New and Old Conflict in the Southern Philippines: Understanding Violence and Making Peace at the Margins of the State

Mr. Nathan Shea
Panel Code

The provinces in Mindanao in the southern Philippines have experienced centuries of conflict and violence: at the hands of the Spanish, the US, and since the 1960s from the Philippine state. Ethnically diverse and religiously distinctive from the majority of the Philippines, Mindanao has been the site of a decades-long rebel insurgency, with Muslim separatist ‘fronts’ agitating for greater independence and autonomy from Manila. Over 40 years of peace negotiations have failed to produce a fully implemented agreement, while nascent conflict in the form of violent extremism threatens to disrupt traditional power structures and usher in a new era of violence and disorder.
At the same time, the region lags behind the rest of the Philippines in key development indicators, with the five districts that make up the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao the poorest in the country. Local forms of governance have suffered from political competition and corruption, exacerbating an already strained security environment. While competition over land and scarce resources results in the proliferation of illegal and illicit economies outside of state capture, as well as local instances of violence that permeate throughout everyday life.
This panel examines the complex challenges of state-making and peacebuilding present in Mindanao. It explores the dynamics which have agitated violence in the region in recent years, while detailing the macro and micro efforts undertaken by local, national, and international actors in order to bring peace and development gains to the region. The panel draws upon extensive first-hand experience working in Mindanao, and grapples with the contested literature around ‘hybridity’ and the ‘local turn’ in peacebuilding, whereby bottom-up forms of coalition building has become preferred to top-down state-building enterprises. As the Philippines invests in a national conversation on transforming into a federal form of governance, a nuanced understanding of the contested institutions and authority at the margins of the state is central to the future peace and prosperity of Mindanao. The research presented by this panel also informs a practical understanding of borders and state-building in Asia, whereby religious and ethnic narratives are underpinned by an intricate web of actors and interests.