Cablegate: Successful Mechanism for Maintaining

DE RUEHML #2302 1900722
O 090722Z JUL 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

SUBJECT: Successful Mechanism for Maintaining
Peace in Midsayap, Mindanao

Ref: (A) Manila 828 (B) Manila 782

1. (SBU) Summary: The municipality of Midsayap has been a
flashpoint for conflict between Muslim and Christian groups in
Mindanao's North Cotabato province, primarily due to disputes over
land ownership. Land disputes recently turned violent on January
25, when fighting broke out between a local pro-government militia
and members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), resulting
in three deaths (ref b). To manage this conflict, the Philippine
government created a new Interagency Task Force to investigate and
settle land claims, as well as a new 24/7 monitoring outpost
composed of representatives of the Philippine military, the MILF,
and the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT). DCM on
June 21 visited the Interagency Task Force and the remote monitoring
team outpost. They appear to be innovative, successful mechanisms
for maintaining peace which may offer lessons for other parts of
Mindanao. End Summary.
Interagency Task Force
2. (SBU) Interagency Task Force Director Jim Sampulna, flanked by
eight members of the Task Force including one from the MILF,
presented a compelling power point presentation of the Task Force's
composition, genesis, and progress. Eleven national government
agencies, such as Environment and Natural Resources (Sampulna),
Agriculture, Agrarian Reform, plus the MILF and Armed Forces, have
local representatives as members of the Task Force. President
Arroyo constituted the Task Force by Executive Order on February 28,
in reaction to the fighting in January, with the mandate of
investigating and settling land claims in Midsayap municipality.
The Task Force proved so effective that the President expanded the
IATF's jurisdiction to cover the whole province of North Cotabato on
March 30.
3. (SBU) Sampulna described relatively quick success in resolving
many land disputes, resulting in the return of the vast majority of
residents displaced in recent fighting. The Task Force reviewed
records of individual claims, interviewed claimants, placed land
markers and issued titles. Some cases were as simple as explaining
to farmers that they land they owned was not where they thought, but
a short distance away. Other cases are much more complex, and
difficult ones are still in process. Officials from various
agencies at the table attested to a high level of cooperation within
the Task Force and with local residents. The atmosphere in the
briefing seemed to confirm a collegial, problem-solving approach.
4. (SBU) Asked how the Midsayap model could be applied to other
flashpoints in Mindanao, Task Force members said the general concept
of cooperatively resolving of land disputes had great applicability,
since the root of conflict in many parts of Mindanao was about land
ownership. But in much of Mindanao where land conflicts were
between Muslims - instead of between Christians and Muslims - the
institutions of the national government and Armed Forces were less
effective and not necessarily welcomed by the local Muslim family
clans. The Task Force was nonetheless considering how its successes
could be replicated elsewhere.
Monitoring Outpost
5. (SBU) Located on a long muddy road from Midsayap, cutting through
rice paddies toward the vast Liguasan Marsh, the Joint Monitoring
Team outpost consists of a large hut with a dirt floor,
communications equipment, a few bunks, and other basic necessities.
Representatives of the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team,
Armed Forces, MILF, and National Police staff the post 24/7.
Malaysian military representatives said that local farmers insist
they staff the outpost 24/7 in order to assure their safety. The
outpost is placed along the road used in the past by armed
infiltrators. During the day, outpost staff visit local farmers,
relationships they believe would provide advanced notice of any
future violence brewing.

6. (SBU) Practical, empowered cooperation among government agencies,
Armed Forces, and the MILF have created mechanisms for managing and
even resolving disputes that have made Midsayap a violent flashpoint
between local Christians and Muslims, including members of the MILF.
The Government has prioritized containing Midsayap's tensions to
preserve the generally durable ceasefire it enjoys with the MILF.
The success of the Interagency Task Force and Monitoring Outpost
demonstrates the commitment of the government and the MILF to
working together, where possible, to maintain the peace.


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