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PHILIPPINES: SHATTERED LIVES
BEYOND THE 2008-2009 MINDANAO ARMED CONFLICT
“We inherited an age-old conflict in Mindanao, exacerbated by a politically popular but near-sighted
policy of massive retaliation. This only provoked the other side to continue the war.”
– President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo during her State of the Nation Address, 27 July 2009
Yet another round of fighting between the Philippine government forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front
(MILF) has ended on 29 July 2009. The 2008-2009 hostilities, which displaced more than 750,000 persons
in total and led to numerous human rights abuses, officially ended with an agreement to resume peace
negotiations. One year after renewed violence between government security forces and armed groups,
Mindanao is finally beginning to see a possible end to the unrest and uncertainty— and perhaps even an end to
the 40-year armed conflict.
Their lives shattered by the armed conflict, hundreds of thousands of people in the Central Mindanao region of
southern Philippines faced the risk of unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrests,
displacement and burning and destruction of their homes at the hands of the Philippine armed forces, MILF
fighters, and local militias. With no means of making a living, the people have become dependent on aid.
In May 2009 the Mindanao conflict was identified as having the highest number of new internally displaced
persons worldwide1 and having “the most neglected displacement situation” in 2008.
Many displaced people, as of the end of July 2009, have still been unable to go back to their villages. They
live in fear and uncertainty in overcrowded camps, with their relatives, or in makeshift shelters on roadsides.
Unable to tend to their farms, they have become dependent on food rations and other aid. For many large
families the food rations are not enough, and family members have been forced to go back to their villages to
forage for food or something to sell, risking their lives in the process. In June 2009, the Philippine government
discouraged aid agencies from giving large quantities of food to displaced persons, in an effort to prevent food
from being diverted to the hands of the MILF or sold to traders.
With a ceasefire now in place, both parties to the conflict must, as a matter of urgency, ensure the safe return
to their homes of the more than 240,000 internally displaced persons.4 They should also cooperate in
facilitating a comprehensive, impartial and thorough investigation into all allegations of grave human rights
abuses and violations of international humanitarian law during the recently concluded hostilities. It is vital that
those whose lives have been shattered by the abuses achieve justice promptly as armed conflicts, often borne
out of perceived injustices, feed on unresolved grievances that arose from a history of conflict and many years
of failure to hold to account perpetrators of grave human rights abuses.
Fighting escalated in August 2008, after the Philippine Supreme Court delayed formally signing the
“Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain”, a document which would later increase the autonomous
territory of Muslim Mindanao. In response, MILF fighters launched attacks against civilians, and fighting
between the security forces and the MILF intensified. In October 2008, the Supreme Court ruled the
Memorandum unconstitutional. Fighting continued as the government forces conducted military operations in
an effort to pursue MILF commanders who have led the attacks.
The armed conflict in Central Mindanao, which was officially between the Philippine government and the MILF,
was further aggravated by violent acts by other armed groups, privately-armed militias and powerful feuding clans.
The Philippine government declared a Suspension of Military Operations and the MILF declared a Suspension
of Military Activities as of 23 and 24 July 2009, respectively. At the same time the Armed Forces of the
Philippines (AFP) stated that the pursuit of MILF commanders Ameril Umbra Kato, Abdullah Macapaar and Ali
Pangalian and their fighters continues, and the military will remain involved in the operations, in support of the
Philippine National Police (PNP), who will, in case of their capture, serve them their warrants of arrest for
criminal acts such as murder, arson and robbery. Amnesty International calls on the Philippine government to
ensure that such joint police-military pursuit operations do no result in further human rights violations in
Central Mindanao5 and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
In the context of the armed conflict, Amnesty International and other human rights monitors and humanitarian
workers have reported on cases of arbitrary arrests, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or
punishment, enforced disappearances, political killings, house destruction as well as diversion and prevention
of access to aid.
In March 2009 Amnesty International visited Mindanao, including the cities of Davao, Cotabato and Iligan, and
the provinces of North Cotabato and Maguindanao, to obtain updated first-hand information about the human
rights situation there. The organization gathered reports from local human rights monitors, humanitarian
workers, the military, the MILF, the Philippine Catholic Church, local and international non-governmental
organizations and the media. This report is a follow-up to “Shattered Peace in Mindanao: The Human Cost of
Conflict in the Philippines” (AI Index: ASA 35/008/2008) published by Amnesty International in October
This report focuses on the situation of internally displaced persons and human rights abuses and violations of
international humanitarian law in the context of the armed conflict in Maguindanao province, which was the
stronghold of the MILF and one of the centres of the armed conflict for most of its duration. Amnesty
International interviewed victims, their families and witnesses as well as members of civil society in the
province. Some of the cases raised in this report were taken from interviews and documentation by
independent humanitarian workers and community human rights monitors.
