Political clans and violence in the southern Philippines

Kreuzer, Peter

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URL http://edoc.vifapol.de/opus/volltexte/2008/260/
Dokumentart: Bericht / Forschungsbericht / Abhandlung
Institut: HSFK-Hessische Stiftung Friedens- und Konfliktforschung
Schriftenreihe: PRIF reports
Bandnummer: 71
Sprache: Englisch
Erstellungsjahr: 2005
Publikationsdatum: 24.01.2008
SWD-Schlagwörter: Philippinen , Sippe , Gewalt , Guerilla
DDC-Sachgruppe: Politik
BK - Basisklassifikation: 89.40 (Innere Beziehungen des Staates: Allgemeines)
Sondersammelgebiete: 3.6 Politik und Friedensforschung

Kurzfassung auf Englisch:

Since 1972, a Muslim guerrilla has been waging a civil war in the southern Philippines, which has proved to be remarkably resistant to all attempts of peace. Still, under martial law, an initial agreement between the state and the guerrilla was reached, which aimed to put a stop to the violence, but which, so far, has not been realised. Following the return of the Philippines to democracy, there have been many attempts at peace, which, in 1996, resulted in a peace treaty with the largest of the guerrilla organisations, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). The leading cadres of the “victorious” MNLF became part of the political mainstream, and some of the troops were integrated into the armed forces and police. The hitherto marginal Moro Islamic Liberation Front took over from the MNLF. In the following years, the violence escalated, finding its preliminary highpoints in several military offensives in 2000 and 2003. In addition to the growing violence between the MILF guerrillas and the state, the first years of the new millennium saw the gradual driving out of the MNLF cadres from their political positions, the majority of which have now been reoccupied by the traditional political elite. Despite numerous efforts and a large number of agreements on certain aspects of the conflict, forging a workable compromise with the MILF guerrillas will not be easy. On the margins, this organisation appears to be descending more into criminality and towards terrorism, which is scarcely connected to local concerns. All structural conditions, which led to the rebellion in the early 1970s, remain unchanged at the start of the new millennium. The Muslim regions of Mindanaos are still among the poorest regions in the Philippines. Figures for the last ten years show that the local situation is not improving, if anything, it’s worsening. Demographically, the Muslims have been pushed back to a few core regions, where they still make up the majority of the population, elsewhere in many cases they have been reduced to a small minority among the Christian immigrants. Politically, the Muslim elite have practically no role; at best, they can hope for patronage funds in exchange for the support for the ruling elite in Manila, which they can then use in the region which they control. This report argues that an analysis of the political and socio-economic framework of the civil war can only expose its dynamics to a very limited degree, since it ignores the microdynamics, through which it is integrated as a prominent part of a complex multidimensional system of violence. In contrast to many other depictions of this conflict, violence in this report is derived mainly from the interplay between local cultural models of order and social practices, which, in the interplay with the macrodynamics of the civil war and the formaldemocratic setting, in which Philippine politics takes place, leads to a violence-laden local order. In addition to the state security forces, the militia and fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the agents of violence also include the powerful local clans and a II number of strongmen with their private armies and gangs of thugs, criminal bands, who appear to have excellent connections with politicians, as well as possibly with the MILFguerrilla. To this might be added different forms of ethnic or religious militias, which, originally set up by the armed forces, are now more or less autonomous in their decisionmaking with regard to violent acts. The main lines of conflict, in addition to the one between the state and the guerrillas, are between the local clans and the two revolutionary movements (Moro National Liberation Front MNLF and MILF), as well as between feuding clans, who fight for local political control. There is also a high level of criminal gang violence and violence connected with illegal operations such as safeguarding illegal logging against popular protest. Armed conflicts between guerrillas and state security bodies often appear to result from private vendettas between rival families. For opportunistic reasons, they are reinterpreted as conflicts within the framework of the political struggle for self-determination. The social order in Muslim Mindanao is characterised above all else by a juxtaposition of rival clans. Thinking in the categories of the clan and the associated code of honour result, in the institutional context of the Philippine electoral democracy, in highly violence- oriented political debates, which mostly reach their highpoints directly before and after elections. Although the paraphernalia of democratic elections is widely fulfilled – emotional electoral battles, electoral advertising everywhere, a multitude of events and the common rhetorical exchange of blows between political rivals – politics in this region is to a very great extent a purely intra-elitist event between rival clans. It is also generally accepted that the local clan leader decides on behalf of the whole community. Nevertheless, elections are often won through use of extra-legal means – often including violence. Since rival clans use the same means, the result is often armed conflict, which, against