Catholic Peacebuilding Network

Enhancing the study and practice of Catholic peacebuilding

Overview of the Conflict

The conflict in Mindanao began in the late 15th century when The Philippines was colonized by Spain. Conflict between Muslims and Christians resulted from land confiscation and associated resettlement. In 1899, at the conclusion of the Spanish-American war, The Philippines was ceded to the United States. After The Philippines gained independence in 1946, conflict between Christians and Muslims in Mindanao continued.

The armed conflict has largely been concentrated in the Muslim-majority areas of central and southwestern Mindanao, which consists of three of today’s administrative regions (Region IX—Western Mindanao; Region XII—Central Mindanao; the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, or ARMM), and; four provinces in Region XI—Southern Mindanao (Davao del Sur, Sarangani, South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat).

Who are the actors?

Moro National Liberation Front: In the late 1960s and early 1970s Muslim armed resistance to the Central Government was spearheaded by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). The MNLF claimed fourteen provinces in Mindanao which it sought to consolidate into a separate Muslim state.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front: The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) broke away from the MNLF when the MNLF accepted autonomy within the framework of Philippine nation-state. The MILF continues to fight for independence through an armed struggle against the Government.

Communist Party of the Philippines/New Peoples Army/National Democratic Front: The Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New Peoples Army, along with an associated group, the National Democratic Front, have also been involved in an armed insurgency in Mindanao. Their objective is to overthrow the Government and establish a socialist state.

Rebolusyonaryong Alyansang Makabansa/Kawal ng Sambayanang Pilipino/Young Officers Union/Alyansang Tapat sa Sambayanan: These groups are composed of soldiers who have staged various coup d’ etat attempts especially during the presidential term of Corazon Aquino. They continue to pose a threat whenever there is social unrest.

Abu Sayyaf Group and Pentagon Gang: These are essentially criminal groups, but are believed to have links to other groups in and beyond the region.

What are the main causes of conflict?

The Asian Center for the Progress of the People reported in May 2004 that these are the main causes of the conflict: (1) massive poverty; (2) poor governance; (3) injustice and abuse of power; (4) exploitation of cultural communities; and (5) lack of recognition of ancestral heritage.
While the conflict in Mindanao is often labeled a “religious conflict,” it is more accurately understood as a conflict between two different groups with separate identities. In its “identity conflict,” religion is used as one of any number of distinguishing characteristics of the groups.

What is the impact of conflict?

A World Bank report entitled The Mindanao Conflict in the Philippines prepared by Salvatore Schiavo-Campo and Mary Judd (2005) says that the conflict during 1970-2001 resulted in an estimated 120,000 casualties (not including uncounted numbers of wounded and disabled), more than two million people displaced, and a cost of was approximately 2-3 billion US dollars. An argument has been made that the Mindanao conflict is “never-ending” because both Christians and Muslims attach high value to political dominance. While this may be true of certain individuals and fringe groups, the evidence on the ground indicates strongly that the main organized groups attach far greater importance to autonomy than to “dominance” within a localized conflict area. The population at large yearns for peace above all else.
What were some of the initiatives for building peace?

According to the Asian Center for the Progress of the People (ACPP), many efforts to bring about peace in Mindanao have been undertaken over the years. These include the Tripoli Agreement in 1976; mediation by the Organization of Islamic Countries and the Muslim World League; the establishment of a National Unification Commission; talks in Libya, and Jakarta, where an Interim Agreement was signed; the establishment of the Southern Philippines Zone of Peace and Development; and, the signing of a Final Peace Agreement between the Government and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) on September 2, 1996.

But violence has continued. Formal peace talks between the Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) began, broke down, recommenced and were then suspended. In June 2001, an Agreement on Peace was signed in Tripoli by the MILF and the Government. A series of talks in Malaysia led to the signing of an Agreement on the General Framework for Unity on August 7, 2001. Other agreements were signed subsequently but skirmishes continued and formal peace talks were again suspended in March 2002.

On May 28, 2003 the MILF declared a unilateral ten day ceasefire, in response particularly to an Open Letter from Catholic Bishops. According to the military, it was almost immediately violated. The MILF say that the “violation” took place before its troops could be informed. The ceasefire was extended for a further ten days on June 12 and then again on June 22, 2003 the ceasefire was extended indefinitely. A matching gesture from the military was requested.

Current efforts for peace are led on the Government’s side by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

What are the components of the peace process?

Path 1: Pursuit of social, economic and political reforms
• Policy advocacy and coordination with government agencies for the delivery of basic services and for socio-economic activities
• Support for the implementation of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) which
guarantees the integration of indigenous peoples into mainstream society

Path 2: Consensus-building and empowerment for peace
• National peace constituency-building (expansion of partners of Government in building)
• Support for the formulation of area-based peace and development agenda and related
programs, e.g. Integrated Culture of Peace Program for the Cordillera

Path 3: Peace negotiations
• Peace talks with rebel groups (CPP-NPA-NDF and MILF)
• Implementation of existing peace agreements (GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement, 1995
Agreement with the Military Rebels, Peace Agreement with the Cordillera People’s
Liberation Army)

Path 4: Reintegration and rehabilitation of former rebels
• Provision of emergency assistance, livelihood loan assistance, capacity-building
assistance and scholarship programs through the National Program for Unification and
Development (NPUD)
• Amnesty for former rebels in coordination with the National Amnesty Commission

Path 5: Addressing concerns arising from continuing armed hostilities/assistance to communities affected by armed conflict
• Quick-response interventions in areas with on-going hostilities
• Assistance to victims of armed conflicts
• Development of Special Development Zones (Sagada, Mt. Province; Malibcong, Abra; Tulunan, North Cotabato)

Path 6: Nurturing and building a climate for peace
• National and area-based peace education programs (development and
implementation of education and training programs, curricula and modules for peace)
• Various peace advocacy activities, including interfaith solidarity conferences, Muslim Leaders’ Peace Summit, tribal peace initiatives, and a program for children in armed conflict