Photo credit: Wikimedia commons, Philippine Information Agency

On May 23, 2017, 100 militants of an ISIS-inspired armed brigade, the “Maute” group, took control of the City of Marawi in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in the Southern Philippines. Within five months – the time it took for national security forces to establish control – a large part of the city was destroyed and almost 200,000 residents were displaced. The city center was a bombed-out shell and emptied of any people. As residents waited for permission to return, and the national government considered approaches to re-construct the city, the possibility of renewed tension and violence over land and property matters represented a growing and significant risk. These risks had a familiar edge in this region, which has a deep history of land dispossession and displacement that have been sources of violence for a long time.

Facing growing pressure and concern to generate a strategy to address land and property issues in Marawi, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) turned to the Consensus Building Institute. CBI mediators have helped develop systems to manage post-conflict land and property issues in peace processes in Guatemala, Timor Leste, and Sri Lanka. These experiences have highlighted the importance of careful conflict analysis and thoughtful design of systems that build on existing local and national capacities and that are tailored to the specific contextual complexities and sensitivities at play. 

Creating a Typology of Claims

The first challenge the team faced was to understand both the scale and the diversity of land claims and disputes. The second was to understand what formal and informal systems, institutions, and norms could be used to resolve them.

To meet these challenges, a two-person team (Michael Brown, Director of Canada Practice and Senior Mediator and a leading national land lawyer) went to Marawi to interview stakeholders about land claims issues.  They conducted dozens of interviews and meetings with individuals and small groups from national and local government, traditional and religious leaders, and local community members. CBI’s questions focused on the:

  • overall conflict dynamic and peace process in the region,
  • types of land and property claims and disputes that the destruction of the city and the resettlement process were creating,
  • laws and policies that might be used as the basis for resolving disputes, and
  • roles and capacities of different government agencies, local and traditional authorities, and the relevant processes available to deal with these issues.

Through the assessment, CBI developed a typology of the different categories of claims and disputes in the City of Marawi, and an analysis of the relevant capacities of the many institutions that play or could play a role in addressing each type of claim and dispute.

Building a Framework to Address Claims, and a Roadmap to Implement It

Based on the assessment, CBI developed a framework of steps to address land and property claims and disputes, using existing institutions where possible, and recommending new mechanisms where needed. Designing the system required working through many challenges. How to design the basic elements in real time while facing pressure for quick action? How to build due process and human rights considerations into a system that operates efficiently? How to encourage and promote effective inter-agency coordination between numerous government and non-government actors? In addressing these and other challenges, CBI generated a framework with the following three elements:

  • Determination of legitimate claimants: consolidating existing land documents, identifying claimants, linking land claims with land parcel maps, providing public notice of the claim review process, validating claims, resolving disputes, recognizing ownership and claimants, and determining what cases merit the right to appeal
  • Reparation for loss or damage of property due to war: determining the extent of property loss or damage, developing categories of damage to allow for efficient compensation of similar properties, and recompensing legitimate claimants with money or property  
  • Compensation for loss or damage to land and property due to reconstruction efforts planned for the City of Marawi by the national government: expropriating land and property if required, developing formulae for quick compensation of similar properties, and recompensing with money or property

A system of this type must be grounded on formal elements of post-war restoration of property rights under international law, while also building upon national and local legal, institutional, cultural, religious and political realities. CBI’s deep experience in designing land and property systems in post-conflict settings ensured the integration of international best practice into local context, while prioritizing a coherent institutional design that links relevant agencies, procedures, and actors.  Throughout the process, CBI worked closely with national counterparts in the government’s Marawi reconstruction team (particularly its Sub-Committee on Land and Natural Resources), and with local, traditional and religious leaders.

Following government approval of the framework, UNDP asked CBI to design a multi-year roadmap to implement it. The roadmap lays out a set of actions needed to create an integrated system to resolve the claims and disputes in Marawi City. The roadmap also provides information required to help UNDP and the national government mobilize the significant finances needed to develop and implement a system of this nature.

While structured to address the immediate challenges in Marawi, the system was also designed to potentially serve as a foundation for handling the many land and property challenges in the broader Bangsamoro Peace Process in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

While challenging and complex, CBI’s efforts in Southern Philippines provide an example of how to design a system to address large numbers of post-conflict land and property claims in a conflict-sensitive and efficient manner suited to the challenges of peacebuilding.

Photo credit: Wikimedia commons, Philippine Information Agency