Peace Process Consultant Explains Mindanao Conflict

Peace Process Consultant Explains Mindanao Conflict

An alumnus who now serves as an independent consultant to the Geneva-based Henry Dunant Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue was on campus to shed some light on the Mindanao conflict, the peace process and its mechanisms.

In partnership with the Religion and Peace Studies Department, Mr. Michael Frank Alar led a lecture-discussion titled “Understanding the Mindanao Conflict: Peace Process and its Architecture” on February 9 at the American Studies and Resource Center of the Robert B. and Metta J. Silliman Library.

“Educating people,” Mr. Alar said, is his “way of waging peace in the midst of emotional calls for all-out war,” following the tragedy at Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

Mr. Alar began his talk by showing how the Peace Process Architecture (PPA) evolved over the span of close to two decades of negotiations which started in 1997.

“We should be proud as Filipinos to say that we have one peace process that has evolved so much that other countries suddenly come,” he said.

ImageA first of its kind, the PPA is particularly unique and strong because of the extent of international involvement. Other than Malaysia as the third-party facilitator between the Philippine Government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)p eace negotiations, it also includes an International Monitoring Team which is composed of Malaysia, Brunei, Libya, Japan, Norway and the European Union. It is also participated in by an International Contact Group made up of four states and four international NGOs: United Kingdom, Japan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Muhammaddiyah, Conciliation Resources, The Center for Humanitarian Dialogue and The Asia Foundation, which was later replaced by the Community of Saint'Egidio. All these states and institutions were introduced to ensure that the agreement between the GPH and MILF holds.

Mr. Alar also expounded on the Ceasefire Architecture (CA). “If there is anyone who doesn’t want a war, it’s the soldiers on both sides,” he stressed.

The CA installed several mechanisms, including the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG), along with the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH). AHJAG steered several successful law enforcement operations that led to the neutralization of terrorists and capture of criminal lairs in Central Mindanao facilitated by both the GPH and the MILF. Meanwhile, the CCCH, headed by the Army for government and the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) for the MILF, was instrumental in disengaging the warring forces even in the recent Mamasapano encounter.

Mr. Alar said that “even when there’s a stalemate in the negotiations, these two continue working.” “That shows the maturity of our peace process… for the first time in the history of peace process they got media attention through Sarah Sambrano’s story on how they literally crawled to beg the two sides to disengage.” he added.

He further expounded on this by explaining the importance of understanding statements in the context of realities on the ground. Making reference to one of the very first reactions to the incident, Mr. Alar explained: “I knew exactly where MILF Peace Panel Chair Iqbal was coming from, being part of the peace process. And I realized that the reaction from the senator (who understood coordination as asking permission) communicated that they do not fully understand the process.”

And social media complicates the situation even more. He said: “Looking at Facebook, you realize that not many people really understand where the MILF are coming from with their statements. And to the disadvantage of the MILF, it elicited a lot of reactions against them. People did not understand.”

Whenever there is a movement of troops, Mr. Alar explained, they would text their counterparts to inform them not to be alarmed. This is their way of keeping each other from getting killed. “This is where the MILF is coming from when they said there was no coordination. For years, they have been doing this. This [also] explains why the military could not just indiscriminately fire because that would mean a bigger war.”

Mr. Alar expresses concern that “the legislation that will make or break this process hangs in the balance. And even if you have two panels who actually understand each other, at the end of the day, this process will have to go through the crucible of Filipino national opinion.” And sadly, “the reactions coming out from the Mamasapano incident,” where people call for scrapping the Bangsamoro Basic Law, “is very telling of how they will decide,” he added.

A quick look back in history tells an unfortunate story of how Muslims in Mindanao, unconquered by the colonizers of the Philippines, have been systematically robbed of their ancestral land through the years: from the Sultanates and principalities to the Moro province, to the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, and finally, the five Bangsamoro provinces which include Maguindanao, Basilan, Lanao Sur, Sulu and Tawi-tawi.

In closing, he says “I’m not an apologist for the MILF. All I’m saying is understand where they are coming from. If you look at it, it’s all about land. The problem is that it just so happens that some are Muslims while the rest are Christians. This is a national issue because it has to do with how we see our brothers and sisters down there.”

Mr. Alar completed his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Silliman University in 2001, graduating magna cum laude. He has completed fellowships in Asia and Europe. For the past 15 years, he has designed and facilitated workshops aimed at building partners’ capacities in Conflict Transformation, Dialogue, Peace Processes and Project Cycle Management. He has also led program teams in the implementation of projects in support of peace processes in Mindanao.