Special CEMS Bulletin on COVID-19 and Conflict (1 February – 17 April 2020)

Three sources of fragility have been the mainstays in the Bangsamoro prior to the current COVID-19 pandemic, which significantly shape and are shaped by the conflict to peace transition and will determine the stability and development trajectory of the region. First, the continued presence of rival armed groups as evidenced in the violence caused by extremist groups such as the Maute/Dawla Islamiyah that laid siege in Marawi in 2017 and new actors and new forms of indiscriminate bombings in public places, including suicide bombings. Second, the persistence of rival systems of property rights manifested by enduring conflicts over land and resources, and third, the presence of shadow and informal markets that occupy a significant part of Mindanao’s economy. However, the current public health crisis has surfaced a fourth marker of fragility that further complicates the region’s already volatile context. The inability of the State to respond in a timely and effective manner to reduce people’s vulnerabilities in the face of a pandemic has caused new tensions, pressures, and conflicts. Reports from the Critical Events Monitoring System…

CEMS Bulletin – January 2020

Inauspicious start to the year As martial law ended at the close of 2019, the national government said Proclamation No. 55, which declared a state of national emergency, remains in effect. However, it's unclear what it can do against the resurgence of violence in Muslim Mindanao that had been observed even before martial law lifted. Reports by Early Response Network (ERN) members indicated that violence had persisted in January. Ordinary civilians, government officials, and members of the security forces were targets in shooting incidents. The drug trade, suppressed by martial law, was on the rebound. Clans embroiled in feuds sought retribution that would ensnare their families and clans in a cycle of revenge killings or rido. In the hinterlands of Lanao and marshlands of Maguindanao, ISIS-linked groups continued to be a thorn in the military’s side despite efforts to eliminate them or to woo members to surrender.[1] All these took place within a Bangsamoro that was in a state of flux – and would remain so in the months to come. The new regional government began…

CEMS Bulletin – October-December 2019

Martial law gains diminishing Martial law, first declared in May 2017 at the start of the Marawi Siege, ushered in a period of relative peace in the Muslim Mindanao provinces. Conflict incidents and deaths dropped in 2018 from the previous year.[1] By the last quarter of 2019, however, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur had slid back into violence, as depicted by Early Response Network reports.[2] Shooting and bombing incidents targeted civilians, soldiers, policemen, and locally-elected officials. Clans attacked other clans. Extremists continued to recruit and launch attacks, triggering displacement. All the while, the transition to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and rebuilding of Marawi City proceeded, causing tensions and violence. Martial law lifted by end of 2019, as the Duterte government chose not to extend it, citing lower criminality and weaker extremist and terrorist threats.[3] But where Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur were concerned, these gains were already diminishing. Shooting, bombing incidents target civilians, security personnel Shooting and bombing incidents sowed panic as they targeted ordinary civilians as well as policemen and soldiers.…

CEMS Bulletin – July & August 2019

Bangsamoro confronts NPA, ISIS, and weather threats The Bangsamoro confronted a growing insurgency problem, just as the rains, which provided relief from the heat, turned into a deluge that brought misery, particularly to families displaced by the 2017 Marawi war and still living in temporary shelters. In the backdrop, winners of the May polls began their terms, eager to deliver on election promises, yet aware of the many challenges they face, including threats from the enemies they made in the past election. This bulletin for July and August was pieced together using around 300 reports from Early Response Network (ERN) members based in Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao.[1] Many of the ERN members are disaster risk reduction officers at the municipal level who, as such, situated themselves among communities affected by the fighting and the rains to rescue or extend relief, as well as to provide accounts for the Critical Events Monitoring System (CEMS) designed for conflict analysis and quick response. Military-NPA clashes The military launched attacks against New People’s Army (NPA) rebels its drones had…

