Archive for the ‘Peace agreements’ Category

Philippine military armor in Mindanao alongside civilians on a horse

While required, signing a peace agreement does not automatically keep the peace among combatants.  In truth, two agreements—the 1976 Tripoli Agreement (under President Ferdinand Marcos) and the 1987 Jeddah Accord (under President Corazon Aquino)—led nowhere.  True, there were occasional skirmishes and dissatisfaction amongst some MNLF fighters.  In addition, a key provision of the 1996 FPA, that the MNLF’s right of representation in the national government and in all organs of state—was never implemented.  Nonetheless, the 1996 FPA could be deemed a success.  Among the key indicators of success are the absence of large-scale warfare between the MNLF and government troops, the co-optation of the MNLF leadership into a pre-existing autonomous region for Muslims in Mindanao and Sulu islands, the integration of many MNLF combatants into the government’s security services, and the release of local and foreign funds for the region’s development.

Nur Misuari

However, the Asian financial crisis adversely affected the Philippine government’s capacity to provide funds and led to discontent within MNLF ranks.  To be fair to the Philippine government, MNLF leader Nur Misuari was not blameless with his profligate and biased spending.  He was continuously travelling within the country and abroad with a huge entourage and concentrated resources for his fellow-Tausogs. Ultimately, the MNLF leadership may be successful rebels but were poor administrators.

The power asymmetry against the MNLF is the bottom-line reason for the success of the peace agreement. Militarily, the MNLF had reached its peak in the 1970s and lost its fierce fighting edge.  It remained a stubborn and enduring military force (Vitug and Gloria 2000).  The MNLF cannot credibly commit to renege on the 1996 Final Peace Agreement and return to full-scale warfare since it was weakened by splits, casualties, desertions, tribal differences, etc.  Its foreign supporters and backers are not keen to support a military effort (Iribani 2006; Vitug and Gloria 2000).  In that sense, it did not have trump cards.

Even the remaining MNLF fighters were not threats credible enough for the Philippine government to offer concessions.  These combatants tried a mini-rebellion in November 2001 after Misuari lost his positions in the autonomous regional body but it was nipped in the bud.  Misuari escaped to Malaysia but was handed back to Philippine authorities by Kuala Lumpur.  Upon his return to the Philippines, he was incarcerated. In 2008, he was allowed to post bail and talks to finalize implementation of the 1996 FPA were resumed by the Arroyo and Aquino governments.

Another imbalance characterizes the relationship between the MNLF and the Philippine government.  The MNLF’s constituency expects it to produce the deliverables promised in the 1996 FPA.  If it fails to do so, the MNLF loses its political luster and its followers may gravitate to its rivals, specially the MILF.  The Philippine government is not in the same predicament.  It has already delivered a clear good–cessation of hostilities—save for a few skirmishes here and there.  That appears to be what matters most to ordinary Filipinos.  As long as hostilities do not resume, ordinary Filipinos will not normally care if the Philippine government kept its side of the bargain in the 1996 FPA.  In effect, there is greater political pressure on the MNLF than on the Philippine government.

Since 1986, both sides observed a ceasefire agreement.  So both MNLF and Philippine government troops have not fought each other for a decade before a final agreement was reached.  Agreeing to a ceasefire before a comprehensive agreement can be interpreted by the other side as a sign of weakness.

Prior to the assumption of talks to finalize implementation of the 1996 FPA, the MNLF also lost traction vis-à-vis the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) largely due to Misuari’s plummeting fortunes and splits within the organization.  With two ascendant interlocutors, Misuari’s faction played the role of heckler and spoiler.  At times, it raised bids to unify with the MILF and repair splits within the MNLF.  Heckling and spoiling are tactics of a party that feels it was being neglected by another notwithstanding an outstanding agreement.  Unification bids are attempts to enlarge the pie that will eventually be shared by Bangsamoro people.  They also used to communicate to government that it is negotiating with a stronger force.  These tactics did not help the MNLF one bit and like a chastened schoolboy, Misuari returned to talks with government.

In hindsight, it can be said that there was diminished urgency on the part of the Philippine government to fully implement the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA) after it was signed in September 1996.  A good part of the MNLF leadership and fighters were incorporated into the Muslim regional bodies and government security forces.  The Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s compelled government to husband its resources carefully.  As long as Misuari and his commanders were comfortably ensconced in their offices, the MNLF will not rebel again.

