Foreign peace monitors depart southern Philippines after nearly 2 decades

Jeoffrey Maitem
Cotabato, Philippines
Share on WhatsApp
Share on WhatsApp
Foreign peace monitors depart southern Philippines after nearly 2 decades Former Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels wait for transportation to a weapons decommissioning ceremony at Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat in Mindanao, a southern island in the Philippines, Sept. 7, 2019.
[Ferdinandh Cabrera/AFP]

A Malaysian-led international peace monitoring group has departed from the southern Philippines after the administration of Rodrigo Duterte, who left office late last month, decided their presence was no longer needed, officials said Friday.

The peacekeeping force, known as the International Monitoring Team (IMT) and tasked with safeguarding a ceasefire agreement between the Philippine government and former Moro Islamic Liberation Front guerrillas, departed the country from Cotabato City to little fanfare last month. The monitors had operated in the southern Mindanao region for nearly two decades.

Naguib Sinarimbo, a spokesman for the former MILF rebels, confirmed the withdrawal to BenarNews and said the IMT wanted to alter some of the terms of their agreement. He did not elaborate.

“While it has not yet been resolved, they have decided to pull out their contingent. Their authority to stay has also expired,” Sinarimbo said. He said IMT could operate again in the Philippines subject to a government review.

The IMT, commanded by Maj. Gen. Hamdan Ismail, officially pulled out at the end of June.

In a message before his departure, which was made available to the press on Friday, Ismail said the bond between the Philippines and Malaysia had grown stronger since IMT’s stay in Mindanao.

“I wish that your dreams and my dreams of achieving lasting peace in this part of the region can be realized in the near future,” Ismail added.


Lt. Col. Aminuddin Ihsan (left), the head of the Bruneian contingent, speaks at a news conference in Manila on Oct. 20, 2004, after the arrival of the 10-member army team from Brunei that would join a larger group of Malaysian peace monitors overseeing a ceasefire between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Sitting next to him is Malaysian Maj. Gen. Zulkifeli bin Mohd Zin, head of delegation for International Monitoring team. [Erik de Castro/Reuters]


The Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed a peace agreement with the central government in 2014, ending its long-running separatist insurgency in Mindanao. Malaysia had brokered the peace negotiations, and its participation evolved to include the monitoring of the interim ceasefire pact forged by both sides about two decades ago.

Representatives from Libya, Brunei, and Japan were included in the Malaysian-led mission, which also monitored the humanitarian, rehabilitation and development aspects of the peace process. The peacekeeping contingent also ensured the protection of civilians in areas where the rebels operated.

Brig. Gen. Antonio Nafarrete, who headed the government’s ceasefire team, expressed the administration’s gratitude for the IMT’s peacekeeping efforts in Mindanao. 

“Thank you very much. We recognized the IMT’s invaluable contribution in sustaining the gains of the Bangsamoro peace process as the team nears the end of its tour of duty,” he said.

What will Marcos do?

It remains unclear whether Duterte’s successor, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., will extend IMT’s peacekeeping tenure.

Critics say his father and namesake, the Philippines’ longtime dictator, led massive military drives in the south and many people either died or disappeared during his time in office from 1965 to 1986.

The former rebels, for one, campaigned against Marcos Jr. Its leader, Murad Ebrahim (whose real name is Ahod Balawag Ebrahim), had blamed Marcos’ father and the military under the late dictator of ransacking Muslim areas and massacring entire communities. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front was formed, in part, to fight these alleged atrocities, while also seeking independence.

The IMT’s strength at one time stood at 60, but it gradually decreased as tension and fighting reduced and peace began to take hold. In March, the government informed the IMT it would no longer extend the mission.

The front’s ceasefire chief, Butch Malang, said the organization remains committed as ever in strengthening the joint peace mechanisms.

“We also take this opportunity to strengthen further our common commitment, teamwork, and dedication to work together with all our partners for a stronger proactive ceasefire accord during the post-agreement period of the peace process between the government and the MILF,” said Malang.

“The MILF’s adherence to the ceasefire has been a gradual success but was collectively realized due to the strong cooperation and partnership of security forces, local governments, and communities on the ground,” he added.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.