MNLF fighter

Following the 1996 agreement, the MNLF had effectively demobilized from combat mode but had not fully disarmed—an arrangement that has been acceptable to both sides. The 1976 Tripoli Agreement provided for a ceasefire, amnesty, release of political prisoners, and MNLF integration with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).  However, no mention is made of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR).  This absence was carried over to the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA).  President Ramos explained they did not raise the issue of disarming the MNLF:  “Forcing the issue would have simply led to an unresolvable impasse.  The strategic objective of having a final peace agreement signed – with its attendant political, economic, social and cultural benefits – was more important than belaboring any issue that struck deeply into the honour and prestige of the other party” (Ramos 1996, pp. 102-103).

Perhaps, what President Ramos had in mind the commonplace belief that the Moro (especially the  Tausog) male loved his firearm more than his wife.  In his own account of the peace talks, Ramos showed sensitivity to Misuari’s concerns:

“Chairman Misuari himself expressed constant worry over the prospect of losing his men to other militant armed groups if Government could not help them during the transition period.  It was in this light that the MNLF was pinning its hopes on Government to accommodate its bid to have a large special Regional Security Force – both to allay their anxieties over security and to give more teeth to the Southern Philippine Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD).

Another sensitive issue was the “demobilization” of MNLF forces not absorbed into the Armed Forces.  The issue touched the sense of dignity of MNLF fighters very deeply, and it had to be set aside in the meantime that we were planning for the Final Round of Talks.  The MNLF was not merely concerned over its loss of face in “demobilizing” its fighters; it also worried about the related and concrete problem of their livelihood and basic needs.  Other sensitive issues were the registration and licensing of firearms and the matter of ranks and qualifications for military service of MNLF members who would be taken into the Armed Forces” (Ramos 1996, pp. 86-87).

President Fidel Ramos

In the end, the 1996 FPA did not try to disarm or demobilize the entire MNLF fighting force.  It instead provided for “a special socio-economic, cultural and educational program to cater to MNLF forces not absorbed into the AFP, PNP and the SRSF[1]” (Final Peace Agreement 1996, para. 20a).  A number of international agencies including the United Nations (UN) Multi-Donor Program (MDP) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through their ‘Peace and Development Communities’ (PDCs) and ‘Livelihood Enhancement for Peace’ (LEAP), respectively, claimed to have reintegrated more than 50,000 MNLF members between 1997 and 2004, though this figure is likely to refer to the MNLF mass base instead of fighters alone (Santos 2010b).

MILF leader Ebrahim Al Haj Murad

Many MNLF fighters turned to farming for various reasons including a belief only those with connections benefited from the FPA.  Others formed criminal groups while many joined the MILF.  Then MNLF vice chair for military affairs Al Haj Murad  Ebrahim estimated a surge in MILF strength from 8,000 in 1996 to 15,420 in mid-1999, and in firearms from 10,227 at year-end 1998 to 11,351 by June 1999 (Makinano and Lubang 2000).

But what of the MNLF integration program itself? Alcala Hall (2009) identified previous studies on the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) integration into the government’s uniformed services (including Ferrero (2000) and Jailor (2003)).  She said these studies assess the process largely on how it contributes to the prospects of long-term peace in Mindanao (Alcala-Hall 2009). Ferrero (2000) concluded that the actual integration (into the army and the police) did not significantly demobilize nor disarm the MNLF. The integration included but a small fraction of the estimated MNLF strength (estimates vary across the literature from 17,000 to 50,000) at the time the Final Peace Agreement (FPA) was signed. Moreover, because the integration process allowed substitution by kin of ex-combatants, the number of demobilized MNLF personnel is lower than the 7,500 total provided in the agreement (Alcala-Hall 2009). There were no other avenues for integration as the provision in RA 9054 for a separate Special Regional Security Force (SRSF) to include ex- MNLF fighters have not been carried out. Nor has the integration program made any substantial dent in the number of firearms under MNLF’s possession.

Although the program required the submission of a gun as a prerequisite to recruitment and selection, in reality the integrees procured the guns they submitted elsewhere (or it is their own, rather than the movement’s). The under valuation of guns within the government guns-for cash (BALIK-BARIL) program also meant many integrees logically would found it more lucrative to sell their more high-powered guns in the black market and procure a lesser caliber, less costly weapon to submit to the government. Others have even argued that the program has led to the further arms proliferation in Mindanao. In joining the army, many integrees are said to have taken loans (which they have now access to) and used the loan proceeds to buy more weapons. Personal/family security defined in terms of gun ownership is said to be characteristic of the Tausug male culture (Alcala-Hall 2009).

There are some positive accomplishments though.  Some MNLF 7, 500 fighters (or their proxies[2]) have been integrated with the army and police, representing at least half of its peak strength.  The integrees proved their loyalty to their new employers helped largely by improved incomes.[3] To some, this integration has been hailed as the most successful aspect of the implementation of the 1996 final peace agreement (FPA) (Santos 2010b).  One of the complaints raised by no less than the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) was the government’s deployment of MNLF integrees in combat duties against MILF fighters (OIC 2006 in Santos 2010b).  However, this may be a way to test their ultimate loyalty to the government.  Even if he considers integration to be the most successful aspect of the FPA’s implementation, Santos (2010b) believes that the MNLF integration program was partially successful.  He argued that only complete disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) will peace reign in Mindanao.

[1] Special Regional Security Forces

[2] Ferrer (2000) reports that a significant number of MNLF integrees into the PNP—almost 90 percent of the first batch—were not MNLF fighters themselves but their proxies, i.e., sons and nephews.  This should not be surprising since many of the original MNLF fighters were already old.

[3] Citing comments of Prof. Octavio Dinampo on an earlier draft of his chapter, Santos (2010b) reports that “in February 2005 there were reports of integrees going AWOL and fighting on the MNLF side: according to one local source, 283 of the integrees who were truly former MNLF fighters are back with the MNLF, while ‘100 plus’ more went AWOL without returning to the MNLF.”

  1. bongmendoza says:

    Reblogged this on bong mendoza's blog.

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