The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

“Silenced” Spoilers: Conflict prevention via local conditions in Central Mindanao.

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on March 1, 2012

In 27 July 2008, a statement by Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, that an agreement granting the secessionist group substantive concessions was a “done deal”—sparked off widespread clashes in Central Mindanao, which displaced 700,000 people. Fast forward to February 2012, it is surprising that a similar comment by Iqbal, that Philippine President Benigno Aquino III promised a parliamentary “sub-state” for the MILF, did not result in another cycle of GPH-MILF violence. Although appearing as mere verbal spats, the contestation for public opinion has very real impacts on human security: the safety and well-being of conflict-affected communities.

The usual spoilers of the peace process—the hardliner MILF commanders on the one hand and populist local government officials on the other; had their divisive discourse muted. These hardliners have used inflammatory discourse to legitimize the use of armed violence. Iqbal’s 2008 statement saw local government officials swiftly retorting with hawkish discourse. This subsequently led to the scuttling of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) and the outbreak of armed conflict in Central Mindanao.

With the same prize of political and economic autonomy at stake in 2012, the resounding silence can only be explained by the confluence of factors leading to improved security at the community-level. First, Iqbal’s statement comes at an opportune time, before the rice harvest season—which is often marked by incidents of rogue MILF rebels or unscrupulous government militia sortieing out and seizing produce from the respective supporters of the opposing camp. Such events, which sans the labels “MILF” or militia, are mere criminal acts; unnecessarily draw the mainstream MILF and Philippine security forces into conflict and unduly complicates the peace process. More importantly, the recidivist spoilers of the peace process, MILF Base Commanders Umbra Kato and Abdullah Macapaar who were wholly responsible for the violence in 2008, had also been taken out of the picture.

Second, further reinforcing the fortuitous prevailing circumstances and the disappearance of spoilers is the thickening of ceasefire monitoring mechanisms led by various parties such as the GPH-MILF, local civil society and international organizations—an overall process which had yet to fully take off before the MOA-AD debacle. Another key factor is the full deployment of the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team, unlike in 2008. Simply put, the multiple facets and levels of conflict resolution have made both parties more cognizant of the strategic implications of their actions limiting the incentives for violence.

With the ceasefire in place, spoilers on the government side—populist local government officials, with vested economic interests are sapped of their voice. The insulation of vulnerable communities from threats to their lives and livelihood thus increase their resilience to such incitements to violence. Overall, the self-contained and reinforcing dynamic of local improvements to human security have sapped spoilers of their efficacy. Absence of a suspicious national discourse brings the prospects of a more conducive socio-political milieu that can lead to a GPH-MILF political settlement.

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