Brussels, November 2007
The activities promoted by NP in the Philippines
The activities that are used to implement the NP strategy in Philippines.
In the first phase of the project, six international civilian peace-keepers (ICP) will work in two areas of Mindanao.
By living and working in the region, building trust, patrolling in vulnerable communities, visiting isolated villages, accompanying civil society leaders and linking local initiatives to international agencies, NP supports local efforts to build peace and reduce violence.
Activities that NP will engage in are:
1. Providing a conscious international presence by deploying international civilian peacekeepers in vulnerable areas to associate with partners from local civil society on a continuous basis.
2. Offer protective accompaniment to individuals, groups or communities committed to non-violent solutions
3. Provide neutral spaces and facilitation services to local peacemakers who attempt to resolve traditional (feuds) and non-traditional disputes carrying the potential of violence.
4. Mutual sharing, learning and training on non-violent strategies with peacemakers and authorities
5. Monitoring violations of international humanitarian and human rights law and reporting them to relevant national and international agencies upon the consent of survivors.
6. Interposition international civilian peacekeepers along with local peace volunteers and ceasefire monitors to boost the sanctity of buffer zones and zones of peace.
7. Maintain impartial and open lines of communications with armed parties to the conflict and “lawless elements” in the field sites of deployment.
8. Linking isolated communities residing in war prone areas to local or international agencies for relief and development so that peace and protection are mainstreamed.
9. Refine early warning and rapid response through community interventions to proactively prevent violent incidents.
10. Support creation of vigilant and responsive peace structures or committees with representation from all sections up to the municipality level.
In mid 2007, of the six field sites that were prioritised in the Advance Team Report, one has already become operational in Central Mindanao. The second site in the island of Sulu is still in the process of being further explored because of additional security and political uncertainties. The remaining four field sites are awaiting expansion of NP’s Mindanao Project.
In the Central Mindanao field site, a precise location for opening the field office has been identified in the critical area of Dapiawaan, Datu Saudi Municipality in Central Mindanao, on the basis of its match with NP’s mandate. The ground work of securing the consent of all parties to the conflict, the local communities, traditional leaders et al has been laid for this location. Although the civil society, the communities and most of the stakeholders welcome NP’s presence in this location, the ICP team and the Main Office are currently addressing the concerns raised by some actors (the field office would be situated in a critical spot very close to a border line between AFP and MILF troops).
The Central Mindanao ICP team has been introduced to ground-level commanders of all sides, ceasefire structures, local government officials, community-based organisations and ordinary civilians in and around the specific office location. Besides building relationships, the ICP team is doing a conflict analysis and mapping of other vulnerable areas with a history of violence in the vicinity of the field office location.
A core group of trusted local partner representatives has already been formed and is associating with the team’s daily activities and plans. Local translators and facilitators who can increase the profile of NP in the communities have also been engaged. After laborious brainstorming and learnings from the field, the team, with the guidance of the Main Office, has determined entry points or key civilian protection issues to which it can respond in the short and long runs with appropriate strategies.
The team is currently giving moral support to local peacemakers who are mediating in one clan conflict that implicates commanders of larger political outfits. This particular problem has also generated internally displaced persons and the ICP team is visiting some of them along with local partner organisations. Recently, has been invited as an observer in their newly established mediating body resolving a clan conflict between two armed commanders. NP Central Mindanao team has maintained continuous conscious presence in the field and supported the work of local peace teams and ceasefire mechanism structures at the grass roots level to prevent the outbreak of violence.
The mandate of the Sulu ICP team is to further explore the possibilities of setting up a field office in Jolo, while taking into account the security considerations. Sulu has a very high concentration of armed actors, ranging from the Armed Forces of Philippines, US Marines and MNLF to “lawless elements.” The frequency of military operations and skirmishes is also high. Australia is also planning to deploy its troops to assist the US war on terrorism in Sulu. Since the island is totally isolated from mainland Mindanao and the outside world, communities and civil society activists are eager for NP to open a field office with continuous presence of ICPs.
The Sulu team is building relationships on the ground with top leaders of all parties to the conflict. Given the primacy of the AFP as the main actor on the government side, the team is developing cordial and positive working ties with army officer corps at the middle and higher levels. The team is also in touch with the MNLF leadership at the provincial level, bolstering NP’s already well-established connections with its supremo and his core cabinet. In coordination with the Main Office, the team is addressing concerns raised by some actors about an NP field office in Jolo.
The team is consulting with Sulu-based civil society partners and international organisations on ways and means for an organisation like NP to be effective through conscious presence. They are facilitating the entry of the ICP team to conflict-affected communities in Jolo and neighbouring municipalities. The team is examining issues and areas where NP could have an impact and is also working on a viable means of communication with the Main Office.
The sudden outbreak of violence between the armed forces of GRP and MILF in July 2007 in the island of Basilan cast shadows on the high probability of all out war between GRP and MILF forces in Mindanao. In that critical moment of time with an rapid surge of armed troops in Basilan by both parties, and Basilan without being in the fold of Ceasefire Mechanism structure and without any international presence, NP was requested by all partner organizations to send its team to island of Basilan to maintain conscious international presence and to consolidate the role of CSOs. After careful considerations and consultations with all the partners, authorities and Basilan based CSOs, the NP Sulu team along with both Project Director and Communication Officer went to Basilan. The team along with local partners met local authorities like Mayors, Barangay Captains, Municipal Councillors, Community Based Organizations and conflict affected communities. NP team established daily contacts with the Commander of Task Force Thunder in Basilan and provided regular updates to GRP – MILF Coordination Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities and partners CSOs. The NP Team along with local partners visited evacuee’s camps, especially the ones which were isolated and situated close to the conflict affected ghost areas and relayed the genuine concerns of evacuees to relevant civilian/military authorities and concerned national and international organizations. The team paid continuous visits to the communities who were ready to leave their respective barangays in case of eruption of fight between GRP & MILF forces and actively participated in a series of Basilan Based CSOs meetings to devise strategies and action plan regarding civilian protection and other human security issues.
NP team accompanied the Peace Rally/Caravan organized by members of the CSOs in the municipality affected by violence and situated on the border of conflict area. The rally was attended by the mayor, members of the Civil Society, Barangay Captains, school children and other prominent people to show their commitment to peace and their demand for peaceful resolution of Basilan crisis. The national media covered the peace rally and a short interview was given to media because of their insistence on knowing NP Presence at the rally. In the brief interview, the project director explained the reason of NP presence in Basilan and shared NP mandate. Later in the evening, the rally was broadcasted on national TV news and NP was prominently featured in the bulletin. The CSOs and Ceasefire Mechanism structure appreciated NP international conscious presence in Basilan during the height of crisis.
According to one prominent Advisory Board Member, NP contributed along with others to prevent the escalation of war in Basilan and other areas of mainland Mindanao.
One of the key objectives of the ICP team is to probe the security risks and the hurdles posed by the prospect of opening a field office in Jolo. They are doing this through random presence of spells of approximately one week to ten days in Sulu. They are being accompanied by NP Main Office staff on these visits to enable them to better understand how NP’s mandate is implemented on the ground. The plan is to progressively test the impact of this random presence and to make a final decision on the opening of an office after careful deliberation. In case of insurmountable obstacles to continuous presence in Sulu, the team is also appraising the option of operating from a nearby location (e.g. Zamboanga city, which is 4 ½ hours away by a fast sea route) and regularly visiting the province