CEMS Bulletin – June 2019

No honeymoon period for Bangsamoro’s newly elected leaders Transitions are never easy, particularly if they affect the well-being of thousands of people. In the Bangsamoro, the month of June saw officials who won new terms after the previous month’s election prepare to assume their posts and officials who lost prepare to vacate their offices, reluctantly or not. Meanwhile, those who won second or third terms set new priorities and consolidated loyalties among other local officials. Amid the comings and goings, the challenges plaguing the Bangsamoro became even more manifest, as if telling the election winners there will be no honeymoon. Around 170 reports provided in June by Early Response Network (ERN) members based in Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao indicated a fragile peace and order situation, with more shootings and assassinations by riding-in-tandem teams.[1]  Illegal drug buy-busts and confiscations were conducted as the state continued to pursue an anti-drug campaign. Cases of kidnapping or missing children panicked families, especially as they could mask recruitment by groups linked to ISIS. All the while, extremist groups have regrouped…

CEMS Bulletin – May 2019

  Political rivalries unleash cycle of retribution  The rains in May provided relief from the heat but, in pockets of the Bangsamoro, the situation remained tense after the 13 May polls as political rivalries ignited longstanding conflicts or sparked new feuds. The belief the vote was rigged in certain localities also portended disputes that would take long to settle. Meanwhile, as Muslim Filipinos observed the holy month of Ramadhan and Marawi commemorated the second anniversary of the war that broke out in the Islamic city on 23 May 2017, the threat of violent extremism loomed. There were sightings of armed men in towns bordering Butig, Lanao del Sur where the Maute Group, which led the siege on Marawi, traced its beginnings. This picture for May was pieced together using 120 reports from Early Response Network (ERN) members based in Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao.[1] Around 70% of the reports covered incidents that occurred after the 13 May elections and up to the end of that month. The rest of the reports were about incidents that took…

CEMS Bulletin – April 2019

Heightened tensions and conflicts as dry season and campaign period set in April saw temperatures soar as the weather warmed and political rivalries heat up as the campaign for local posts got underway. These formed the backdrop for tensions that simmered and, in several instances, boiled over to claim lives and destroy properties in the Bangsamoro and surrounding areas. That month, a total of 93 reports were received by International Alert Philippines’s Critical Events Monitoring System (CEMS), sent in by Early Response Network (ERN) members in Cotabato and Marawi cities, the rest of Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, and parts of Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato.[1] These reports excluded reports on election-r’elated incidents, which were covered by an earlier bulletin.[2] Dry taps The onset of the dry season was declared by the weather bureau on 22 March – earlier than in 2018 – but by then Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi had already suffered from drought while Lanao del Sur and Basilan had experienced severely dry conditions.[3] Even hotter days were forecast for April. In Cotabato City,…

CEMS Bulletin – Postelection

Fraud and Violence: Mainstays of Bangsamoro Electoral Politics “Generally peaceful” was the Palace’s assessment of the 13 May polls for national and local posts.1 Nothing could be further from the truth, especially where Muslim Mindanao was concerned. A total of 108 reports on election-related incidents were received on 13 May by International Alert Philippines’s Critical Events Monitoring System, sent in by Early Response Network members stationed all over Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao including Cotabato City, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and parts of North Cotabato.2 A preview of election day, 11-12 May yielded a total of 36 reports, as anticipation among voters and heightened tensions among candidates and their supporters spurred reporting at a faster clip than in previous days. The two days before election day saw many voters returning to hometowns, candidates making their final appeals to voters, and candidates’ supporters positioning themselves to gain the biggest advantage for their principals. Explosives were set off to sow fear among voters and poll workers and to preoccupy the police and military deputized by Comelec to ensure order during the election.…

CEMS Bulletin – Preelection

Propaganda, vote-buying, and intimidation amid the election campaign In a resolution on March 19, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) declared the whole of Mindanao as a ‘red’ election hotspot, judging from violence in the past two elections, and threats posed by armed groups such as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the Abu Sayyaf Group, the New People’s Army as well as rogue members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Moro National Liberation Front.[1] A red hotspot classification constitutes a warning the election could be interrupted and gives the Comelec the power to put an area under its control and direct the augmentation of the police and armed forces. Violence has always marred the run-up, the actual conduct of elections, and the post-election situation in Mindanao, particularly in the Muslim Mindanao region. Conflict Alert, International Alert Philippines’s conflict monitoring system for violent conflicts in Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and the cities of Cotabato and Marawi, recorded 40 election-related incidents in 2013, 29 in 2016, and 47 in 2018.[2]National and local elections were held in…