PRESS RELEASE: Explosion of violence in Muslim Mindanao in 2016

Taguig City, 29 November 2017—Violence in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) reached unprecedented levels in 2016, providing a preview of what would happen in 2017. This is according to Conflict Alert, a subnational conflict monitoring system developed by peacebuilding organization International Alert Philippines.

Conflict Alert, which launched its 2017 report today, tracks the incidence, causes, and human costs of violent conflict in Mindanao. It has the largest database on subnational conflict, containing more than 40,000 violent conflict incidents gathered from police reports, print media, and community sources.

The latest report highlights an 89% year-on-year increase in violent conflict incidents in 2016 in the ARMM, amid the holding of local elections, the state-led anti-drug campaign, and the emergence of a particularly lethal form of violent conflict: violent extremism.

All provinces in the ARMM saw large increases in the number of conflicts. Maguindanao posted the highest number of incidents, followed by Basilan and Sulu. However, in terms of conflicts per 100,000 persons or per 1,000 square kilometers, Basilan was ahead of Maguindanao.

Shadow economy issues, primarily illegal drug-related violence, were the biggest causes of violent conflict in 2016. Illegal drug-related incidents rose nearly six-fold to 757 incidents in 2016 compared to the previous year.

“The data on illegal drug-related violence does not imply that the shadow economy in illegal drugs was not as widespread in the ARMM provinces prior to this year,” said Judy Gulane, Conflict Alert Team Leader. “What it does reveal is that a hornet’s nest was stirred by the Duterte government when it launched the anti-drug campaign, turning a relatively ‘quiet enterprise’ into a site of violent conflict.”

The crackdown on illegal drugs also led to numerous firearm confiscations.

While shadow economy issues predominated Muslim Mindanao’s conflict landscape, political issues such as rebellion and extremism caused more fatalities.

The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) was the deadliest among the threat groups, with 198 deaths attributed to them in 2016. However, in terms of conflict deaths per armed confrontation, the Maute Group trumped the ASG. Eight people were killed per attack launched by the Maute Group (8 to 1) in contrast to three people killed per ASG attack (3 to 1).

Conflict Alert data revealed the spread of violent extremism across the region, with Maguindanao accounting for the highest number of incidents involving the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. Sulu and Basilan followed, being host to factions of ASG. Lanao del Sur saw the emergence of the Maute Group in 2016. The BIFF, ASG and Maute Group have pledged allegiance to ISIS.

All these phenomena, especially violent extremism, highlight the urgent need for new and adaptable responses to conflict in Mindanao.

This was emphasized by Nikki de la Rosa, Deputy Country Manager of International Alert Philippines, “Tackling violent extremism will require context-specific understanding. It is important for the government to monitor the actors, causes and locations of violent conflict to see if an incident has the propensity to morph into more violence incidents, or conflict strings. This kind of conflict data will enable quick-response and effective conflict resolution efforts that not only focus on the security approach but also include processes that build community cohesion and resilience.”

“As the report also highlights, civilians and children continue to be most affected by violent conflict in Muslim Mindanao. Communities are the first battleground of conflict, but also a crucial site for brokering lasting peace. Youth and women, in particular, will have to be actively involved,” de la Rosa added.

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Conflict Alert is pioneered by International Alert Philippines, Conflict Alert combines two databases: the Bangsamoro Conflict Monitoring System established in 2013 and the Southern and Eastern Mindanao Conflict Database launched in 2015. Conflict Alert receives support from Korea Trust Fund for Economic and Peace-building Transitions, the World Bank, and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. For more information, visit www.conflictalert.info