Peacebuilding org praises conduct of peace process, cites trends of violence in Davao Region, ARMM

By: Tricia Aquino, | October 25, 2016 International Alert, one of the world’s leading peacebuilding organizations, has lauded the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte for the way it has been conducting the peace process, even as it presented trends in violent conflict incidents from 2011 to 2015 in the Davao Region and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. International Alert country manager Francisco Lara Jr. called the conduct of the peace process “one of the bright spots” of the new government, and said they were optimistic because the administration was picking up from where the previous one had left off. The moves being undertaken seemed to be going in the right direction, he added. Lara wondered, however, whether initiatives to draft an enabling law for Bangsamoro would be satisfactory not only for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, but for other stakeholders, as well. He presented their latest report, Violence in the Bangsamoro and Southern Mindanao: Emerging Actors and New Sites of Conflict, 2011-2015, to the media on Tuesday in Taguig City.

Where does violence happen?

For 2011 to 2015, it found that violent conflict incidents which occurred in the Davao Region outnumbered those in ARMM by four to one. The top four provinces with these incidents were all in the Davao Region: Davao del Sur, Davao del Norte, Compostela Valley, and Davao Oriental. The fifth was Maguindanao, the biggest province in ARMM. When looking at conflict per population and per kilometer, however, Davao del Norte ranked first, followed by Compostela Valley, Davao del Sur, and Davao Oriental. Basilan was in fifth place. These findings were in contrast to the perception that ARMM is “the locus of intense and continuous violence in Mindanao,” the report said. The bloodiest year for ARMM was in 2015, with more than a third of the total number of incidents from 2011 to 2015 occurring then. This was attributed to “higher political and extremist violence,” including the Mamasapano tragedy. In January 2015, 44 members of the police’s Special Action Force (SAF), 18 MILF fighters, and five civilians were killed during a firefight as the SAF was in pursuit of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, and two cohorts in the Maguindanao municipality. The report also said the violence stemmed from “shadow economy-related conflicts and common crimes.” The most prevalent shadow economies related to violence in ARMM were the manufacture and trade of illicit firearms and illegal drugs. Other examples of shadow economies were carjacking, kidnap-for-ransom, illegal gambling, illicit financial instruments and transactions, human trafficking, cattle rustling, theft of other livestock, illegal logging, and cross-border trade. Meanwhile, the most conflict-ridden year for the Davao Region was in 2013, with almost 7,000 incidents. Common crimes such as robberies, alcohol-related violence, and civilian- and community-level disputes over land and other resources in urban areas drove violent conflict in the Davao Region. The report also called attention to cities and urbanizing areas as “theaters of violence”, with the highest conflict incidence in the urban enters of Cotabato City, Islamic City of Marawi, Parang, Malabang, Tagum, and Panabo. Many incidents also occurred along main highways and centers of trade and communication, Lara said. International Alert also found more conflict incidents that were horizontal rather than vertical. This meant that there was more conflict between clans, ethnic groups, and rival insurgents; as opposed to conflict between separatist or non-separatist groups with the state. But the deadliest sources of conflict were caused by political and identity issues, rather than common crimes, shadow economies, and issues related to governance. Identity issues included inter-clan and intra-clan conflicts, personal grudges, and gender-based violence such as domestic violence and rape. Political issues included insurgency-related violence, and violence related to political contestation between clans or politicians. Maguindanao and Sulu were the deadliest in terms of the number of deaths by province. While there were fewer incidents of violence related to political issues, more people died from violence related to political issues.

Insurgency: the good news and the bad news

There were more clashes between government forces and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao, and with the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu. On a positive note, the report pointed out that violence related to the MILF fell as its ceasefire agreement with the government was upheld despite the Mamasapano debacle. But International Alert warned against factions of the BIFF and Abu Sayyaf which had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Other extremist groups such as the Maute Group and Ansar al-Khalifah in Lanao del Sur and Sarangani, respectively, were “newly evolving risks and emerging threats”. In ARMM, it was also observed that there were spikes in conflict incidents during elections, Ramadan, before the start of a new school year, and during the lean months before the harvest of rice between September and October. As for the Davao Region, there were more common crimes and shadow economy-related violence from December to March than the rest of the year. Based on data obtained from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the days before and after March 29 were especially violent, as this was the founding anniversary of the communist New People’s Army. Lara noted that the Abu Sayyaf and BIFF were fighting among themselves more often than they were fighting with government forces. In the case of the Abu Sayyaf, it was because the activity associated with them, such as robbery and kidnapping, pitted them against other armed groups. International Alert said it was urgent to come up with “a meaningful and inclusive Bangsamoro Basic Law”, as well as “a final political settlement with communist rebels” to lower the costs of violence, especially deaths. “Peacebuilding initiatives targeting crime, violence, and instability in the cities and towns must be given prominence and the same emphasis that is given to rebellion and political contestation,” International Alert added. World Bank senior social development specialist Matt Stephens, meanwhile, stressed the need for the creation of thousands of jobs in Mindanao. To see the statistics, view this Facebook album.


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