President Joseph Estrada

Attention will soon be directed elsewhere–to the Moro Islamic Liberation (MILF), a split from the MNLF.  In 2000, President Joseph Estrada launched several attacks on MILF camps to shore up his sagging political fortunes in Manila.  While government troops succeeded in capturing some MILF camps, Estrada was unable to win a decisive military victory over the MILF.  Furthermore, he also enraged not a few Muslims for insensitively eating pork with government troops within the ruins of a mosque.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

The all-out war tack of Estrada was changed by the government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.  With Misuari was in prison and the MNLF weaken by further splits, Arroyo endeavored to have the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) controlled by warlords who could deliver votes in her favor (Lara 2010).  Arroyo concentrated in delivering a peace agreement with the MILF—the so-called MOA-AD.  When the MOA-AD was rejected by the Supreme Court, Arroyo’s government released Misuari from detention and started talks to for the final implementation of the 1996 final peace agreement (FPA).  These talks are being continued by the government of President Benigno Aquino III through the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), headed by Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles.

Logo of Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)

What may be prove to be satisfactory to a rebel side, especially in the early aftermath of a peace deal, may be less than what is provided by the letter of the same deal.  However, such acceptance sets a path dependent trajectory for both sides.  For the rebel, it may reinforce the earlier tendency to accept less since (returning to) fighting is more costly.  For the government side, it will have no incentive to give more than what satisfies the rebel. The ARMM did not flow from the 1996 FPA but Misuari accepted it and even became ARMM chairman.  The regional government appeared to be the best gain of the MNLF from the 1996 FPA.  Only upon later reflection will dissatisfaction over the ARMM be expressed by Misuari and his closest men.

This pattern will be evident in the concessions the MNLF will make to the Philippine government so the 1996 FPA can be inked.      

  1. In the Cipanas interim agreement (reached in Cipanas, Indonesia in 1993 prior to the first formal talks), which outlined the modalities for the “transitional implementing structure and mechanism” (Iribani, 2006, p. 141) in the Southern Philippines, both the MNLF and the Philippine government agreed to follow the 1976 Tripoli Agreement in “spirit and letter”.  However, they parted ways on how to interpret the key provisions (Gonzalez 2011). The Tripoli Agreement gave the MNLF control over the transitional structure—a provisional government should be installed immediately after a peace deal is forged—but also stipulated “constitutional process” to put it in place.  To the MNLF leadership, the “constitutional process” should be construed as a means and not as a condition towards the implementation of the agreement (Iribani, 2006). However, a memo of Ramos to the GRP panel during the first formal talks in 1993 instructed the Philippine negotiators to use the Tripoli Agreement as a starting point only, on the ground that it provided for rights and obligations which were not self-implementing (Ramos, 1996).  For Misuari, the 1976 Tripoli Agreement was a binding international agreement, which took precedence over any domestic law, including the Philippine constitution (Iribani, 2006).  Hence, the provisional government must be handed over to the MNLF right away after the peace deal.  But the Philippine government took the position that an organic act, Republic Act 6734, which created the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao during the Aquino administration (over the objections of the MNLF) cannot just be set aside (Iribani, 2006).  Ramos himself indicated the government stand: Repealing RA 6734 would be the first step in the order of constitutional processes envisaged by the government. Besides, a provisional government would need its own set of laws, policies, rules and regulations.  Since the Organic Act provided the means for its own amendment, the provisional government could flow out of RA 6734 itself. The recommendations of both MNLF and GRP panels in plenary negotiations could be the bases for amendments (Ramos, 1996).  As things turned out, RA 6734 was amended by RA 9054 in 2001.  RA 9054 expanded the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) but did not create a provisional government.  It was most likely that the MNLF had to make this concession given its relative weakness vis-à-vis the Philippine government.
  2. The MNLF acceded to the plea of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to downgrade its political goal to autonomy instead of full independence (Gonzalez 2011).  This concession is not a new one; it was granted in Tripoli in 1976.
  3. Misuari agreed to run as governor of ARMM.  This was obviously a sign of being coopted by the government considering his earlier position for a provisional government instead of the ARMM.  Of course, this could always be considered as political side payments that make an agreement.  Nonetheless, after he was no longer ARMM governor in 2001, Misuari returned to his diatribes against the ARMM.  To many, his complaints about the regional government will ring hollow. The MNLF’s inability to hold out to the blandishments of President Ramos was politically costly. As Iribani (2006) rightly argued, the candidacy of Misuari diminished whatever political leverage the MNLF had, if there was any, in the remaining unresolved issues, whose settlement in favor of the Philippine government became a foregone conclusion. There were fewer concessions by the GRP panel afterwards (e.g., an increase from 1,000 to 1500 of MNLF forces to join PNP, a far cry from 20,000 proposal.

