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Bickering Bangsamoros? Why Transparency is Insufficient for the Success of the GPH-MILF Negotiations

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on May 10, 2012
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The “straight and narrow”[1]path to a final peace agreement by the end of 2012 between the Philippine Government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) appears clear.Taking cues from public outcry over the aborted 2008 Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), steps have been made to make the negotiations more transparent to stakeholders. However, this optimism is tempered by the lingering potential for conflict. With renewed confidence in the GPH-MILF negotiations (after two successive exploratory talks in 2012), the potential flashpoint is less likely a result of the presupposed “Christian-Muslim” dialectic but the more obscured tendency for fissures within the Bangsamoro[2].

The conclusion of the 27th GPH-MILF Formal Exploratory Talks (23-24 April 2012) led to the signing of the Decision Points on Principles, which puts forth the broad principles for greater political autonomy and resource-sharing sharing in favor of the MILF, subject to further negotiations. While the Decision Points are largely similar to the MOA-AD, the favorable response by stakeholders to the new initiative is an indicator of the increased transparency of the peace process.

Complementing these developments are apparent improvements in community security. Diminished perceptions of threat and insecurity along with the sense of empowerment enhance human security. In turn, this provides the groundswell of grassroots support for the GPH-MILF talks.

Expected animosities amongst communities ostensibly due to religio-politico identity (i.e. Muslim-Christian) have hardly manifested. A key point to note is that both government forces and the MILF have consistently upheld the ceasefire as seen in the absence of armed clashes in 2012. However, it must be stressed that these apparent improvements on the ground may overshadow the latent manifestations of conflict, far from the eyes of observers in Manila.

Clan conflicts or rido are not taken into account by GPH-MILF peace monitors. Illustrative of these latent conflicts is a series of clashes in April 2012 between families of MILF members and former Moro National Liberation Front rebels. It is just one example of how quality-of-life issues such as farming and land rights can incite conflict amongst the Bangsamoro.

Factionalism within the MILF, as seen in the breakaway of a major rebel unit (covering a specific geographic area) once led by the late Umbra Kato, is in fact a recurring event. More troubling is that the potential for fratricidal conflict is even more pronounced today. The recent demise of Abdulaziz Mimbantas, the MILF Vice Chairman for Military Affairs, brings with it the potential of a power struggle in the group’s highest echelons—reminiscent of the crisis triggered during the 2003 passing of MILF founder Hashim Salamat.

Simply put, the spillover of intramural violence in the MILF could very well trigger a cascade of conflict and insecurity in communities including Christian-dominated ones. Thus, steps must be taken by the GPH and MILF to rein in Bangsamoro bickering to prevent the emergence of humps towards the path to peace.


[1] President Benigno Aquino III’s 2010 electoral campaign was premised on the idea of a “DaangMatuwid” (Straight Path), which would do away with the corruption and policy obfuscation that purportedly besets Philippines politics.
[2] Bangsamoro, directly translated into “Moro Nation” is the ethno-politico concept used by Muslim secessionist rebels in Mindanao to distinguish themselves from the Philippine body politic.
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