What Is Bantay Ceasefire?
“Bantay Ceasefire” was conceptualized in October 2002 and formed in January 2003. It was first use to name a group of local and international civil society peace activists and grassroots community volunteers organized by the Initiatives of International Dialogue, then the secretariat of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus to conduct an assessment of the ceasefire mechanism of the Government and the MILF- the Local Monitoring Team (LMT). The activity was dubbed “Mindanao Grassroots Ceasefire Review and Assessment January 6-12 & 18-19, 2003”. Since then, Bantay Ceasefire continues to be an attempt by the grassroots communities to prevent war in their communities by supporting a ceasefire, reporting violations of the ceasefire agreement and in general reducing threats to the safety and security of civilian populations in conflict affected areas in Mindanao.
From the original 60 members composing the first investigative mission in January 2003, Bantay Ceasefire membership grew to 900 volunteers at present. It covers six (7) provinces in south, central and western Mindanao. These provinces are North Cotabato, Maguuindanao, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat, Basilan and Sulu.
It has conducted investigative missions of the major incidents of breaches to the truce agreement of the Government and MILF and lobbied its findings and recommendations to both parties in conflict and even sought the intervention of diplomatic communities in finding resolution to the perennial conflict situation in Mindanao.
Foremost of these missions were the February 11, 2003 Buliok war, the Hunt of Fathor Rothman Al-Ghozi and the alleged Jemaah Islamiyah training camp in a MILF area in the mountainous area of Butig, Lanao del Sur, the accompaniment mission in Ahan, Guindolongan, Maguindanao in August 2005 where Bantay Ceasefire volunteers accompanied the return of more than 200 displaced families to their villages to harvest their crops; the August 18, 2008 Kolambugan, Lanao del Norte attack on a civilian populations and establishments; the April 2009 accompaniment mission in Datu Piang where Bantay Ceasefire exposed the harassment against evacuees and the worst situation in the evacuation camps.
In February 2004, Bantay Ceasefire grassroots monitoring was recognized by both Government and MILF, later, the International Monitoring Team (IMT) as a civilian-led third party volunteer monitor of the ceasefire agreement but it does not supplant the work of the Local Monitoring Teams or LMTs, which was formed in August 2001 by the GRP and MILF peace panels as the ceasefire monitoring mechanism on the ground.
Because of its unwavering resolved in monitoring the ceasefire implementation of the government and the MILF, Bantay Ceasefire was formally invited by the ceasefire committees to be part of the interim ceasefire mechanisms installed by the Government and MILF Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (JCCCH). Thus, the participation and involvement of Bantay Ceasefire in the operations and deployment of contingents to the first Joint Monitoring Assistance Teams (JMAT’s) and Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Post (JCMP’s) in Buliok, Pagalungan and Bagoinged Pikit in April 2004 and subsequently in the succeeding joint ceasefire monitoring posts in Shariff Aguak and Datu Piang, Maguindanao.
On August 23-27, 2007, due to the limitations of the terms of reference of the International Monitoring Team, Bantay Ceasefire served as a third party in the GRP-MILF Joint Independent Fact Finding Team investigating the August 10, 2007 Basilan incident where 10 members of the Philippine Marines were decapitated in Albarka, Basilan.
Last November 2009, Bantay Ceasefire conducted its first General Assembly where volunteers formed their respective provincial cluster in a move to institutionalize the structure of Bantay Ceasefire for a clearer operational structure, reporting system and activated the provincial quick response teams. The clusters were provided logistics for documentation, communication and mobility to be more effective and efficient in doing ceasefire monitoring work.
Bantay Ceasefire volunteers’ ceasefire monitoring activities has deep impact on the local stakeholders. Conflict actors are cautious in their actions on the ground as they know that there will be civilian-led ceasefire monitors that watch their actions. On the other hand, community people realize they can do something to prevent conflict escalating, near their homes and farms, they react to potential threats to the safety and security of their villages by reporting it to the formal ceasefire mechanism, instead of just wait for the approaching conflict and being victims of war all over again. Without a mandate from either Government or the MILF, “Bantay Ceasefire” can claim independence and impartiality in its undertakings.