Manila, 25 October 2016 – A conflict monitoring system developed by nongovernment organization International Alert Philippines now covers more provinces in Mindanao, enabling a more comprehensive analysis of conflict and better formulation of interventions and development plans.
Conflict Alert, launched today, covers the 15 provinces in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Davao Region and Caraga, as well as Cotabato and Isabela cities, which are located within the ARMM but are not administered by it. It is the only existing tracker of violent conflict at the subnational level in the Philippines.
“These regions are major sites of rebellion and insurgency, criminal violence, and shadow economy-based conflicts. With this new system, we can generate the evidence to check the causes and costs, and trends and directions of violent conflict in these three regions. This will greatly help in policy making, development planning and peacebuilding for these areas,” said Francisco J. Lara Jr., country manager of International Alert Philippines.
Conflict Alert combines two previously separate monitoring systems and databases: the Bangsamoro Conflict Monitoring System (BCMS) and the Southern and Eastern Mindanao Conflict Database (SEMCD).
The BCMS, launched in 2013, covered the ARMM and Cotabato and Isabela cities. It pioneered systematic conflict monitoring but its analysis was bounded by its geographic reach. The SEMCD, launched in 2015, extended the analysis to the Davao and Caraga regions.
Conflict Alert is funded by the Korea Trust Fund for Economic and Peace-Building Transitions, the World Bank, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Royal Norwegian Government.
2011-2015 panel data from the ARMM, Davao Region and Cotabato and Isabela cities can be downloaded from the Conflict Alert website, www.conflictalert.info. Data from Caraga are now being encoded into the database.
The 2011-2015 data shows that most of the conflicts in the ARMM are related to the shadow (or informal) economies, in particular, the illicit trade in illegal weapons and drugs. In the Davao Region, most violence stems from common crimes, in particular, robbery, alcohol intoxication and community-level disputes over properties.
While conflicts due to shadow activities and violence from common crimes are more numerous, the conflict deaths they cause are less compared to conflicts arising from political issues such as rebellion or tied to identity such as clan feuds or rido. Any developmental, law enforcement, or peacebuilding initiatives and priorities must primarily take this into consideration rather than the level of conflict incidence per se.
To underscore the importance of settling political conflict, the data shows there were more conflict deaths in the ARMM, host to a variety of rebel and other armed groups, than in the Davao Region in the 2011-2015 period. The deadliest province was Maguindanao, where clashes involving the separatist Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters had claimed many lives especially in 2014 and 2015. The number of deaths could have been higher had not the ceasefire agreement between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the government continued to hold despite the Mamasapano tragedy in January 2015. Meanwhile, Sulu has overtaken Basilan in terms of conflict deaths as government forces bore down on the Abu Sayyaf based in the province.
In the Davao Region, Compostela Valley and Davao del Sur posted the highest conflict deaths. Many were due to political conflict related to the communist insurgency.
Evidence has shown how conflict has evolved into an urban phenomenon. In the ARMM, conflicts are concentrated in cities such as Cotabato and Marawi and in large towns such as Parang, while in the Davao Region, these are in the cities of Tagum, Digos and Panabo, and in the big towns such as Nabunturan. The type of conflicts that predominate in urban centers are common crimes and shadow economy-related conflicts.
The Conflict Alert findings have several policy implications.
One, a political settlement in the form of a law that establishes the Bangsamoro has gained expediency to address the huge human costs (or conflict deaths) from political conflict, as well as growing threats from extremist groups.
Two, a final political settlement with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-New Democratic Front has become imperative, especially as it will have knock-on effects on the scale of violence associated with resource capture or inter- and intra-lumad violence.
Three, peacebuilding initiatives targeting crime, violence and instability in the cities and towns must be given prominence and the same emphasis given to rebellion and political contestation. Criminal activity easily intertwines with shadow enterprises such as the illegal weapons and drugs trades, presenting serious threats to peace and stability.
Four, peacebuilding organizations must invest in research, conflict monitoring, and peacebuilding advocacy and action in the major cities and municipalities of Mindanao.
Judy T. Gulane
Communication Specialist, International Alert Philippines
JGulane@international-alert.org | 0917 522 0404, 0939 910 7027