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Fieldworkers in the Philippines

Nonviolent Peaceforce was invited to Mindanao by local organizations working for peace and justice. Some of the organizations are formally involved in monitoring the ceasefire between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). NP deploys internationals to work with local peacekeepers, contribute to their safety, help to maintain ceasefires and advance the peace process.

Nonviolent Peaceforce Philippines Project objectives include:

  • Enhancing the work of local peace teams through its presence and by reporting to the outside world;
  • Contributing to the maintenance of the ceasefire(s) and working to prevent new violence;
  • Supporting human rights reporting mechanisms in remote conflict areas;
  • Assisting and connecting local and international advocacy groups;
  • Ensuring grassroots conflicts are resolved through dialogue at the local level and do not grow into larger crises.

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  • To enhance the scope and quality of locally based people’s organizations and peace/human rights advocates.
  • To reduce the incidence of violence in the vicinity of NP field sites through means of unarmed international civilian peacekeeping, thereby aiding in the maintenance of the ceasefire(s).
  • To support human rights reporting mechanisms in remote conflict areas and assist/connect local and international advocacy groups that work for peace with justice by responding to people’s grievances. 
  • To localize grassroots conflicts so that they are resolved through dialogue at the lowest level and do not snowball into larger crises. 
  • To provide conscious international presence by deploying international civilian peacekeepers in vulnerable areas to associate with partners from local civil society.
  • To offer protective accompaniment to individuals, groups, or communities wedded to non-violent solutions but exposed to threats.
  • To provide neutral spaces and facilitation services to local peacemakers who attempt to resolve traditional (i.e. rido [iii]) and non-traditional disputes carrying the potential of violence.
  • To facilitate mutual sharing, learning, and training on nonviolent strategies with peacemakers and authorities dealing with the peace process.
  • To monitor violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, reporting them to relevant national and international agencies upon the consent of survivors. 
  • To interposition international civilian peacekeepers along with local peace volunteers and ceasefire monitors to boost the sanctity of buffer zones and zones of peace.


Historical Background

The United States governed the Philippines from 1898 through to its independence in 1946 and consolidated the country under one system of government modelled on that of the US. Throughout the American colonial period, people from other parts of the Philippines, particularly the Visayas, began to settle in parts of Mindanao. However, migration to Mindanao accelerated after independence in 1946. By the 1960s, Muslims formed a majority only in the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, and the ‘island provinces’ of Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi as well as in specific municipalities of several other provinces.

The first Moro[i] guerrilla group, the MNLF, formed in 1968, signed a peace treaty with the GPH in 1996.

A referendum asked the municipalities and provinces with significant Muslim populations in Mindanao if they wished to join an ARMM which Manila created in the late 1980s. Today, the aforementioned five provinces form the ARMM. Since the municipalities of some of these regions are predominantly Christian, some of the cities are not in ARMM, including Cotabato City, which is the headquarters of the ARMM.

MNLF leaders joined the government structures in Mindanao, mainly in the ARMM.  Twelve thousand MNLF soldiers were demobilized, with about 8,500 of them integrated into the AFP and the PNP.

The MILF, which had officially split off from the MNLF in 1984, continued fighting. The GPH and MILF officially entered into peace talks in 1997. The talks with the 12,000 strong MILF have been interrupted three times by serious fighting: in 2000, 2003, and 2008.

Peace Talks

The economic collapse of 2008 had damaging political implications because it hardened the position of all stakeholders on critical elements of a final peace.  These include the territory for a new Bangsamoro homeland and its powers vis-à-vis Manila.  At the center of the storm was a text known as the MOA-AD, whose provisions the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional.  It was never formally signed.   After a year of intermittent fighting a ceasefire was called. On 23 July 2009, the Government announced a Suspension of Military Operations (SOMO), followed two days later by an announcement on the part of the MILF of a Suspension of Military Activities (SOMA) but the peace process was difficult to get on track again.

The general election held 10 May 2010 passed relatively peacefully in Mindanao and brought to power President Benigno Aquino III who pledged to make a peaceful resolution to the Mindanao conflict a priority of his administration.

