the reality that the Final Peace Agreement with the MNLF has already put
into place an ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) Regional Government, which almost everyone today agreed badly needs to be reformed,”she said.

Deles said the government will push for consensus on a “convergence framework” to make sure that these three strands of peace are able to come together and work together, namely, negotiations with the MILF, completion of the implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement with the MNLF, and the proposed roadmap for ARMM governance reform.

“”We can’t have lasting peace in Mindanao if the MILF and the MNLF are at cross-purposes with each other. We also believe that a progressive and more democratic ARMM will be a good building block for whatever new and significant changes may arise as a result of the ongoing peace talks,” Deles said.