Brussels, novembre 2007
The need for intervention in the Philippines
How civilian intervention can play a role in building a peaceful society in Mindanao.
Local groups in Mindanao are working to sustain the ceasefires, encourage nonviolence and foster peaceful relations between communities. They also strive for the concerns of ordinary people to be heard in the official peace process. To better pursue these objectives and to overcome the “culture of silence”, they identify the need for greater international support. NP has been invited to field qualified International Civilian Peacekeepers (ICPs) as an expression of solidarity from global civil society to local civil society. During multiple consultations in potential field sites and continuous exchanges with key local partners, NP Teams heard one refrain:
“We appreciate your purpose of coming to Mindanao. Some international organisations are investing heavily in development projects. But what is the use of tackling poverty without peace? Your organisation’s agenda of protection and peace is the most necessary but least addressed. Why should international efforts be blind to the reality that protection should precede development?”
One activist referred to the dependency being created by international aid and the corresponding loss of self-esteem of the people of Mindanao.
“We don’t need noodles or sardines. We can grow our own food. What we need is protection and security.”
The general feedback from peacemakers and communities of Mindanao is that
“An NP presence can provide moral solidarity to the war battered people, which is a much more valuable form of assistance than material aid.”
NP Teams liaised with the peace constituency in conflict-affected Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and adjoining provinces, travelling to critical areas that have a history of violence and a likelihood of future outbreaks. In response to Nonviolent Peaceforce’s Team’s overnight halts in remote flashpoints, local peace advocates commented,
“People are wondering if this is a dream or reality that, finally, the international community has ventured into their inaccessible areas and heard their continuing unattended protection and human security needs.”
The following specific peace and protection problems were communicated to NP teams working in Central Mindanao and Western Mindanao:
During the course of field visits, NP Teams learned of several hurdles and threats that hinder the daily mobility and freedom of action of peace and human rights activists. Some activists even hesitate to go alone to market places in main squares of towns. Knocks on doors at unearthly hours and anonymous warnings through text messages are commonly experienced by civil society activists who advocate for justice. All of them see in NP an ally that can improve the scope and quality of their efforts.
NP Sulu team has been requested specifically to assist isolated local civil society in Sulu to make operational the Sulu based human rights commission. There is strong consensus on the need for a human rights monitoring and reporting body to monitor, report and document human rights violations. The civil society in Sulu anticipates this body to be independent of the government and to be fully run by the civil society. The civil society categoricaly asked that NP can act by giving support to such immidiate need and requested NP to link the proposed human rights commission to both Philippine and international based agencies who could provide necessary support to make the human rights commission functional.
Internally displaced communities face many protection problems and are languishing in a state of limbo in many areas without their rights to return or resettle being respected. Those living in temporary shelters in close proximity to armed actors face additional threats of becoming victims of crossfire or operations. Such IDPs live in remote locations inaccessible to other international organisations. IDPs strongly requested NP teams to help them returning safely to their respective areas. The civil society asked for the immediate need to raise awareness about the guiding principals on IDPs entitlements during and after displacements. Peace advocates working in such areas believe that NP’s arrival can improve the connectivity of IDPs to service providers at the national and international level and will indirectly contribute to safer living conditions.
Farmers in some areas are unable to till their land close to the buffer zones due to fear of getting caught in armed clashes or being suspected of their loyalties, both of which occur regularly in many provinces of the ARMM. Residents of remote barangays (small village communities) in conflict-affected areas face intimidation and threats each time they travel to the main markets (Poblacion) and cross the lines of control of one armed group into the other’s domain. Restricted mobility affects the very livelihood of many marginalised village dwellers. Activists feel that NP presence and accompaniment can ease the fear factor in and around the field sites of deployment. In one of NP field sites, recently a farmer was severely injured as he was beaten up by an armed group on suspicion basis. Because of fear and culture of silence he did not report to any organization at that time.
Given the culture of silence and oppressive political environment around ARMM, survivors of human rights abuses are rarely heard even though they are numerous, especially in remote areas. The prioritisation of purely developmental and relief approaches has not helped the cause of raising awareness and responses to human rights problems. Recently, in Central Mindanao, residents of one community were asked to abandon their houses. An older woman and her grandson were unable to leave before the allocated time. Armed group came and shot the old lady and her grandson. The grandmother succumbed to injuries and grandson survived, this specific case not only went unreported because of security reasons but it also created immense fear among the community members. NP ICPs mandated to assist human rights activists can make a big difference in the field sites of deployment by assisting community efforts to increase sensitivity of all armed actors towards gender rights and distinction between combatants and non-combatants. This involves acting as an impartial conveyor and clarifier of complaints of civilians about human rights abuses and concerns of armed actors about lawless groups. NP head office in Cotabato is told by the local partners that lot of cases of missing persons are reported locally but because of security reasons and lack of support the local human rights groups are unable to do prerequisite follow ups to find the whereabouts of missing people.
In NP field site areas, people informed NP about cases of arbitrary detentions of civilians by armed groups. According to people, civilians are arrested on the basis of doubts and sometimes they are kept in detention cells for months without any charges. During the course of field visits, NP was informed about cases of extra judicial killings and security problems faced by the witnesses. Communities in NP field site areas strongly appreciated the fact that NP permanent presence in such areas would be a deterrent factor and it will contribute to reduce incidences of arbitrary detentions and extra judicial killings.
One major problem in conflict-affected areas is the lack of trust and neutral facilitation between communities and armed actors. This often leads to suspicions and tension that can spin off into large-scale armed conflict. NP ICPs could facilitate dialogue and confidence building between community representatives and armed actors at the grassroots, complementing the higher scale interventions of JCCCH and IMT in the mainland and the Joint Monitoring Team in Sulu. This way the peace dividend can trickle down to the people at the deep surface level.
Certain Ridos (Clan wars) are intrinsically connected with the larger political rivalries that underlie violence in some of the identified field sites for NP ICPs. Thus far, the efforts of local peacemakers and LGUs have not yielded any resolution to these persisting clan conflicts. Local elders and traditional leaders affected by this issue suggested that an NP presence in their areas can boost their attempts to find a solution through dialogue and thereby reduce chances of new mini-wars like the one in Shariff Aguak.