Building on a decade of capacity building training programmes and joint programming for the military and civil society in the Philippines, a new initiative creates a permanent forum for civil society-military-police coordination and civil society oversight of the security sector. Launched in 2011, the Bantay Bayanihan forum institutionalized the goodwill that began with the 2010 formulation of the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) that included strong participation from civil society groups.
Bantay Bayanihan, known as the “BB,” engages the security sector in critical and constructive collaboration towards peace and security sector reform. The network serves as an independent oversight body in the implementation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Internal Peace and Security Plan. It provides dialogue spaces for various stakeholders to come together and work towards addressing peace and security issues at the local and national levels.
The BB is a “Whole of Nation Approach” involving many diverse stakeholders. But the BB is also localized, enabling the general public at the local level to communicate directly with local security forces and local government. The map here highlights the locations of BB platforms across the Philippines. The network has grown to 15 clusters with a nationwide reach. It includes 150 civil society organizations – including human rights, religious, environmental, academic, and labour groups - together with civilian government units, leaders from the Department of National Defence, Department of Interior and Local Government, Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines, National Security Council, and the Cabinet Cluster on Justice, Peace, and Security also participate in BB events and meetings. The BB’s National Secretariat is the Security Reform Initiative (SRI).
According to the BB’s website,  “The universal message of Bantay Bayanihan is about working together towards winning the peace. By sharing the gains and duties of laying the groundwork for conflict resolution and community development, it creates a space for conflict survivors to be empowered in creating their future. At the same time, it brings government closer to its constituents, offering a human perspective of security issues rather than its traditional institutional stance.” BB aims for dialogue partners to jointly implement the IPSP to ensure and advance human rights, international humanitarian law, rule of law, accountability, civilian engagement and democratization of the armed forces. Specifically, BB includes the following tasks:
• Serving as a venue or direct channel to raise issues regarding the IPSP-Bayanihan, including peace and security concerns of local communities
• Conducting and validating periodic evaluations of IPSP-Bayanihan
• Providing recommendations to the Chief of Staff (national level) and Commanding General (unified command/ division/ brigade level) on IPSP-Bayanihan
• Generating concise policy recommendations on security reforms together with peace and conflict dynamics, to be submitted and presented to respective peace and order councils (local executive) and sanggunian (local legislative), all the way to national-level Cabinet security cluster (executive) and Congress (legislative)
• Promoting Bantay Bayanihan to other potential partner stakeholders
• Institutionalizing the active partnership of government and civil society
In addition to smaller meetings where civil society representatives meet with security sector leaders, the BB also holds public forums to broaden discussion about Peace and Order Councils, Normalization, and CAFGUs (Citizen Auxiliary Force Geographical Units). Bantay Bayanihan also produces policy reform papers to reflect the views of both civil society and relevant government agencies.
The BB emerges from decades of tense relationships between communities and security forces. At first, civil society suggested that they call the BB a “multisectoral advisory committee.” Then the name shifted to the “Bayanihan Partners Forum” but some parts of civil society objecting, noting it was too early to call each other “partners.” Some military officers were unsure about allowing civil society representatives to hear intelligence reports, such as the details of operations, from casualties to how many shells were fired. A civil society member shared that with the IPSP approach guiding the military’s activities, there was a significant change in dealing with such cases: “Military now plays a vital role as protector of the civilians. This lessened human rights violations because the military has learned that they have to connect with the community. Before, they were hard to get or they were very sensitive and defensive especially when we brought cases of rape [against soldiers] to the [meeting] sessions.” Trust continues to grow, as security forces recognize the value of hearing civil society’s different perspectives and analysis on security threats.
In the region of Lanao del Norte, the BB’s work building civil society collaboration outreach from a small, interfaith NGO known as Pakigdait with the Filipino military. Pakigdait conducts interfaith dialogue between Muslim and Christian leaders and aims to help communities address conflict and bring needed changes without violence. Like most of his community, Musa Sanguila of Pakigdait had experienced abuse from military personnel. Growing up as an ethnic Moro, he had been rounded up by the military police and from that experience of repression and humiliation he became a Moro activist. In August 2008 the army blocked all food supplies to the local municipality. Pakigait requested for passage to bring in relief goods. The army refused for fear that they are also providing for the insurgents. But now, because of the BB dialogue, trust between civil society and the military is increasing because of the BB engagement.
His colleague Abel Jose Moya was captured and tortured in the 1980s for his role in the New People’s Army. Sanguila and Moya had a change of heart. With a desire to promote a “culture of peace,” Sanguila and his colleagues began regularly visiting military camps to teach soldiers how to speak the local Maranao language and to relate better to local communities. The AFP twice awarded Pakigdait as an “outstanding NGO” for its bridge building work between civil society and the military.  Now Musa Sanguila sits on the BB oversight committee. Sanguila observed that “Everyone is wounded” in both civil society and in security forces. Speaking as a representative of civil society, Sanguila states “It is important we talk to each other. We always tell them that we are here not to criticise but to be constructive on how we can push for peace and development together. We are here to help.”
Excerpt from the book Local Ownership in Security: Case Studies of Peacebuilding Approaches edited by Lisa Schirch with Deborah Mancini-Griffoli and published by The Alliance for Peacebuilding, The Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, and the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.