History of the conflict in the Philippines
The Philippines has suffered two major armed conflicts in recent years – in Mindanao involving the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and a countrywide communist insurgency with the National Democratic Front (NDF).
At the heart of the conflict in Mindanao lies deep-rooted prejudices against a minority Muslim and indigenous population. The conflict has roots in the colonial period, but the armed struggle for an independent state began in 1969, sparked by discrimination and human rights violations under President Marco’s dictatorship. Many armed groups, most notably the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), fought against the government to establish an independent Muslim region on the island of Mindanao. Over 150,000 were killed in the decades-long insurgency that ensued.
The conflict between the Government of the Philippines and the communist NDF began in 1968 and since then has caused immense unrest for the civilian population and claimed more than 40,000 lives. Since 2001, Norway has been the facilitator of the peace talks between the Government and the NDF but these peace efforts have not resulted in further agreements, with the latest round of talks ending in 2017. Neither side has yet explicitly committed to a peaceful solution, which makes confidence building and compromise more difficult.
Peace agreement with the MILF
In March 2014 the Government of the Philippines and the MILF signed a peace agreement, which they call the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. The agreement ended four decades of conflict and envisioned the establishment of a new self-governing region in Muslim-dominated areas of Central and Southwestern Mindanao, called the Bangsamoro.
In July 2018 President Duterte signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law, and agreed to a referendum to give voters in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao the final say in the future status of the Bangsamoro. The successful vote in January 2019 paves the way for the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Regional Government, that will replace the current authorities. The regional government will have greater financial autonomy and a more representative parliamentary system.
Local clan conflicts
Despite these successes, poverty and political tensions persist in Mindanao. It remains the poorest region in the Philippines, and a lack of resources, along with corruption, means the local government structures are weak. These all contribute to the prevalence of local conflicts.
Locally known as “rido” or clan wars, these conflicts are sporadic in nature yet last for generations, often becoming flashpoints between the state and revolutionary armed groups. While some cases have been resolved, the region needs improved social and institutional structures for preventing and resolving these conflicts. Without these, the security and safety of the people of Mindanao is fragile at best.
Impact of the climate crisis
A rapidly changing climate is also having an impact on peace and security in Mindanao. Flash floods and landslides, increasing as a consequence of climate change, contribute to widespread displacement and the relocation of communities, leading to land and resource-based competition between indigenous and Moro communities. Rising sea levels endanger fishing communities’ livelihoods and food security more broadly, and increased droughts have decreased corn and rice production leading to livestock theft and risk of escalation.
Our work in the Philippines
As part of the International Contact Group that supported the signing of the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement, we continue to provide support to the peace process between the Government of the Philippines and the MILF, including on the implementation of the agreement. We provide opportunities for key stakeholders in the peace process, including representatives from political parties, civil society organisations, and indigenous communities, to learn from other peace processes through comparative learning trips. In addition, the government and the NDF negotiation panel has requested us to facilitate some of their meetings - particularly in the areas of human rights and ceasefires.
Our work in the Philippines also focuses on community-level conflicts and community safety and security. In the Bangsamoro region we are working with communities to resolve local conflicts, and strengthen relationships between them and local authorities. Alongside our local partners, we have helped to establish 12 Community Safety Working Groups in communities across four locations.
We believe including all those with a stake in conflict is key to sustainable peace. We work to link community perspectives to the official peace process, organising dialogues between civil society organisations and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, as well as creating opportunities for communities impacted by climate change to advocate for conflict-sensitive policies.