COMMENT: Highlighting IMT. By Patricio P. Diaz

A CN-235 aircraft of the Malaysian Air Force arrived in Davao City at 6:15 a.m. Saturday, May 10 to pick up all Malaysian monitors from team sites in Davao City and General Santos City.  At 7:30 a.m., the aircraft took off for Cotabato Airport in Awang, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Shariff Kabunsuan to fetch some Malaysian team members from Cotabato City including the mission head. From there, the plane en route Sabah, Malaysia fetched all Malaysian monitors in Zamboanga City. (MindaNews, May 11)

Only the team sites in Cotabato City, the mission headquarters, and in Iligan City are left to oversee the ceasefire until September 8. The monitors remaining consist of 12 Malaysians, 10 Bruneians, 7 Libyans (3 military, 4 civilians), and one Japanese civilian. It is not known if the 29 departing Malaysians included three civilians in its 41-man contingent.  


The unexpected phase out is shrouded with controversial circumstances related to the stalled peace negotiation of the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. We will discuss this in a separate Comment.

Central to the common concerns are the belief that only the Malaysian-led IMT can enforce the ceasefire agreement and the fear that after the departure of the Malaysians hostilities will likely break out.  The memories of past wars heighten the fear and the feeling that the Malaysians are indispensable to peace in Mindanao.

Such fear and feeling were manifested in conferences, manifestos and resolutions from various peace advocates, organizations and other groups in Mindanao, Manila and abroad appealing to the Malaysians to stay — the appeals directed to the Malaysian government or to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. For instance, the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, during its conference in Chiba, Japan ending May 7 made such appeal to Malaysia.

How real are the fear and the feeling?


From the reactivation of the Joint Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) following the Buliok (Pikit) war in 2003 and the arrival of the Malaysian-led IMT in 2004, the hostilities between the Philippine military and MILF forces declined to almost nil. Without war, Muslim Mindanao is now enjoying peace and gradual progress.

Three reports show how much the hostilities have been controlled:

Report A: Citing Joint CCCH records, MindaNews (April 29) reported that before the coming of IMT, there were 698 military-MILF skirmishes in 2002 and 569 in 2003; after, these went down dramatically: 16 in 2004; 13 in 2005; 10 in 2006; and eight in 2007.

Report B: On February 8, 2005, the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. issued a report: “Status of the GRP-MILF Peace Process”. It summarized the skirmishes in 2003 and 2004, as follows: O1 January – 18 July 2003 (Buliok incidents), 528; 19 July – December 2003 ([after the] reactivation of Joint CCCH), 31; 01 January –December 2004, 71.

Report C: In his discussion paper, “Malaysia’s Pull-out from the International Monitoring Team: Implications to Peace and the Peace Processes in Mindanao”, Prof. Abhoud Syed M. Lingga detailed the 2002 – 2007 armed encounters citing the MILF CCCH report: 2002, 698; 2003, 559; 2004, 26 (11 non-ceasefire related); 2005, 15 ( 5 NCR); 2006, 45 (32 NCR); 2007, 12 (5 MCR).  In the 4-year period, 2004 to 2007, there were 45 ceasefire related incidents.


How do the statistical facts compare?

While figures in Reports A and C differ, they are essentially the same: Attributing the dramatic decline of skirmishes in 2004 through 2007 to the IMT presence.

Report B is confined to the two-year period, 2003 – 2004. The 528 encounters of the Buliok war took place in five-and-a-half months, January to July 18. In the remaining six-and-a-half months following the reactivation of the Joint CCCH only 31 skirmishes occurred. For 2003, the total number is 559 – the same number in C but 10 less than in A.

In 2004: Report A has 16 encounters in; C, 15 ceasefire-related (between AFP and MILF forces) and 11non-ceasefire-related (among feuding clans); B has 71 – without indicating the numbers of AFP-MILF encounters and those of the feuding clans.


What do the statistical facts mean?

This is significant: Reports A and C attribute the dramatic decline of skirmishes to the presence of the Malaysian-led IMT; Report B emphasizes the reactivation of the Joint CCCH.

