Normalisation process fails to normalise Mindanao in the Philippines

Four civilians were killed, two of them women, after getting caught in the crossfire of the war between the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters-Karialan Group (BIFF) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday 28 April in the southern Philippines.

These deaths are only the latest in a long string of fatalities beginning in mid-February to early March 2021, when multiple armed clashes erupted in the towns of Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Datu Salibo, Mamasapano, Shariff Aguak, and Shariff Saydona Mustapha. Authorities have counted over 66,000 individuals displaced from these recent wars.

These wars have not been disrupted by the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) nor contained by the normalization agreement that formed part of the agreement’s transitional measures.

According to International Alert Philippines senior adviser Francisco Lara, “These clashes are in fact the result of the serious flaws and fractures in the normalization agreement that is fueling non-stop violence and conflict in the region.”

Alert’s Early Response Network (ERN) reports confirmed that the recent flashpoint was sparked by the BIFF-Karialan group’s opposition to the deployment of a Joint Peace and Security Team (JPST) outpost in Brgy. Kitango, Datu Saudi Ampatuan town. The JPST is mandated to ensure peace and other in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) during the transition period.

In this case, the reverse happened. “The JPST is a vital tool in preventing violence and not inducing it, which it certainly did in this case” Lara added.

An alleged meeting, unknown to the military, is supposed to have taken place between the MILF and the BIFF to inform the latter of the planned JPST station in Brgy. Kitango and to plead for no violence—a move that the BIFF rejected outright.

The war exploded thereafter.

Yet, instead of denouncing the BIFF, the concerned MILF 108 Command blamed the military’s impulsiveness for triggering the violence. The MILF also complained that the protocols of the GRP-MILF ceasefire agreement were not followed.

“Whether the meeting took place or not, the important issue here is that the military is being unfairly blamed for the violence and is being subjected to the ceasefire protocol by the very same peace partners who now hold the reins of the BARMM and the BTA,” Lara said.

The JPST is only one part of the package of so-called normalization measures that should have led to the decommissioning of the MILF; the reduction of rebel-held and loose weapons on the ground; and an exit agreement from the Third-Party Monitoring Committee.

None of the above have been accomplished after close to three years following the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law.

“The normalisation process is in bad shape – a complete mess based on what we’ve heard from those directly involved in it. Those implementing it and those enabling its failed processes ought to stop now, take stock, and reverse its disastrous policies and processes or share the blame for its tragic effects,” Lara concluded.