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 Collins Odhiambo News

Executive Master in International Law in Armed Conflict: What Participants Say

1 June 2021

Collins Odhiambo is a Captain in the Kenyan Air Force and just completed a one-and-a-half-year assignment with the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). In this interview, he tells about the programme, distance learning and what it brings to his daily work.

Read more

Portrait of Chantal Touma News

Executive Master in International Law in Armed Conflict: What Participants Say

27 April 2021

Chantal Touma follows our Executive Master in International Law in Armed Conflict online while working as Legal Adviser at the International Committee of the Red Cross Legal Department in Damascus. In this interview, she tells about the programme, distance learning and what it brings to her career.

Read more

 Taliban fighters on a truck in Kabul, August 17 2021 Event

Afghanistan

28 October 2021, 15:00-16:00

This online IHL talk aims at shining light on some of the many legal, political and protection-related challenges stemming from the situation in Afghanistan.

Read more

Ukraine, damaged bicycle and car in front of a destroyed building Short Course

Protection of Persons and Property in International Armed Conflict

18 November - 23 December 2021

This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, examines the conduct of hostilities in situations of international armed conflict, also known as the Law of The Hague.

Read more

Short Course

The Law of Non-International Armed Conflicts

17 March - 8 April 2022

This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, discusses the protection offered by international humanitarian law (IHL) in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) and addresses some problems and controversies specific to IHL of NIACs, including the difficulty to ensure the respect of IHL by armed non-state actors.

Read more

Séléka rebels patrol in the town of Bria, Central African Republic (CAR). Project

Human Rights Responsibilities and Armed Non-State Actors

Completed in June 2018

This research aims at building a common understanding and vision as to how states and the relevant parts of the UN system can provide a concrete and practical framework to address human rights responsibilities of armed non-state actors.

Read more

A session of the UN Human Rights Committtee at Palais Wilson Project

Implementing International Humanitarian Law Through Human Rights Mechanisms

Started in April 2019

Resulting from traditional legal research and informal interviews with experts, the project aims at examining how – if at all possible – IHL could be more systematically, appropriately and correctly dealt with by the human rights mechanisms emanating from the Charter of the United Nations, as well from universal and regional treaties.

Read more

Cover page of the book Publication

War

published on July 2021

Andrew Clapham

Read more