Although there was a dip in conflict incidents in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) provinces, except in Lanao del Sur, the total
number of conflict-related deaths almost doubled in the region in 2017, data from Conflict Alert 2018 report showed.
A total of 2,260 conflicts were recorded in 2017, compared to 1,241 recorded the previous year.
However, the number of conflict incidents slid from 4,391 in 2016 to 4,138 in 2017.
“The rise in conflict deaths is explained by the heavy use of explosives and the ability of threat groups to congregate and assume a unified identity,” Conflict Alert said in a news statement. “The Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf Group battled with government forces in attempting to establish an Islamic State (ISIS) province in Lanao del Sur.”
Francisco Lara Jr., international senior peace and conflict adviser, said this happened at the time that martial law was declared in Mindanao.
There was also a spike in the number of violent conflicts in Lanao del Sur from 514 in 2016 to 942 in 2017 while the recorded conflict deaths in the province more than tripled from 310 to 1,358.
According to Conflict Alert, the increase in conflict incidents and deaths in Lanao del Sur was due to the rise in incidents involving violent extremist groups, such as the Maute Group/Dawlah Islamiya. In Maguindanao, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters caused havoc in the towns of Shariff Aguak, Pagatin (Datu Piang), Mamasapano and
The latest conflict report also concluded that the origin of violence to extremism is found in clan feuds and that inter- or intra-religious violence was not the main cause of the Marawi war.
“Evidence shows that membership in extremist groups was prompted by pre-existing clan feuds. Belonging to an armed group accorded firepower and protection against other clans. Extremist groups, as in the case of Maute, instrumentalized existing identity-based conflicts to forge alliances that strengthened their base and widened their reach, said Nikki de la Rosa, International Alert Philippines country manager.
The report also showed that other incidents involving extremist groups were due to a combination of political, identity, and shadow-economy related causes, providing evidence of their collusion with those involved in illegal drugs, illicit weapons, kidnap-for-ransom, extortion and carjacking, among others.
“Cutting conflict strings requires focusing on multi-causal incidents of violence, which produce more conflict deaths than any other type of political violence. Sensitivity to how conflict strings unravel is necessary to avoid looking only at the single and sequential strings of violence that arise from years of clan feuding…,” the report read.
Also, Conflict Alert suggests the government to work on the issues of discrimination in urban centers within and beyond Mindanao, which they said will be good for the long term.
“Fighting discrimination is a critical area of engagement particularly for the youth, and especially for the youth, and especially among young women who cannot hide their religion and are often on the receiving end of the worst kinds of exclusionary and discriminatory behavior in urban areas, such as their schools and workplaces. It underscores the need to persuade and harness the youth in the fight against extremism and reassert their role in peace-building,” it added.
The group also pointed out that the transition to the new Bangsamoro will still require the full support and assistance of clans and local strongmen to ensure a peaceful transition.
“Building alliances and negotiating bargains with them are necessary and politicians will be as important as technocrats in preventing another black swan,” the report read.
Conflict Alert is pioneered by the International Alert Philippines and receives support from the World Bank and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It has also the largest database on subnational conflict in the country.