the background of a distinct code of honour, mutates into years of blood feud, whose patterns of violence characterise the local social order for years to come. The peculiarities of the Muslim regions do not, however, lie in these family and honour- related patterns of thinking and behaviour, which they share with many other Philippine regions despite some differences in detail. They also do not lie in the distortion of the democratic competition arising from the violence-oriented rivalry of the clans – this pattern is also familiar in many other areas. They lie, rather, in the fusion of this social and political order of violence with a second form of political violence not encountered in other regions of the Philippines - that of the armed struggle for independence. Clan violence and “normal” political violence already characterised the local political order before the Muslim rebellion. The new violence arena of the civil war and its players could be used as an extra resource by the clans in the struggle for political and economic power, although they appeared to threaten the local dominance of the various clans at the same time. As agents of violence, clans and political families can use the civil war agents in many ways, thereby masking their political dealings as civil war violence. In the local political arena, it is vitally important to be able to characterise one’s own forces as “state” but those of rival clans as “rebels” which can then be criminalised. In many conflicts, being able to III count on the help of one of the two conflicting parties - guerrilla or military or police - can be crucial. This is ensured by either corrupting the party or infiltrating them with members of one's own clan. The result is a large number of smaller or larger private armies, which, legitimised through state uniforms, stand de facto in the service of a family. This strategy of masking also facilitates better weaponry and a widening of the means for private acts of violence. The civil war could also be used as a reason for why the stabilisation of own rule is an imperative of national policy and why the providers - the clans - must be equipped with the relevant means. Ultimately, this not only escalates clan violence but also allows it, in its public presentation, to disappear behind the violence of the civil war. There hardly seems any way out of the violence. All the same, many groups agree that targeted embracing of traditional practices of mediation and consensus-finding with modern political forms of organisation and players could be a way of reducing violence. Regardless of the formal rules of state law, many strive to overcome feuding violence with the support of traditional forms of combating violence. In addition, there is a major conviction that electoral democracy should be restricted at least in the transitional phase, since elections are considered to be triggering factors of violence and its escalation. Even if these proposals are basically held as positive, which the author does, consideration must also be given to the fact that the traditional order also possesses a high degree of internal violence dynamics to which a considerable proportion of current violence is attributable. Any return to a traditional forms of mediation and resolution must therefore be carried out extremely carefully and selectively, if it does not inadvertently want to strengthen those whose violence it hopes to end in the long term. Overcoming the clan system is not possible in the foreseeable future, and in my opinion, it is not per se desirable either, so long as the local population see it as an adequate social order, in which they wish to live. Possible and desirable are, however, a selective reform of this order, which aims at strengthening dimensions which are culturally intrinsic, civilising and which minimise conflict. If consensual practices of determining local leadership posts appeared not only acceptable at the local level, but also had a civilising effect, their conditioned legalisation would make sense. If mediation and blood money were successful as effective mechanisms for handling feuds, it would be worth formally legalising these informal mechanisms and supporting them wholeheartedly. The stabilised common norms established here could in the medium term lead to an extensive civilisation of the social conflict resolution. An extremely positive development in recent times is that guerrillas and state players have increasingly referred to clan violence openly and in so doing have repeatedly prevented an escalation and a transformation into politically connotated violence. The increased focus on clan violence should, however, not lead to isolated contemplation, since many of the dynamics of violence have grown out of the interdependence between the different arenas, players and forms of violence. Any strategy which aims at resolving the political conflict between the MILF guerrillas and the Philippine state, must be aware of the interdependencies between the various arenas of violence and players and must therefore develop an integrated “recipe” for civilising the violence. IV In terms of the stress on reforming the local social order, it should also not be misunderstood that the political conflict between the Muslims and the Philippine state can be treated as an appendix. It likewise demands committed action. Unfortunately, despite its advantageous position, it appears that the new government lacks commitment. It is a sad fact that the problem of the Muslims in southern Philippines is only prominent on the national political level while the guerrillas are building a strong backdrop of threats supported by the selective use of violence. When such a backdrop is not there, the problem is happily ignored.


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