Filipino boxers

Contextualizing MILF’s ‘self-defense’ statement

Karen Pimentel Simbulan
Contextualizing MILF’s ‘self-defense’ statement
Why coordination is necessary to make the peace process work

According to Max Weber, the key feature of a state is that it has a monopoly on the use, or threat of the use, of legitimate force as a means to control its territory. This usually comes in the form of the state security forces – in the armed forces and the police forces.  

Implicit in any peace negotiation between a government and a non-state armed group is the acknowledgment that the state does not have a monopoly on the use of force.

In other words, a government does not usually sit down at the negotiating table with a non-state armed group unless that armed group has attained a certain level of power and control over certain parts of territory and people. This could be in terms of social legitimacy (where, for example, the non-state armed group has taken a governing role in a territory, providing the basic social services that the government should have provided, thereby becoming the acknowledged representative for a specific group of people), or based on the armed group’s ability to use force within a specific territory, or both.

The rationale behind the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) process is to re-institute the state’s monopoly on violence by disbanding non-state armed groups and either incorporating them into the state security apparatus (via armed forces or police forces), or by reintegrating them into society as civilians. 

An integral part of the reintegration process is political reintegration – that is, the transformation of the armed group into a viable political movement. This transformation is crucial because it provides the former armed group with the peaceful means to voice their grievances, as well as the legal means to find solutions to these grievances. 

Social legitimacy

Within the Philippine context, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has been engaged in insurgency against the Philippine government for almost 40 years. Its social legitimacy is rooted in its image as the chosen representatives fighting for the rights of the long marginalized Bangsamoro people.

In territories under their control, the MILF has, in effect, established their own systems of governance to make up for the lack of government presence. In this sense, the MILF’s social legitimacy within the territory under its control corresponds to the loss of credibility of the government in the same region. 

Acknowledging this fact, the Philippine government entered into peace talks with the MILF.  For while having the government meet the MILF at the negotiating table may have had the effect of granting political legitimacy to the MILF, the MILF would not have gotten the invitation had it not had sufficient de facto control over certain areas within Philippine territory. 

That the Philippine government recognizes MILF’s de facto control over specific parts of Philippine territory finds support in the Implementing Operational Guidelines of the GRP-MILF Agreement on the General Cessation of Hostilities signed in 1997, which includes among its prohibited provocative acts the massive deployment and/or movement of government forces which are not normal administrative functions and activities.

The same agreement provides that while police and military actions shall continue to be undertaken by the government throughout Mindanao, the government should ensure prior coordination with the MILF forces in the event of any police actions such as arrests, searches and seizures undertaken by the Government against criminality in identified MILF areas in order to prevent confrontational situations with MILF forces.  

These same provisions have been duly incorporated in the Implementing Guidelines on the Security Aspect of the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement of Peace of 2001. Notably, these same 2001 Implementing Guidelines even recognized the right of the MILF to take defensive or protection actions “to ensure the security of its forces, facilities, installations, equipment, and lines of communications and safety and tranquility of its civilian constituents.”   

‘Misencounter’ at Mamasapano

It is within this legal framework that the bloody events of last January 25 have to be viewed, when 392 police Special Action Force (SAF) commandos entered Mamasapano town in Maguindanao, an MILF identified territory. 

This would explain MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal’s claim that the MILF’s participation in the clash against the government security forces who suddenly found themselves in MILF territory was “self-defense.”

What some sectors have interpreted as arrogance or insincerity on the part of the MILF was actually just an acknowledgment of the “facts on the ground” – that while the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) has not yet been passed, the MILF remains a potent armed force that holds control over certain portions of Philippine territory. 

Which is not to say that the MILF is a two-faced, deceitful foe. That the other 30 SAF members who were surrounded by MILF and BIFF were extracted alive after the MILF and the SAF coordinated with the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) suggests sincerity on the part of the MILF in continuing with the peace process.  

In this instance, it would appear that it was President Aquino, in not abiding by the provisions of the ceasefire agreements and failing to coordinate with the MILF about the extraordinary movements of government security forces in known MILF areas, who did not abide by the ceasefire agreement, not the MILF forces.  

Moving forward

These are some of the considerations that we have to bear in mind, in light of the statement of a deposed political leader calling for all-out-war, or the actions of certain senators in postponing the hearings on, or withdrawing sponsorship for, the BBL.  

What we saw happen last January 25 should not lead us to conclude that the peace process is a sham and a farce.

On the contrary, the Mamasapano clash should strengthen our resolve to pass the BBL, to provide the means for the MILF to properly transition from a non-state armed group into a viable political movement, able to represent their people and seek redress from grievances, not through the barrel of a gun, but through democratic means.

Only then will this brutal war stop. – Rappler.com

Karen Pimentel Simbulan obtained a law degree from the UP College of law. She graduated from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy at the Universität Erfurt in Germany with a Master of Public Policy degree, specializing in International Conflict Management. 

 

 

 

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.