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. These reports excluded reports on election-r’elated incidents, which were covered by an earlier bulletin.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.
Even hotter days were forecast for April.
In Cotabato City, taps ran dry while a temporary housing site in Brgy. Emie Punud for families displaced by the 2017 Marawi siege clamored for water and reeled from smelly canals, which affected the health of residents, particularly children.
Amid the heat, fire incidents destroyed properties in Cotabato, Marawi and Iligan cities and in Lanao towns.
Gun and explosives use
While implementation of martial law in Mindanao has seen the military confiscate thousands of loose firearms, it has also driven up the price of Danao-made guns, which continued to sell well, particularly in Cotabato City. Guns emboldened carnappers and gunmen targeting certain individuals, notably, in Cotabato City.
Meanwhile, guns still in the hands of families and clans enabled revenge killings. In Makilala, North Cotabato, a barangay chairman from Cotabato City was shot due to an ongoing rido. In Lumbatan, Lanao del Sur, an alleged member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and another individual, with whom he had an altercation, traded gunfire. The MILF member went into hiding after reportedly killing his adversary, afraid of retaliation by the dead man’s family.
Partners in business could worsen a misunderstanding with the use of guns. In Marantao, Lanao del Sur, partners in a sand and gravel business did not see eye to eye, and with their men, fired at each other.
Other weapons were used to intimidate or to harm. In Marawi City, explosives were used in at least two occasions; reports indicated no one was hurt or killed. In Cotabato City, however, a grenade blast killed two, apparently targets of a grudge.
Armed groups continued to be active. The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) clashed with the military within the SPMS Box in Maguindanao and in Midsayap across the border in North Cotabato. The group was also said to be actively recruiting members in Cotabato City.
Meanwhile, the New People’s Army (NPA) clashed with government troops in Tagoloan town in Lanao del Sur. Reports indicated that three NPA members were wounded, while on the government’s side, a soldier was killed while six others and several MILF members, who assisted the troops, were injured. Families displaced by the conflict sought refuge in four barangays in Kapai, the town west of Tagoloan.
In other areas of the province, alleged NPA members were spotted in the forests of Butig while armed men – their affiliation unclear – were seen in Lumbaca-Unayan. Despite their reduced numbers, Maute Group members were seen in Marogong.
The government’s ongoing campaign against illegal drugs resulted in arrests and killings.
Meanwhile, Omar Solitario Ali, former mayor of Marawi City, who had been linked to the Maute Group that was held responsible for the 2017 siege, was arrested by the military. News reports later clarified he was merely “invited” for a short discussion.
He was able to return to his home in Marawi and ran for city mayor in the May 2019 election but lost.
Another arrest bore semblance to the Mamasapano incident in 2015, which had lacked the benefit of coordination between the government and the MILF. The Philippine National Police-Regional Public Safety Battalion served a warrant of arrest to several individuals in Brgy. Ilian, Madamba, Lanao del Sur but did not communicate with the MILF camp nearby about its operation. A firefight ensued between the police and these individuals and their relatives in the MILF, who came to their defense. The fighting stopped after the MILF ordered its men to stand down. Several days after the firefight, the BARMM’s Regional Human Rights Commission went to Brgy. Ilian to investigate the incident.
Precursor of violence
Other incidents on the surface may not appear to be a source of tensions. Among these are road accidents, of which nine were recorded in the Bangsamoro in April alone. Such accidents, involving mostly motorcycles, have become terribly common in city and municipal roads. If these are not immediately responded to or addressed appropriately, these could blow up into rido, as previous instances had demonstrated.
Development assistance may spark competition among beneficiaries or invite complaints from those who were excluded. They may be rejected outright. These should benefit from proper consultation with local and traditional leaders and be implemented with care.
The transition to Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao has generated excitement but also unease over job continuity and high expectations over new appointments. For instance, teachers in Lumbayanague, Lanao del Sur complained of late payment of salaries while some MILF members in Butig, Lanao del Sur were expecting to land work in the BARMM government.
How the transition will unfold, particularly with regard to staffing, will be critical to the quality of government services and to stability in the region. The basis of appointments – whether merit, family ties, or political connections – will be closely monitored.
 International Alert Philippines set up the CEMS to gather real-time reports on tensions and violent conflicts in communities in the Bangsamoro. Reports are transmitted through SMS, stored in a database, and processed for deployment of context-specific responses by key stakeholders on the ground. Members of the ERN provide and also use the reports. They are autonomous individuals and members of groups with grassroots reach, who monitor disputes and harness traditional, formal, and hybrid institutions and arrangements to defuse or resolve violent conflicts. Among them are women and youth leaders.
International Alert’s Critical Events Monitoring System (CEMS) is an SMS-based reporting system that captures conflict incidents and tensions in communities that may or may not lead to the eruption of violence. It is used by its Early Response Network (ERN), a group of men and women in various localities in the Bangsamoro, who share real-time information and work with local governments, key agencies, the security sector, and religious and traditional leaders in coordinating quick and context-specific responses to tensions, violent conflicts, disasters, and displacement, as they happen. Command posts are led by our local partners TASBIKKa, Inc., ERN Lanao del Sur, MARADECA, Inc., and Lupah Sug Bangsamoro Women Association, Inc.