January 21, 2010: Dr. Rosalie Arcala Hall and Mr. G. Eugene Martin

(Click to Enlarge) From left to right: Dr. Rosalie Arcala Hall and Mr. G. Eugene Martin discuss military integration of former combatants into the militaries of East Timor and the Philippines.

From Rebels to Soldiers: Military Integration of Former Insurgents in the Philippines and East Timor


(Washington D.C.) January 21–Integrating former insurgents into national militaries does not necessarily lead to the reduction of communal barriers between ethnic minorities and the majority population of a country. In an East-West Center in Washington Asia Pacific Security Seminar, Dr. Rosalie Arcala Hall, associate professor of political science at the University of the Philippines Visayas and Fulbright visiting scholar in the Department of Political Science at Loyola University, and discussant Mr. G. Eugene Martin, former executive director of the Philippine Facilitation Project at the U.S. Institute of Peace and former U.S. Foreign Service Office, discussed the integration of former insurgents into the militaries of the Philippines and East Timor, examining the role that such military integrations play in promoting peace and reducing ethnic boundaries among the population.


The Philippines and East Timor both incorporated former combatants into their militaries after a cessation of conflict. In the Philippines, former members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) from the primarily Islamic Mindanao region were incorporated into the existing Philippine army after a peace agreement was signed between the MNLF and the Philippine government. In East Timor, former members of the Falintil group became an important base for the foundation of a new military under United Nation organized nation-building projects developed shortly after East Timor won independence from Indonesia.


It has often been argued that these integration activities allow for minority ethnic groups to increase their identity as a member of the country rather than as a minority, leading to a reduction of internal conflict and communal barriers. However, Dr. Hall’s research found that this has not necessarily been the case in the Philippines and East Timor. She found that the level of integration was determined by several factors including the selection process into the military, the political situation of the minority group at the time that integration occurred, and the way in which the military dealt with its new members.


In the case of the Philippines, she noted that the agreement between the MNLF and the Philippine government called for only a small percentage of MNLF fighters to be incorporated into the military, and that fitness, age, and other requirements for military personnel were waived. This led to the selection process becoming quite politicized, with slots in the army being allotted by former MNLF leaders to their friends and family. This, she explained, caused discord among the former combatants. The MNLF were eventually incorporated into general military units, with many of them serving in combat areas in Muslim states.


In East Timor, the Falintil combatants were not absorbed into an existing army, but formed the base of the country’s new military. Consequently, Dr. Hall noted, they were quite instrumental in determining the culture and practices of the new institution. The ex-Falintil members were formed into an exclusive battalion and the ex-Falintil identity remains quite strong in the military. However, those determined to be ex-Falintil were restricted to people from the east part of East Timor, leaving out former combatants from the western side who felt that they, too, had a right to join the new armed forces. This led to political conflicts among the east and the west.


In the end, Dr. Hall argued, neither case showed that minority groups significantly changed their identity through integration into the military, though she felt that the Philippine case was perhaps more successful than the East Timor case. However, as Mr. Martin explained, ex-MNLF members are still more likely to identify as citizens of the region of their birth than as citizens of the Philippines, and he pointed out that many ex-combatants left the army when they were asked to fight against insurgents in their home regions. In East Timor, Dr. Hall explained, the ex-insurgents were incorporated as a group into the armed forces, so they continue to identify as members of the Falintil rather than of the state of East Timor. Further, complaints of former combatants from the west over their treatment during the incorporation process continue to cause divisions within East Timor.


Rosalie Arcala Hall is an associate professor of political science at the University of the Philippines Visayas and a Fulbright Visiting Scholar in the department of political science at Loyola University. Previously, she was a visiting researcher at the Institut fur Politikwissenschaft in Universitat Innsbruck in Austria (Nov. 2006-Apr. 2007), and a visiting research fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta (Aug. 2007-Sept. 2007). Dr. Hall’s publications include “Living in the Shadow of Violence: Local Civil-Military Engagements in Anti-Communist Insurgency Operations in Central Philippines,” in Asian Security , vol. 3, issue 2 (September 2007); and “Democracy in the Trenches: Re-imposing Civilian Supremacy in Counterinsurgency Operations in the Philippines,” PSSC Social Science Information, vol. 34, no. 1 and 2 (January-December 2006).


G. Eugene Martinis a former U.S. Foreign Service officer with a specialty in East Asia. He served eleven years in greater China and twice in Manila, as deputy chief of mission and political military officer. His China assignments included two tours in Hong Kong, consul general in Guangzhou, and deputy chief of mission in Beijing. In Washington DC, he served as special assistant to the deputy secretary of state, special assistant to the assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, a congressional fellow, the Burma desk officer, and the deputy director of the Office of Chinese Affairs. After leaving the Foreign Service, Mr. Martin taught area studies at the Foreign Service Institute and the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. Subsequently, he joined the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) as the executive director of the Philippine Facilitation Project, which sought to advance the peace process between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Mindanao. Until recently, he was the Washington director of the Johns Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies in Nanjing, China.