He did not want to repeat the mistakes of the 2008.

On 4 August 2011 the President surprised the nation with an announcement that the he met with MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Tokyo, Japan. The two leaders agreed to fast-track the peace negotiations so an agreement could be forged within the first half of the Aquino administration and implementation of the agreement could be done until the end of his term in 2016.

A breakthrough came on 15 October 2012 when both parties signed the “Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro[ii]” – a sweeping vision of a new government for the that will be much different in structure and more powerful than the existing but impotent ARMM. It is however far from a final peace.  The framework defers several tough questions that need to be resolved.  The framework agreement envisions a new government for the Muslim south that would raise its own revenues and have its own police and judiciary.  It maps out a multi-step process to create the new entity by the Acquino administration’s end of term.

There are major obstacles including the possibility that politics in Mindanao or Manila could get in the way.  Further, it may be impossible to devolve sufficient power to the Bangsamoro government without coming into conflict with the constitution.  The MILF is unlikely to give up its arms until the process is complete.

Ownership of weapons is widespread across conflict-affected provinces of Mindanao, further exacerbating conflict and violence. The rule of law is weak. Extortion, kidnap for ransom, and assassinations are commonplace.

The Maguindanao Massacre[iii] of 23 November 2009 was only the most shocking and high profile example of a situation of generalised political violence that exists in parts of Mindanao and that is not directly linked to the GPH-MILF conflict. Violent armed clashes between clans, families and other groupings, a phenomena known locally as ‘rido’, are prevalent. Rido usually concern land disputes, long-standing vendettas, political power, and other such matters.

Successive governments have supported local politicians in forming Citizens’ Auxiliary Force Geographical Units (CAFGU) or Civilian Volunteer Organisations (CVO), most of which are armed militias, and although nominally under the chain of command of the AFP, often operate independently of it.

The emergence of an MILF splinter rebel group – the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement – under renegade Islamist commander Ameril Umbra Kato in 2011 poses an additional threat to the peace process.

Between 1972 and 2004, it is estimated that the conflict was responsible for the deaths of 120,000 civilians. The conflict has periodically displaced large numbers of civilians who then depend on humanitarian assistance. The most recent major displacement occurring in August 2008 displaced around 750,000 people.

[i] Spanish word moro, from the Spanish word for Moor, the Reconquista-period term used for Muslims.

[ii] Bangsamoro comes from the Malay word bangsa, meaning nation or people, and the Spanish word moro, from the Spanish word for Moor, the Reconquista-period term used for Muslims.

[iii] The Maguindanao massacre, also known as the Ampatuan massacre after the town where the mass graves were found, occurred on the morning of November 23, 2009, in the town of Ampatuan in Maguindanao province, on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. While the victims were on their way to file a certificate of candidacy for Esmael Mangudadatu, vice mayor of Buluan town, they were kidnapped and brutally killed. Mangudadatu was challenging Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr., son of the incumbent Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr., in the forthcoming Maguindanao gubernatorial election, part of the national elections in 2010. The 58 people killed included Mangudadatu's wife, his two sisters, journalists, lawyers, aides, and motorists who were witnesses or were mistakenly identified as part of the convoy.


In February 2010, swisspeace conducted an evaluation of the Nonviolent Peaceforce’s activities in the Mindanao province. Being the only international non-governmental organization working with and living in close proximity to the most conflict-affected population in Mindanao, NP was able to support and enhance local structures to achieve their goals as well as cross-community dialogue. NP accepted the offer in late 2009 by the conflict parties – the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – to join the civilian protection component of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) of the peace process. This is a direct expression and result of NP’s successful contributions to violence reduction and non-violence in the last two years.  Read the results of this study in its entirety.

The work of NP was highlighted in two workshops in the Philippines in August 2009, during which key stakeholders in the Mindanao Peace Processes acknowledged that unarmed civilian peacekeeping is an improvement in monitoring and consolidating the ceasefire mechanism structures.


Philippines Photos (From Flickr)

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