Professor Ed Gonzales

University of the Philippines Asian Center professor Ed Gonzales (2011) rightfully argues that in the end, “the peace talks reflected the domination of the government rather than a balance of power between the two parties. Even as the actors appeared to act autonomously (the GRP panel) or seek advice from respected international stakeholders (MNLF → OIC), it was the central government which crucially controlled the material environment of resources, structures, incentives and rewards”.

 Success of peace agreements and peace implementation

MNLF fighters


Peter Wallensteen

Margareta Sollenberg

In truth, negotiations to end wars are never simple. In this sense, the negotiations between the MNLF and the Philippine government are not unique.  Negotiations involve compromises, consensus-building and some level of mutual trust.  Often parties negotiate because they recognize the gains that can be made, but even “interest-based” negotiations require enemies to trust each other.  For people affected by violence, or those who have fought for a cause, accepting, or even just recognizing an opponent’s demands is difficult.  But for peace to take root, negotiations are necessary.  As settlements are reached on key issues, the bases of peace are reinforced.  In many instances the decisions reached at the peace table set the course for the socio-economic and political transformation of a country. Negotiated agreements are in effect a blueprint for the future. A peace agreement is defined by Peter Wallensteen and Margareta Sollenberg as an arrangement “entered into by warring parties to explicitly regulate or resolve their basic incompatibility” (quoted in Stedman et al. 2002, 23).

Stedman et al. (2002) call the process of carrying out a particular

Stephen Stedman

peace agreement as “peace implementation”.  They also measure success of the peace agreement through the cessation of violence and the end of the war “on a self-enforcing basis” i.e., when third parties exit, the peace endures.  The evaluation criteria cannot be very strict to include such desirables as “the amelioration of root causes of conflict, and the promotion of justice, positive peace, harmony, and reconciliation of enemies” (Stedman et al. 2002, 2).  The earlier understanding of those who study internal conflicts and peace agreements was that they were basically the same.  However, if the problem is undifferentiated, then prescriptions for resolution will tend to be open-ended.  The importance of international actors (e.g. honest brokers and funders for amelioration programs) is uniformly stressed “with a resulting danger of tautology: if international actors are willing to do all it takes to make peace, then peace will be made” (Stedman et al. 2002, 4).

Some on the Bangsamoro (and MNLF) side may conflate the success of the peace agreement (i.e. cessation of hostilities on a self-enforcing basis) with the ‘big’ desirables as “the amelioration of root causes of conflict, and the promotion of justice, positive peace, harmony, and reconciliation of enemies”.  At times, this is reduced to bean-counting: accounting for the money transferred by the central government to the Muslim regional government. This is understandable since the big desirables were the reasons why they fought government in the first place.  However, it is still necessary to stress that it will take time, resolve, hard work, and resources for the big desirables to be achieved.

Several hypotheses have been put forward to explain the failure to implement peace agreements in civil wars: security dilemmas of the warring parties; inadequate international involvement; the presence of spoilers, whose commitment to peace is only tactical; vague, incomplete, or expedient peace agreements; and the lack of coordination among implementing agencies (Stedman et al 2002).  The security dilemma of the combatants is supposed to be resolved by honest brokers and other third parties that may help in the implementation of peace agreements.  If international involvement is inadequate, not only is the security dilemma unresolved.  Resources to implement the peace agreement may prove to be inadequate.  The negative impact of spoilers on the peace agreement need not be explained further.  However, if the combatants themselves settled for incomplete or expedient agreements, these sins of omission will stymie them in the future and will most likely require a new round of negotiations—that is, if they have not resumed fighting.  Implementing a peace agreement does not only involve the combatants. It also includes honest brokers, donor governments and international bodies like the United Nations.  Thus, all of these actors must coordinate with each other in the implementation of the peace agreement.