Bangsamoro gov’t urged to address land conflicts marring peace in Mindanao

The Bangsamoro interim government must address persistent land conflicts and clan feuding marring the transition process, violence that often has the participation of members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said conflict watchdog International Alert.

The MILF is the group leading the regional government, called the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA). Some of its armed members, supposed to undergo decommissioning as part of the peace agreement with the national government, have figured in deadly disputes over land in 2019, the year the MILF assumed leadership of the BTA.

Clan feuding was on the rise in 2019 in 4 Bangsamoro provinces, according to IA’s Conflict Alert 2020 report, a compendium and analysis of violent incidents there, which was released on Monday, January 25. Twelve of the 146 clan feuds recorded by the IA in 2019 were due to land disputes, compared to 9 in 2018. 

Image from Conflict Alert 2020 report

Clan feuding rose particularly in the mainland provinces of Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao, areas where the MILF has significant presence.

The year 2019 also showed persistent involvement of MILF-affiliated persons in clan feuds. Thirteen incidents of clan feuds had the participation of MILF-affiliated persons. These incidents led to 24 fatalities, the highest death toll in the category since 2011 or before the Aquino administration signed a framework peace deal with the MILF.

Image from Conflict Alert 2020 report

But it may be the implementation of the peace deal that inadvertently led to increasing land conflicts, said IA in its report.

“The irony is that previous combatants in civil war conflicts who ought to be retired by decommissioning and normalization processes are instead training their weapons against indigenous peoples and other claimants of the lands within and surrounding their previous camps – encouraged no doubt by the CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro) provision to transform 6 MILF camps into civilian communities,” said IA.

MILF combatants living in these camps now want permanent rights and ownership of the land there but since the perimeter of these camps and land parcels nearby are not defined, conflicts arise between the combatants, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and even residents of nearby communities, said the group.

MILF-led BTA must address conflicts

Clan feuds are taking their toll on the MILF. Half of the casualties from clan feuds involving MILF-affiliated actors were from the MILF itself. Seventeen percent of deaths were affiliated with clans, 13% were BIFF, and 8% were local government officials.

The solution to these deadly land disputes lies with the Bangsamoro government, especially since it is dominated by the MILF.

“We are suprised why in the first year of their having led the BTA that there wasn’t a more dedicated and vigorous effort undertaken to resolve land issues, because everyone knows that, everyone’s been saying that yet nothing happened, really substantially, in the first year,” said IA Senior Peace and Conflict Adviser for Asia Pancho Lara in a press conference on Monday.

IA country director Nikki de la Rosa urged the BTA to create a Bangsamoro Land Commission to resolve land disputes in a manner befitting Bangsamoro culture and norms. 

“The regional government needs to consider how to solve the issues of land-based conflicts in Maguindanao and Lanao and what is the implication of that in terms of the camps transformation, because that’s also an opportunity to strenghten property rights, to resolve overlapping claims of the claimants in that area, more prominently the Tedurays,” she said.

The Teduray tribe is an indigenous group whose ancentral domain lies in different parts of the Bangsamoro region, some of which are occupied by the MILF.

The BTA has not yet passed a law on indigenous peoples’ rights, one of the 7 priority laws it is supposed to approve before its mandate ends in 2022.

Work-in-progress

Bangsamoro Interim Chief Minister and MILF chairman Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim had vowed to address violent conflicts before assuming leadership of the regional government.

He had said he would prioritize disbanding private armed groups and cracking down on illegal firearms. The BTA also set out to involve its combatants in maintaining peace and order in the region through the formation of Joint Peace and Security Teams (JPSTs).

But the implementation of this program has been slow, with only 135 MILF combatants out of a target 3,000 completing training, Interior Minister Naguib Sinarimbo had told Rappler in an interview. The construction of 200 JPST stations all over the region has also been delayed, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The BTA has also said it could do little in 2019, the year of the IA report, because it only had the budget of the now-defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to work with and it was busy setting up its bureaucracy. 

But Murad, on Friday, said the MILF’s dialogues with various groups in an effort to stop violence is bearing fruit.

“In the BIFF, there are already some, about more than 900 of them who already pronounced that they are willing to rejoin the MILF,” he said. The BIFF members were supposed to rejoin on the BARMM’s second anniversary but feared coming out into the open because of arrest warrants they are facing.

The MILF continues to negotiate with other groups in the island provinces of Sulu, Basilan, and Tawi-Tawi, said the Chief Minister. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

image