Amnesty International does not take sides in armed conflicts generally, including conflict between the
Philippine government and the MILF. In the context of armed conflict, the organization concentrates on
documenting and campaigning against human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law,
no matter who commits them.
Amnesty International’s concerns
Where armed conflict is prolonged, increased suffering and hardship invariably follow. Armed conflicts have,
more often than not, been the breeding ground for mass violations of human rights.
All parties to an armed conflict are obliged to comply with international humanitarian law, and in particular
Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which prohibits any attacks on persons “taking no active
part in the hostilities,” and the Second Optional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions which contains similar
provisions. Moreover, international human rights law applies in war just as in peace time. Amnesty
International calls upon the parties, most notably the Philippine government and the MILF, to explicitly show
commitment to putting an immediate and unconditional end to all violations of international human rights and
humanitarian law, including but not limited to, attacks targeting civilians, indiscriminate attacks, burning and
destruction of civilian properties, arbitrary arrests, torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or
punishment, enforced disappearances and unlawful killings, including but not limited to political killings.
The Philippine government must ensure the protection of civilians affected by the conflict, particularly
displaced persons. It must also ensure that displaced families are provided with sufficient food, access to
potable water and free medical treatment.
The Philippine government and the MILF must fully cooperate to facilitate prompt, impartial and thorough
investigations into allegations of human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law.
Reports of the investigations should be made public. Perpetrators, irrespective of rank, must be brought to
justice in proceedings which meet international standards of fairness, and victims must be ensured reparations.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The failure of both the Philippine military and the MILF to ensure that their forces comply with international
law during the 2008 – 2009 conflict has resulted in human rights violations and abuses and violations of
international humanitarian law. The lack of a neutral human rights monitor respected by both parties to the
conflict has meant that effective investigations and bringing the perpetrators to justice has not occurred.
The presence of armed groups and privately armed militias, and localised attacks between feuding clans, has
aggravated the already volatile and complex situation. At the centre of the armed conflict are the lives of the
hundreds and thousands of civilians who have been displaced. Dependent on aid, with no sure prospects of
livelihood, no safe communities or sometimes even standing homes to go back to, theirs is an uncertain future.
The recent suspension of hostilities provides a much-awaited respite for the conflict-affected population. The
re-opening of the peace talks provides the Philippine government and the MILF with an important opportunity
to put human rights at the heart of their new round of negotiations. Just like other armed conflicts in the
world, the Mindanao armed conflict has fed on unresolved grievances that arose from a history of conflict.
These grievances are often about grave human rights abuses, and historically, perpetrators of these abuses have
not been held to account.
Amnesty International makes the following recommendations to the Philippine government, the MILF and the
To the Philippine authorities
1. The government security forces, comprising the AFP and government-armed paramilitaries, such as the CAFGU and
CVO, must immediately cease all violations of human rights and take all measures necessary to ensure they are not
repeated in the future.
2. The Philippine government, especially the Department of National Defence with regard to members of the
government security forces, should initiate prompt, impartial and thorough investigations into reports of violations of
international human rights and humanitarian law.
*Witnesses and families of the victims should be protected from violence, threats or any other intimidation and
those under investigation should be suspended from any position where they can exert power or influence over them.
*Individuals identified by the investigation as responsible, including those with command responsibility
irrespective of rank, must be brought to justice in proceedings which meet international standards of fairness. An
order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification for committing serious human
rights violations or violations of international humanitarian law.
*The reports of these investigations should be made public.
*Victims must be ensured reparations in accordance with international standards. Such reparation must include
restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.
3. The Armed Forces of the Philippines must demonstrate its commitment to human rights, by providing its human
rights office with the resources needed to effectively investigate all cases of violations of international humanitarian
law and human rights violations perpetrated by the government security forces, including but not limited to,
destruction of civilian houses and property, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, unlawful killings including
political killings, and torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
*The AFP human rights office must be given the mandate and sufficient capacity to conduct the detailed and
impartial investigations itself, and not only rely on investigations done by regional commands on their own men.
4. The government should ensure the safety and well being of internally displaced persons, in accordance with
international law and standards, including the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.