By A and C, the decline of the skirmishes started with the deployment of the IMT on October 10, 2004 – explaining perhaps the 16/15 encounters only in 2004. On the other hand, by B, the decline started with the reactivation of the Joint CCCH on July 19, 2003; hence, from that date to the end of the year, there were 31 encounters and in the entire 2004, 71.

To reconcile the three reports, how frequently did the skirmishes decline? In Report B, from July 19 to December 31, 2003: 5 to 6 a month or 1 to 2 a week; the same rate held for the entire 2004. In Reports A and C, the 16/15 incidents, assuming they happened during the 13-week deployment of the IMT in 2004, also averaged 1 to 2 a week.

What do the reports mean? The Joint CCCH together with the Local Monitoring Teams, with the cooperation of peace groups like Bantay Ceasefire, stabilized the peace condition for more than one year before the deployment of the IMT. Such feats were published in MindaNews and other local and national, as well as international, media.

 The Joint CCCH and LMTs were not abolished with the deployment of the IMT.  In fact, they are integral mechanisms for the implementation of the ceasefire agreement; the IMT (originally OMT) is invited by the GRP-MILF Panels “to observe and monitor the implementation of all GRP-MILF Agreements” (Article III, Sections 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the Implementing Guidelines on the Security Aspect of the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement of Peace of 2001).

While the IMT operates according to its TOR and its own “guidelines, procedures and ground rules”, it coordinates “closely with the Joint GRP-MILF CCCH and the LMTs” and reports “to the GRP and MILF Peace Panels” (Terms of Reference of the International Monitoring Teams, Section 5(3)(4)).

Fr. Eliseo Mercado Jr., O.M.I. hit it squarely on the head: “The real mechanism for ceasefire is NOT the IMT but the CCCH,” said last May 8. He knows. He headed the earlier mechanisms under the CCCH, predecessors of the LMTs and IMT—the Independent Fact-Finding Committee and the Quick Response Team.


What are the implications of the above?

First: The phased pullout of the IMT should not jeopardize the peace in Muslim Mindanao. If the Joint CCCH and the LMTs with peace groups cooperating were able to stabilize peace after July 19, 2003, for more than a year before the deployment of the IMT, they must be able to do the same after the departure of the IMT.

On August 29, 2007, departing head of IMT-3 Major Gen. Dato’ Md Ismail bin Ahmad Khan, in response to citations accorded the IMT, “lauded the strong commitment and dedication of the GRP-MILF CCCH and all the stakeholders of the peace process” – a revelation of how the peace process mechanisms were functioning.  He urged the enhancement of the ceasefire structures and mechanisms”.

Another Oblate priest long immersed in the peace process, Fr. Roberto C. Layson, O.M.I., in a paper presented during a round-table discussion on the pull-out of the IMT last May 7, said:

“More and more the Joint Ceasefire Committee will have to work double time.  And, if I may suggest, it is perhaps wise and practical to add more personnel to the JCCCH in order to cover other areas to be vacated by the IMT in Davao, Zamboanga, General Santos and Lanao.  It cannot be denied that for the last four years these local ceasefire mechanisms have improved a lot because of sincerity and dedication of the people involved.”

And, his positive observation: “… there is now a growing number of military officers and MILF commanders … who are supporting the peace process and are familiar with the ceasefire mechanisms unlike the … past.  With the pull-out of the Malaysian contingent, we expect them to exert all the more their authority in their areas of responsibility … to prevent an escalation of violence.  After all, they are supposed to be in control of their subordinates.”

Second: In highlighting the Malaysian-led IMT, we downplay the GRP-MILF-led mechanisms or even ignore their abilities and accomplishments. We trust the foreign; we lack confidence in ourselves.  Isn’t it embarrassing to make the world know that the Malaysians are indispensable in making our peace agreement work?

Our fear that the AFP and MILF will erupt again without the Malaysians is a case of fearing fear.  There is no ground for fear if both the government and the MILF will observe the policy of amity, not of enmity.

Only the Government and the MILF, not the Malaysians or any other foreign peace monitors, can bring genuine and lasting peace in Muslim Mindanao.  It is a great insult to our dignity to be policed or refereed forever by foreign forces in order to behave according to our agreements. (“Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You may e-mail your comments to