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"The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro raised the hopes and expectations of the Bangsamoro people who had grown so tired of war."

Two years ago, the government of the Philippines signed an agreement allowing for an autonomous Muslim state in Mindanao, the Philippines’ southern-most island. This hard-won victory came after decades of civil war and years of negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the group seeking autonomy for the Bangsamoro. This agreement, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, raised the hopes and expectations of the Bangsamoro people who had grown so tired of war. The agreement was meant to be a stepping stone towards the creation of a new independent Muslim state and a historic step to finally bring to an end the political violence in Mindanao.

But the creation of the new state stalled in 2015. Without the establishment of a new Bangsamoro government, no one could run in this year’s upcoming elections. The Bangsamoro Government was supposed to be asymmetrical to the central government and to include recognition of a separate Bangsamoro identity with their own justice institutions and comprehensive governing framework. This would have guaranteed basic rights including government representation, the right of women to participate in the political process, and to protection from all forms of violence.

Read more: The State of Peace in Mindanao

The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) was signed on 27th March 2014 between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as a stepping stone towards the creation of a peaceful government in Mindanao. Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) in the Philippines was also present at the signing of the CAB. The theme for this year’s commemoration of the signing of the significant step was: "Stand up for Peace! Long live the CAB!"

Read more: Commemoration of Peace Deal in Mindanao Reaffirms Commitment to Agreement

Nonviolent Peaceforce in the Philippines joined the International Monitoring Team (IMT) as the only international NGO in its Civilian Protection Component, per invitation from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Government of Philippines in 2010. The invitation came as part of the peace process agreed to by the two. This work is one of the main undertakings of NP’s work in the region. NP carries out various activities together with the IMT team sites, such as protective accompaniment of civilians and shuttle diplomacy.

Read more: NP’s Work in Mindanao Praised by Former IMT Head of Mission

By Maria Mutauta, Intern for Nonviolent Peaceforce in the Philippines

 

Maria is a recent graduate of the University of Nairobi in Kenya where she studied law and worked with an NGO that addressed health and sanitation issues in low-income urban areas. Following the political situation in Burundi that resulted in displacement and insecurity for civilians, Maria decided to focus on conflict transformation and improving security for civilians on a non-partisan platform. Maria's internship with Nonviolent Peaceforce in the Philippines is the next step in this goal. It is also an opportunity to gain an understanding of the theory and practical application of unarmed civilian protection. Maria's experience with Nonviolent Peaceforce is a gateway for her future studies and career in conflict transformation and civilian protection.

Many of you reading this are likely well versed in Nonviolent Peaceforce’s mandate and the different projects conducted in NP’s country programs. However, perhaps you are not fully tuned-in to the dynamic entity that is the NP field team. As the newest addition to NP Philippines, I want to share my revelations about daily life and work in the field with the South Central Mindanao Team (SCMT).

I arrived at the SCMT field site in Datu Piang, Mindanao, not knowing what to expect. My knowledge of Mindanao prior to arriving was limited, but I knew the area is prone to tensions and outbreaks of violence ̶ related to protracted conflict in the region. I’d already experienced the hospitality of the Filipino people, but anxiety got the best of me during my orientation. Needless to say my worries quickly proved unfounded. The members of my team accepted me as one of their own from day one and gave me great advice on how to handle culture shock. I also received a warm welcome from the many communities I visited with the team. In fact, after only a couple of weeks, the armed actors I had initially deemed unapproachable no longer intimidated me.

Read more: Working Together: NP's Many Collaborators in the Field

Women have always played a definitive role in times of war and peace.

caca 0171In 2000, the United Nations Department of Public Information assembled a fact sheet based on the "Review and Appraisal of the Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action: Report of the Secretary-General". On the one hand, it revealed that "more than 75 per cent of displaced people are women and children, and in some refugee populations they constitute 90 per cent." On the other hand, it also put forth an observation that "a growing understanding of the role of women in conflict resolution and the specific skills and abilities they bring to the decision-making process."