*In particular it must ensure that the lives of displaced persons are not at risk of direct or indiscriminate attacks or
other acts of violence.
*It must provide or ensure the provision of, as a minimum, adequate food and potable water; adequate shelter and
housing; appropriate clothing; and essential medical services and sanitation.
*It must grant unimpeded access to all areas under its control to humanitarian actors so that they may reach
internally displaced persons and other civilians at risk without further delay.
*It must, in cooperation with the displaced persons, implement a sustainable and comprehensive plan of action
for their safe and voluntary return to their villages, in conditions that allow returnees to live without threats to their
security and under economic, social and political conditions compatible with human dignity. This includes provisions
for adequate food, housing and livelihood upon resettlement, as recommended by the DOH-UNICEF-UNWFP in their
joint nutrition and food security assessment of the internally displaced persons.
*It should ensure that their property and other rights are fully restored, and in the case of destroyed or
inaccessible property, that they receive adequate compensation, irrespective of their return to their place of permanent
5. The Philippine government must take responsibility for the security of all civilians residing in areas affected by the
conflict regardless of their religion, political affiliation, or ethnicity. Specifically, it must take concrete steps to
protect Philippine Muslims, otherwise known as Moros, from reprisal attacks and other violations, particularly by
members of the government security forces.
6. The Philippine government should prioritise the establishment of an office of its national human rights institution
in ARMM, starting with the issuance of an executive or administrative order which permits this. The Commission on
Human Rights of the Philippines should then re-establish office/s within the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao,
to make the agency accessible to victims of human rights abuses. The ARMM regional government must fully
cooperate to support this effort.
7. The national government, particularly through the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, in
consultation with ARMM regional officials and civil society, should establish a culturally accepted mechanism of
monitoring, investigating and bringing a just end to abuses perpetrated by privately armed militias, feuding clans and
other armed groups in their practice of rido, to facilitate governance that is based on the rule of law in the conflictaffected region and to prevent localised clashes that could escalate into heavy fighting.
8. The Philippine senate, as a matter of priority, must ensure that the Anti-Torture Bill and the Anti-Involuntary
Disappearance Bill fully accord with international human rights law, in particular the International Convention on the
Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the Convention against Torture, and expedite the approval
of the proposed legislations before the end of the next session.
9. As a matter of priority, the Philippine state should ratify the International Convention on the Protection of All
Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and to make the declarations required under Articles 31 and 32 of the
Convention, thus recognizing the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to consider
communications from individuals and state parties.
10. The Philippine government should implement urgently the recommendations contained in the 2008 UN Special
Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions’ report and 2009 follow-up report on the Philippines
which remain unfulfilled.
11. The Philippine government should extend an open invitation to the UN Special Procedures to visit Central Mindanao, in particular the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering
terrorism and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, who have both requested to visit the
Philippines several times.
Recommendations to the MILF
1. The MILF should publicly declare a commitment to respecting the human rights of all peoples and immediately
order its fighters, followers and supporters to cease all acts that constitute to human rights abuses, particularly in the
context of the armed conflict.
2. The MILF must ensure that its fighters, followers and supporters adhere strictly to their obligations under
international humanitarian law by clarifying to its fighters, followers or supporters, irrespective of rank, that IHL
violations would not be tolerated, particularly attacks on civilians and civilian properties or objects, and indiscriminate attacks. Members suspected of committing violations must be removed from any positions where they may repeat them.
3. The MILF must cooperate with the Philippine government in facilitating joint investigations of allegations of grave
abuses and violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and bringing to justice perpetrators of such
abuses, in a civilian court, through proceedings that comply with international standards of fairness.
4. The MILF should divulge the results of its investigations of the attacks on civilians perpetrated by three of its
commanders in August 2008 and the punishments which it stated that it has imposed on those it found to be
Recommendations to the International Community
Amnesty International calls on the international community to support measures for independent human rights
monitors to document reports of abuses by the parties to the conflict, with the aim of improving compliance with
international human rights law and humanitarian law in particular with regard to protection of civilians. Specifically:
1. Amnesty International calls on multilateral organizations such as the Organization of Islamic Conference and the
European Union, which have both expressed interest in supporting the peace process, to give assistance in
establishing international monitors of human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law committed
in the context of the armed conflict.
2. Amnesty International calls on the international donor community to support the expansion of independent local
human rights monitoring teams, in order to have more systematic and coordinated documentation and reporting of
violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the conflict-affected areas.