Philippines: A Series of Long-Lasting Non-International Armed Conflicts

Map of the RULAC online portal with the pop-up window of the non-international armed conflicts in the Philippines Map of the RULAC online portal with the pop-up window of the non-international armed conflicts in the Philippines

7 January 2019

The Government of the Philippines is involved in multiple non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) in Mindanao against the Moro National Liberation Front, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the Maute Group and the Abu Sayyaf Group. The Philippines armed forces are also engaged in a NIAC against the New People’s Army.

Our Rule of Law in Armed Conflict (RULAC) online portal provides a detailed analysis and legal classification of these NIACs, as well as information about parties to these conflicts and recent developments.

Criteria to Classify Situations of Armed Violence as Armed Conflicts

‘We use two criteria to assess whether a situation of armed violence amounts to a NIAC under international humanitarian law: the level of armed violence must reach a certain degree of intensity that goes beyond internal disturbances and tensions, and at least one side to the conflict must be a non-state armed group that exhibits a certain level of organization’ explains Dr Chiara Redaelli, Research Fellow at the Geneva Academy.

‘In the case of the Philippines, we considered that both criteria are met’ she adds.

A NIAC with the New People’s Army

The New People’s Army (NPA, also known as Bagong Hukbong Bayan) is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines and has been militarily active in the country since 1969. Although it operates in the whole country, its activities are concentrated predominantly in Mindanao.

‘While the level of armed violence dropped since 2015, we still classify the situation as a NIAC. Indeed, a NIAC continues until a peaceful settlement is achieved, regardless of the oscillating intensity of violence’ underlines Dr Readelli.

The Philippines Government and the NPA have been attempting to hold peace talks for decades. In August 2016, the talks resumed in Oslo, Norway. However, following a series of armed confrontations and mutual accusations between the parties at the beginning of 2017 they were informally suspended.

NIACs with Armed Groups Fighting for Independence in Mindanao

Unlike the rest of the Philippines, the island of Mindanao has a large Muslim population. Tensions related to religion, unequal distribution of resources and abuses of power against the minorities led to the outbreak of armed struggles aimed at obtaining the independence of Mindanao.

In this context, the Government of the Philippines is engaged since the 1970s in NIACs against the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), as well as against the Abu Sayyaf Group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Maute Group.

In 2018, confrontations between Philippines forces on one side, and the MNLF and MILF on the other diminished. Perhaps thanks to the ongoing peace talks, the parties engaged in smaller-scale offensives and the armed groups attempted to avoid direct military confrontations when possible.

‘While intensity diminished, we still classify the armed confrontations between the Philippines armed forces and the MNLF and MILF as a NIAC. Indeed, IHL continues to be applicable regardless of the oscillating intensity of violence, thus even when the intensity requirement is not met for a certain time’ explains Dr Readelli.

More alarming is the level of violence between the government and a number of armed groups that are affiliated with the Islamic State group (IS), in particular, the Abu Sayyaf Group, the BIFF and the Maute Group.

‘There is no question that the level of violence between these groups and the Philippines armed forces meets the criteria to qualify these confrontations as NIACs’ recalls Dr Readelli.

‘Similarly, the splitting of Abu Sayaf into factions following the death of its leader in October 2017 does not affect this classification as the group still remains highly disciplined both financially and militarily. We, therefore, considered that it still meets the level of organization criteria’ says Dr Readelli.

Non international armed conflict in the Philippines with Moro National Front

About RULAC

The RULAC database is unique in the world in that it legally classifies situations of armed violence that amount to an armed conflict – international or non-international – under international humanitarian law (IHL).

‘This is crucial because IHL applies only in armed conflicts. Before humanitarian players, civil servants or academics can invoke IHL or analyze whether IHL was violated, they must know whether it applies. Outside armed conflicts, only international human rights law applies’ underlines Marco Sassòli, Director of the Geneva Academy.

MORE ON THIS THEMATIC AREA

Portrait of Nicolas Michel News

The Iran-United States Claims Tribunal Chooses Nicolas Michel, President of our Board, as its Next President

21 December 2017

Nicolas Michel will officially join the Iran-United States Claim Tribunal (IUSCT) in The Hague on 1 January 2018.

Read more

A thank at the Ethiopian-Eritrean border News

Eritrea-Ethiopia: Understanding 20 Years of Armed Conflict

11 December 2018

The War Report article The Eritrea-Ethiopia Armed Conflict provides detailed information about the history of this conflict, the peace process and the final Algiers Agreement, the deployment of peacekeeping operations until 2008, the work and conclusions of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) and the Eritrea-Ethiopia Claims Commission (EECC), as well as recent developments.

Read more

2017 edition of the Advanced Seminar in IHL for Lecturers and Researchers Training

Advanced Seminar in IHL for Lecturers and Researchers

9-13 September 2019

Organized by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Geneva Academy,  this advanced seminar aims to enhance the capacity of lecturers and researchers to teach and research international humanitarian law contemporary issues, addressing both substantive and pedagogical aspects.

Read more

Peru, Ayacucho, Forensic Institut. With the help of the prosecutor's office staff, families try to identify the clothes of their missing relatives. Project

Standards of Proof in Fact Finding

Completed in January 2013

Several ad hoc fact-finding and inquiry commissions have been established to assess some of the most serious situations of human rights and humanitarian law violations across the world. With such mechanisms gaining influence, the question arises of whether a minimum formal standard of proof (or degree of certainty) exists or is required when such bodies adjudicate on such serious matters.

Read more

South Sudan, Warrab. An ICRC information session on the Law of Armed Conflict with soldiers from Warrab State. Project

Armed Non-State Actors and the Human Rights Council

Completed in January 2015

Launched in 2016, this project aimed to identify whether, to what extent and under what circumstances armed non-state actors incur obligations under international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights (HR) law.

Read more