News / Asia

Philippines Local Disputes Complicate Peace Talks with Separatists

Marvic Leonen, chief government negotiator for peaces talk with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, during a press conference Jan. 14, 2011 in Manila, Philippines.
Marvic Leonen, chief government negotiator for peaces talk with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, during a press conference Jan. 14, 2011 in Manila, Philippines.
Simone Orendain

This week the Philippines government resumes peace talks with the country's main Islamic separatist group. Formal negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have been occurring since 1997, although they break down repeatedly without major breakthroughs. But government negotiators say they are hopeful that a new approach that addresses violent clan feuds called "rido" over land disputes, voting districts and other local issues, could help produce an agreement to end the separatist rebellion.

For the last eight years, independent mediator Abel Moya has kept the peace in a generations-old fight over 24 hectares of fertile land in a western Mindanao province.  The Oliveros family and a group of nine other clans both claim to own the disputed coconut grove, but now they want the government to buy it so they can split the proceeds and move on.

“They told us they want to set free the land," Moya said. "They want to let go of the land because it only reminds them of death, ambuscades and other things.”

The families’ violent dispute over the grove goes back nearly 40 years. In the year 2000, their blood feud erupted in a much bigger conflict that drew in government soldiers, engulfing much of Mindanao in violence.

"Rido" is a generations-old method of settling scores between opposing families or even within family units.  The retaliatory fighting can involve thousands of people because the families involved are clans, which include not just parents and children but also their many cousins and other relatives.

Moya says one side in the coconut farm conflict happens to be Muslim and the other, Christian.  Some on the Muslim side are also members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, while some on the Christian side are with the Philippine military.

“So they have dual personalities when they shoot at each other as a member of the MILF and the other as an Armed Forces of the Philippines, it becomes another layer, which we call an institutional war," Moya said. "It’s not just simply protecting who harvests it."

Because military and rebels were involved, the government declared “total war” on the region’s Muslim separatists during a three-month period in 2000. Three thousand people died and hundreds of thousands of residents were displaced.

Blood feuds over land disputes, power or simply preserving one’s “good name” are not uncommon in the Muslim Mindanao region.  These feuds play out in rebel country where separatists and the military regularly clash and where weapons are easily accessible.

As a longtime peace negotiator in Mindanao, Moya has firsthand experience of how these disputes over land and other local issues affect peace negotiations between the MILF and the Philippine government.  A major component of the Muslims’ push for self-determination is for their lands to be recognized as their own.

Anthropologist Francisco Lara says it is critical for the government to have an acute understanding of how these peace talks play out in local politics.

“The Philippine government is negotiating with the MILF and part of that outcome can be an expansion in the size of the autonomous region," Lara said. "So you will find some clans being afraid about the loss of their vote banks if their districts are apportioned to another town or to another province.  This will lead to some concerns and, of course, recourse to violence to make sure that those towns don’t vote to be part of another province.  That’s how the link happens.”

The issue of clan violence historically has not been a major factor in government peace talks with separatists. But in 2007, a report by the Asia Foundation that tracked blood feuds in the southern Philippines going back some 75 years found that the violence between clans was driving much of the separatist violence.

The administration of President Benigno Aquino says the government is responding and putting an emphasis on addressing rido disputes.

The government’s top negotiator Marvic Leonen says his office tracks rido incidents in Muslim Mindanao on a weekly basis to try to predict when flare-ups will occur.  He also says some Philippine military units are being trained how to intervene in violent clan disputes.

“We take the solution of the rido problem - generally and specifically for each conflict - very seriously," Leonen said.  "And, as a matter of fact we think that it will also figure out in terms of the final political settlement.”

Leonen says land disputes especially among factions of Muslim separatists are more prevalent than government-versus-separatist clashes.  He says both parties in the national negotiation process recognize a need to provide security and a functioning judicial system for every citizen in the conflict area.

“And then also we have to look at the delivery of justice," Leonen said. "Much of the rido is because of unredressed grievances and of course in an area where there has been a failure of governmental support, then it is so easy to just pick up a gun and settle the problem yourself.”

There are some who remain skeptical that the government can handle the issue. Fatmawati Salapuddin has been mediating for more than 20 years between feuding clans in her southwestern island province of Sulu. She says the blood feuds are now part of the region’s political process.

She says more often than not, elections actually contribute to rido in the region.

“What I can say about rido that emanates from the electoral process is that it is a challenge on how we can conduct elections with people who are responsibly looking at not just trying to get power out of it but doing governance," Salapuddin said.  "Well you see, people run for elections because of the power and the resources that they get … not because they know how to govern.”


Salapuddin says even government agencies, such as land titling offices, that could help sort out some of the conflicts, are intimidated by local leaders.  She says the region, which is geographically remote from the central government, has basically been left to its own devices.

“National government does not involve itself in the rido.  There is no system really, of how to resolve it, how to place it in the entire system,” Salapuddin said.

She says despite the government’s pledges to do more to solve these local disputes, she has doubts that the issue will be substantively addressed in national level peace talks. 

You May Like

Cambodia Seeks Official UN Maps for Vietnam Border

Notice of request comes as 2 countries open border talks Tuesday after a clash last month More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deali
X
July 07, 2015 12:02 PM
If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs