The Bantay Ceasefire (BC) was invited by the Joint Coordinating Committee for the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) of the Philippine Government (GRP) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for the installation of its ceasefire monitoring outposts and “ceasefire billboards” in the conflict areas in Pikit and Maguindanao. The Joint GRP-MILF CCCH in a June meeting in Davao City agreed to put up joint monitoring outposts in Buliok and other conflict-affected communities “with participation of the Bantay Ceasefire”.
The Bantay Ceasefire (BC) was invited by the Joint Coordinating Committee for the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) of the Philippine Government (GRP) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for the installation of its ceasefire monitoring outposts or posts and “ceasefire billboards” in the conflict areas in Pikit and Maguindanao.
The Joint GRP-MILF CCCH in a June meeting in Davao City agreed to put up joint monitoring outposts in Buliok, in Pikit and Maguindanao, and other conflict-affected communities “with participation of the Bantay Ceasefire”. Funding and logistical support will come from Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), with other support coming from government agencies.
As background, Bantay Ceasefire starting January 2004 had conducted several field investigations and community consultations with the joint CCCH. But the monitoring outposts mechanism represented a new and closer level of cooperation and required BC to clarify its position and modes of cooperation with the joint CCCH.
BC members in a preparatory meeting at the Pikit parish on 23 June 2004 agreed on the following principles:
- Bantay Ceasefire should participate since the monitoring post mechanism is aimed at strengthening the ceasefire on the ground level.
- A terms of reference (TOR) is needed so that BC knows exactly how to relate with the GRP and MILF representatives that will man the posts.
- It was important for BC to retain its independence as a third party initiative from civil society. BC had always issued independent reports on reported ceasefire violations by either side and the performance of their CCCHs. BC is not signatory to the joint CCCH reports. “BC independent reports protect the integrity of the peace process and provide an independent viewpoint.”
- To ensure objectivity, BC should strive always to be outside the structure and functions of the parties in conflict and to relate to them as partners.
- Consider the impressions and acceptability of the local community regarding this CCCH initiative. “BC protects the interests of the local communities”.
On a question of whether to also report on third parties/groups threatening the peace process (e.g. kidnap for ransom, Pentagon Gang, rido or clan conflicts), it was agreed to make the reports but the contents should be confidential or internal to the BC.
It was also agreed, in the interest of future partnership and cooperation, for the BC to draft a formal letter acknowledging the positive efforts of the joint CCCH and pledging support to the work and initiatives of the joint CCCH.
The next day the BC members met with the following also at the Pikit parish:
- Ryan Mark Sullivan – OPAPP Executive Director
- Col. Gilbert Roa- Chair, GRP CCCH
- Maj. Dickson Hermoso- Head, GRP CCCH Secretariate
- Maj. Onting Alon – 6th Infantry Division, Deputy Civil-Military Office G7
- Police Inspector Byron Tabernilla- Commanding Officer of the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) deployed in Buliok
- Benjie Midtimbang- Chair, MILF CCCH
- Atty. Taher Kanakan – Head, MILF CCCH Secretariate
OPAPP Director Sullivan said Buliok was chosen as it because it is a conflict-affected area which sustained heavy damage during the February 2003 assault and which will have symbolic meaning in the GRP-MILF peace process.
He said he hoped the monitoring outposts “will contribute not only to peace between the two parties but to the security of the residents in those areas.”
Maj. Hermoso said the outposts are expected “to maintain the gains in this peace process with the support and participation of the stakeholders on the ground.”
Hermoso said the posts would be manned in equal number by GRP and MILF representatives on a 24-hour basis. It will be provided facilities to reach both field commanders (horizontal) and higher offices such as the peace panels, the AFP command, OPAPP, etc. (vertical).
As of 24 June, the two monitoring outposts were set up in Brgy. Dulawan, Datu Piang, Maguindanao and in the fish landing area in Bago Inged, Pikit in the middle of the DSWD-constructed core shelter housing. Two additional outposts will be set up in Brgy. Buliok, both the Pikit and Pagalungan side.
Sub-offices of the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT) of the OIC are expected to be set up near the CCCH post to monitor the situation in Buliok.
Billboards containing the message “Support the GRP-MILF Ceasefire” with Tagalog and Maguindanaon translations would also be set up near the outposts. The billboards described the monitoring outposts as “GRP-MILF CCCH/ Local Monitoring Team (LMT)/ Bantay Ceasefire Monitoring Outposts”.
Both officers acknowledged the efforts of the Bantay Ceasefire group in monitoring the ceasefire and in supporting the outposts mechanism.
Later in the afternoon, the BC members also attended with the joint CCCH a “Consultation-Dialogue with Core Shelter Beneficiaries and LGUs” at Brgy. Inug-og, Pagalungan, Maguindanao, organized by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). In attendance were DSWD Assistant Secretary Rhoda F. Yap, DSWD-ARRM Director Bainon Karon and other local DSWD officials, and Pagalungan Association of Barangay Captains (ABC) President Mohamad Andoy.
In introducing the monitoring outposts, OPAPP director Sullivan said,” What we are doing here is to create building blocks to ensure that the ceasefire established by both panels is respected and observed on the ground.”
In a short talk, the MILF’s Midtimbang urged the evacuees/core shelter beneficiaries to tell the truth about any threats to the ceasefire, “so that we can give the correct diagnosis and administer the correct medicine according to the information you provide us.”
Later in an informal meeting with the BC members, OPAPP Director Sullivan said they expected “physical presence” in the monitoring posts from the Bantay Ceasefire network, as BC members were well-known and trusted in the communities and local people will be encouraged to speak out. A second role was for the Bantay Ceasefire representatives to help “police” the CCCH.
The BC was requested to take care of the consultation/socialization/information campaign of the monitoring posts, to be started immediately that week-end. The BC agreed and identified the following as the “information team” for Brgy. Bago Inged initially but to expand to the nearby villages:
- Fr. Bert Layson – Pikit parish
- Minandang Mamolindas – Suara Kalilintad
- Alinor Ali- UNYPHIL
- Usman Maongko- IMAN
- Akrimia Endil – Suara Kalilintad
The BC members agreed to observe the implementation and efficacy of the monitoring outposts mechanism. If necessary, terms of reference (TOR) would have to be drawn up between the OPAPP and the joint CCCH and the Bantay Ceasefire. The Bantay Ceasefire network also needs to adopt internal policies for participation in the outposts (representation, funding, logistics such as physical base, food, transportation and communications for its representatives).
The Bantay Ceasefire networks represented in the June 24 activity were the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID), Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC), Balay Inc., Suara Kalilintad, Immaculate Conception Parish-Pikit, IMAN, United Youth of the Philippines (UNYPHIL) and United Youth for Peace and Development (UNYPAD).