Academic journal article Austrian Journal of South - East Asian Studies

Informal Conflict Management in Exclusivist Political Orders: Some Observations on Central Mindanao

Academic journal article Austrian Journal of South - East Asian Studies

Informal Conflict Management in Exclusivist Political Orders: Some Observations on Central Mindanao

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The southern Philippine island of Mindanao faces one of the longest-running vio- lent conflicts in the world. Starting in the late 1960s with clashes between Christian and Muslim armed militias, already by the early 1970s the conflict had escalated into a full-scale war between the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF, the main rep- resentative of the minority Muslim population at the time) and the Philippine army (Dañguiland & Gloria, 2000; McKenna, 1998, pp. 138-156). In later stages of the con- flict, new rebel movements emerged, with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in particular proving to be a serious contender to the traditional MNLF hegemony. Although the MNLF and the MILF are no longer officially at war with the Philippine state at the time of writing, sporadic outbursts of violence between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and these rebel groups still occur on a regular basis. Further- more, a counterinsurgency campaign is ongoing against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), a small but highly mediatized terrorist group that rose to prominence after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In addition, as recently as 2008, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) were established as a radicalized breakaway faction from the MILF, disenchanted with the ongoing negotiations between the MILF and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).

This decades-long history of violence and confrontation coincided with protract- ed rounds of peace negotiations. Already in 1976, the Philippine state and the MNLF reached a ceasefire agreement, the so-called Tripoli agreement (Özerdem, 2012). However, it was only following a plebiscite in 1989 that the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was created, albeit as a much smaller geographic entity than originally envisioned in the 1976 agreement. In 1996, a final peace agreement was signed between the MNLF and the GRP (Bertrand, 2000). This peace agreement provided for the disarmament and reintegration of MNLF fighters, although it did not manage to prevent further confrontations between MNLF factions and the AFP.1 Meanwhile, soon after the 1996 agreement with the MNLF, preliminary talks started with the MILF (International Crisis Group, 2008). Despite some major setbacks (Wil- liams, 2010), often followed by a period of open warfare, talks between the GRP and the MILF have now reached an advanced stage with the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and four annexes, as recently as January 2014. While important challenges remain with regards to the further fine-tuning and im- plementation of this agreement, it has nonetheless enabled a rapprochement and a stabilization of relations between the MILF and the Philippine state.2

Notwithstanding the notable progress made in these negotiations, important questions remain with regards to their impact on the everyday security situation in Mindanao, where a broad variety of local conflicts continue to proliferate. This obser- vation is related to critical insights that have emerged in recent years about the highly complex, multi-layered conflict ecology in the region (Adam, 2013; Lara & Champain, 2009). By tackling only one aspect of this conflict ecology, namely the 'master narra- tive' of Muslim struggles for autonomy, national-level statist diplomacy is inevitably limited in scope. For these reasons, a range of NGOs and international organizations are now pointing towards the need to complement these national-level negotiations with alternative conflict management practices that rely disproportionately on non- state, informal institutions of conflict management (Centre for Humanitarian Dia- logue, 2011; Human Development Network, 2005; The Asia Foundation [TAF], 2011). These informal institutions are said to be not only socially legitimized, but also better equipped to deal with localized violent disputes. Based on an analysis of existing con- flict management practices in Mindanao,3 however, we would like to challenge some of the basic premises underlying this 'alternative' approach. …

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