This U.N. observation which was made more than a decade ago resonates in Southern Philippines.On the one hand, indigenous peoples of Mindanao, collectively known locals as the lumad, have been historically marginalized, lacking equal participation in matters of governance, and suffering high rates of violent conflict and human rights abuses. On the other hand, the region is in a time of transition. The transition offers an opportunity to support thelumadcommunities through implementing mechanisms which aim to improve their safety and security as well as their participation and ability to positively engage with existing and emerging government units and security actors.

Read more: Nonviolent Peaceforce empowers women IPs to resolve conflict among tri-peoples of Mindanao,...

NCFT DR 150127 Dagadas Minanimbong covenantVengeance runs deep. This is an established fact especially in remote areas where there is a perceived lack of justice and security.

For years – sometimes generations – a mother would live in constant fear not knowing when the foe will choose to strike, or who among her sons will be killed next. For years, a family member will participate in a deadly game of hide and seek. The game ends when the family line is exterminated. If this is a movie, “The War of Clans” might be a fitting title. But in many remote areas of the Southern Philippines in Mindanao, they call it “rido.”

Rido is a term, derived from the Maranao tribe, which is commonly used to refer to clan feuds. When members are engaged in acts of retaliation, the cycle of violence is almost impossible to stop.

Rido has brought bitter strife to the lives of feuding families and kinship groups, as well as to communities where bloody hostilities have taken place. The phenomenon has not only caused the destruction of property, but more importantly, it has derailed the normalcy of life of the people who were displaced by war.

Read more: Rido and Reconciliation: a Case from North Cotabato Province

NPPBanner1One can say that peace is only ten percent agreement, but ninety percent implementation. Paramount challenges face societies, countries and regions in post-conflict environments where conflict is still fresh and recovery has not yet been fully attained. Furthermore, new security challenges create obstacles to genuine peace-building and sustainable results. Indeed, even after a political settlement has been reached, uncertainties continue to loom over a fragile peace process as peoples and communities begin the journey from conflict to normalcy.

The situation is no different in the island of Mindanao in Southern Philippines. A generally stable ceasefire (though not without its challenges) between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that has steadily held over the past several years is one of the key strengths of the peace process. Add-in the recently concluded Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamorothat paves the way forward for genuine efforts from both sides to achieve a sustainable negotiated peace.

The big story nowadays at the national level is the a draft legislation in Congress entitled the “Bangsamoro Basic Law,” which endeavors to put in place an enhanced autonomous governance structure in predominantly Muslim areas of Mindanao. “Bangsamoro” pertains to the political entity contemplated under the comprehensive agreement. It also refers to the native inhabitants of Mindanao and its adjacent islands in Southern Philippines who identify themselves as such. The passage and ratification of the law is expected sometime in the middle or latter part of this year.

On the ground, expectations run high on the promise that the legislation intends to deliver. The beginnings of a transition are also perceptible. The MILF has launched its own political party. A schedule for the decommissioning of MILF weapons and normalization of communities has been adopted. A post-conflict development plan for the Bangsamoro is currently awaiting approval of the President.

Read more: Nonviolent Peaceforce in Mindanao: Supporting the transition process from bottom-up

Nonviolent Peaceforce in South Central Mindanao Team conducted a Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law orientation for a total of 27 Philippine National Police Police and another for 25 Police personnel on the following day. October 13, 2014, General Santos City.Over the past seven years Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) has become a key actor in Mindanao, known for working alongside local peace and human rights workers in the most vulnerable, conflict-affected communities. In 2010, NP was invited by the peace panels of the Government of the Philippines and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace process - to become a member of the Civilian Protection Component (CPC) of the International Monitoring Team (IMT).

Read more: Nonviolent Peaceforce Strengthens Human Rights Protection

Hopeinaforgottenland3An old platitude about the conflicts in Mindanao traces it back to one of the most basic commodities of men: land. Just a few hectares of corn, rice or sweet potato ensure the livelihoods of several families or communities. Land is a gift given from one generation to the next. And in case of the indigenous tribes of the Southern Philippines, land is not only the material expression of the people’s lives, but also a token from nature, and thus a precious part of earth itself.

Read more: Hope in a Forgotten Land
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