Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Philippines: Dismantling Rebel Groups

Source: International Crisis Group

The Philippines has had some recent success in winding down decades-long negotiations with rebel groups, but achieving peace with the country’s biggest insurgency, in Mindanao, requires both new energy and fresh thinking. 

In its latest report, The Philippines: Dismantling Rebel Groups, the International Crisis Group examines President Benigno Aquino III’s efforts to end major insurgencies, including with the Mindanao-based, 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). An October 2012 pact with the MILF – the most recent agreement in intermittent talks that began in 1997 – brought hope for peace. Government and rebels now need to find ways to improve security in Mindanao, which is awash in arms.
The report’s major findings and recommendations are:
  • The revival of negotiations with the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA) in northern Luzon and the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayo Brigade (RPA-ABB) in Negros has brought some positive results. In negotiating “closure agreements” with each group, the government drew lessons from disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) as practised internationally, such as collecting personal data to improve monitoring and moving from weapons buybacks towards livelihood assistance.
  • Security provisions in the two closure agreements are problematic. Interim arrangements for rebels to turn in weapons depend on the reservist law, which authorises auxiliary forces supervised by the military. Under this law, some members of both groups will remain armed. To assuage the concerns of civil society activists and ensure these interim security arrangements are working, the government and the CPLA and RPA-ABB should regularly review them.
  • The closure agreements should have addressed lax enforcement of gun laws, lack of confidence in state security forces and the impunity enjoyed by private armies. These issues lie beyond the purview of the peace process office, which negotiated the pacts. Strong leadership from President Aquino is necessary to forge a comprehensive approach that combines support to ex-combatants with efforts to address these long-term challenges.
  • Some Philippine rebels, notably the MILF, continue to view DDR as a counter-insurgency tactic. Government and rebel negotiators should focus on crafting a joint strategy for improving security that would lead toward establishing a new regional police force for Mindanao and improving judicial systems. A traditional DDR approach may not be the best option.
“The government needs to draw the right lessons from its experience with smaller groups as it mulls options for the MILF”, says Bryony Lau, Crisis Group’s South East Asia Senior Analyst. “Last year’s peace agreement is a chance for both sides to sit down and discuss how weapons should be managed in Mindanao”.

“President Aquino’s approach to rebel groups has been bearing fruit”, says Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “But there is much to be done, and difficult decisions to be made, between now and the end of his term in 2016”.