Facilitator and guarantor: Malaysia in the Philippines
Why was Malaysia selected? Malaysia was invited to mediate at the initial request of the government. During the first years of negotiation between the MILF and the government, there were no mediators involved. It was only after 2002, when President Gloria Arroyo personally asked the Malaysians to intervene, that Malaysia accepted playing this role. This is noteworthy by itself: the mediator that has historical ties to the rebel side is asked by the government side to mediate. Malaysian mediation can be considered as biased only if we focus on mediation bias in terms of context. As mentioned above, this can refer to three basic forms: ideological bias, cultural bias, and strategic bias. Bias can be ideologically based. Ideological affinity can tie countries together and be one of the rationales for the backing of one side. For a democratic state, the similarity in political culture may be a reason to side with one party over another in a conflict. An ideological common cause can impel countries to support one side in war and continue that support through the peacemaking efforts. For example, Libya’s involvement in the period of 1972-1976 (the Tripoli Agreements) was partly driven by ideological bias: the MNLF leader Nur Misuari shared a version of the Libya regime’s Islamic revolutionary, leftist-communist ideology. The nature of the ties can also be identity-based, such as ethnic linkages, linguistic ties, or common religion. Linkages in identity may provide the motivation to support one side in the conflict, and the desire for peace arrangements that provide the best deal possible for the co-ethnic, co-lingual or co-religious partners. Malaysia shares ethnic and religious ties with the Bangsamoro people of the Mindanao, which can help to explain its involvement. The rebels that would form the MILF also received support from Malaysia, prior to their separation from the MNLF. Malaysia has a history of support for the MNLF, primarily by granting safe haven in the northeastern state of Sabah during earlier parts of the conflict (Islam, 1998). A third type of bias tie is strategic. Alliances can be formed in order to counter perceived threats from others, or in order to strategically advance interests in the realms of politics, security or economics. Support for one side in a conflict may be due to an interest in gaining influence over a neighboring country. In this case,
Malaysia also had strategic interests. It has been argued, for instance, that geopolitical interests lay behind Malaysian involvement, as an attempt to offset the risk of a power vacuum that would invite Chinese influence (Mastura 2011). Moreover, Malaysia has territorial issues with the Philippines, which affects its impartiality. The status of Sabah, which is controlled by Malaysia but claimed by the Philippines, is still unresolved. However, despite initial reservations concerning the role of Malaysia, the Government of the Philippines (GPH) re-considered the dampening effect that the inclusion of the formerly rebel-supporting country could have on the MILF. In other words, rebel-biased third parties were perceived from the government perspective as particularly well-placed actors to police the Islamic Moro guerrillas. Thus, the MILF ’s incentive to internationalize the conflict converged with the GPH’s incentive to include particular countries to keep track of the behavior of the MILF. Moreover, from the government’s perspective, it was better to have Malaysia inside the process than outside. Malaysia had historically supported the rebel cause, and, as an officially Islamic state, is coreligionist with the rebels. Being on the outside, there was a risk that they would become a spoiler to any peace attempts. This helps to explain why Malaysia was involved. It is interesting to note that the actual negotiations seem to have been handled in an even-handed fashion by Malaysia. Hence, one important insight is that bias by source does not necessarily lead to bias in the process. The Malaysian mediation effort has largely been an example of an impartial approach to the actual mediation process. It must be said that there have been issues with regard to the degree of impartiality of the mediator representatives, in particular the second Malaysian representative on the assignment.1 Yet, there was an impasse in the negotiations that delayed the peace process for several months, because the GPH wanted the mediator replaced. This is interesting, because it shows that GPH seemed to take for granted that the mediator should be impartial, even though the vested interests of Malaysia and its history in supporting the rebels’ cause is publicly known. It also shows that the issue of impartiality came up on a personal level, as it was the mediator, and not the country per se, that was accused of bias.