One 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.
However, the period in between the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement and the actual entrenchment of the regular Bangsamoro government is also an exploitable gap. And pieces are moving, especially from those who are resistant or threatened of the ongoing process, or those continue to be bound by the dynamic of war. Incidents of violence has shifted back from conventional Government-MILF conflicts to other conflict lines – beginning with the so-called “spoilers” (e.g. the Abu Sayyaf Group and MILF’s breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters), to internal challenges within the MILF (rido or clan feuds, and occasional infighting), and political violence among local politicians. This is compounded by other hurdles such as criminality, questions over the fate of a previous peace agreement signed with another rebel group – the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and apprehensions from Christian communities and non-Islamized native tribes over their future under a Bangsamoro government.
To find an entry point in such a complex architecture is a tricky endeavor for any organization. NP’s field teams are currently working under very shifting, sometimes paradoxical, and often inter-connected conditions. While the mandate of NP in the Philippines under the Civilian Protection Component (CPC) of the International Monitoring Teamremains, and teams regularly followup incidents and protection issues, other areas of work are also gaining more weight.
How can NP support the MILF as a future stakeholder in the new Bangsamoro entity and contribute to a smooth transition on the local level? How can it be ensured that civil society is also finding its voice in the new environment? What behavioral change, if any, can NP prompt in the vast spectrum of groups and organizations in Mindanao with its nonviolent and non-partisan approaches?
These are the questions that NP’s field sites in Mindanao need to answer. Field teams in 2014-2015 are highly mobile, flexible and adaptive. They follow recent trends and also try to set their own localized peace-building support agenda through its complex weaves of relations and multi-stakeholder diplomacy.
Clearly, arriving from point A to point B is a daunting task. Considering the gargantuan challenges of multi-faceted conflict situations, Mindanao needs all the help it can get. As such, NP’s unarmed civilian peacekeeping role is crucial in support of a bottom-up transition process.
NP is determined to monitor the conflicting parties’ compliance to international human rights and humanitarian law. In fact, NP has positioned field teams which conduct an average of 366 monitoring patrols in Mindanao each year as part of its work under the CPC. Every year, the teams engage and work alongside some 305 local ceasefire and human rights monitors. Regular trainings are conducted with local partners and oftentimes, with the Commission on Human Rights. These trainings are often, given to key security actors including the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police and the MILF.
NP maintains eight offices across conflict-affected Mindanao that work in close collaboration with local partners to establish and strengthen protection structures in communities prone to human rights violations. The current network of community-based monitors in NP’s area of responsibility in Mindanao consists of 34 structures, covering 127 vulnerable barangays (villages) in 35 municipalities across Central and Western Mindanao. These structures are supported in conjunction with 22 local civil society partners and more than 1,000 trained volunteer monitors. NP teams provide an average of 41 trainings for approximately 3,000 participants each year- in order to establish and strengthen these local mechanisms.
Granted, it is sometimes difficult to pinpoint clear and meaningful success stories. However, just as the environment of Mindanao is highly complex, so too are the interventions of the teams. NP plays a crucial role by walking small steps. But only then can the finish line be actually reached.