Notes from the Field

Coronations, Clan Organizing, and Conflict Resolution: Moving Toward a More Peaceful Mindanao

September 9, 2009

This past July, the community of the Islamic City of Marawi gathered to celebrate the enthronement of Attorney Saidamen B. Pangarungan as Sultan of Madaya. For over 10 years the leadership of the Sultanate of Madaya was vacant because of conflict between the Sarip Batua and Datu a Pitiilan family clans. Through the efforts of a local NGO, Reconciliatory Initiatives for Development Opportunities (RIDO Inc.), the council of elders of each sub-clan was reconciled after the decade-long dispute, and reunited the entire clan. This astonishing reconciliation culminated in the ceremony we witnessed that July day in Marawi City.

The enthronement rites of the Sultanate of Madaya was a colorful showcase of Meranao culture.

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The enthronement ceremony was attended by over 200 people.

As the datus, baes, and other royal dignitaries paraded in their traditional attires and ornaments, I noted the special guests in attendance included the Sultan Monsing Macabando (Chairman, Marawi Sultanate League), Sultan Haron Pango Tomawis, Sultan Haji Mohammad Ali Asghar Bin Sani (Royal Sultanate of Marawi City), and many others. At the event, the Sultan of Marawi City, Sultan Asgar Sani, thanked The Asia Foundation and his guest, Dr. Steven Rood, for helping him and other Sultanates in Lanao in resolving their clan conflict, or rido.

In the Philippines, the traditional governance structure of Meranao society focuses on a Sultan. Charged with the obligation to implement traditional laws, the Sultan is both a secular and religious leader who meets specific criteria including lineal origin and faith, and whose authority is sanctioned by the Quran and the Sunnah. The new Sultan of Madaya, Saidamen B. Pangarungan, who was also a former governor of Lanao del Sur, was one of a few family members of the Sarip Batua and Datu a Pitiilan clans who had a legitimate claim to the Sultanate of Madaya. The son of a Sultanate, he is also married to Princess  Johayra Diamond Ali Pacasum Pangarungan, Baialabi a Gaus sa Ranao and former assemblywoman of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

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The newly-crowned Attorney Saidamen B. Pangarungan as Sultan of Madaya (center) and his wife stand with The Asia Foundation's Country Representative in the Philippines and the Pacific Island Nations Steven Rood at the ceremony.

Aside from his lineage and former-elected position he is also a practicing corporate and litigation lawyer representing various Filipino and multi-national corporations.

Selecting the Sultan of Madaya was a long and complicated process that included determining the legitimate heirs to the throne, developing of a selection criteria, determining the roles and responsibilities of each royal title, and completing the settlement of previous feuds and negotiations among the royal families. RIDO Inc. facilitated this difficult process through a variety of steps including hosting a series of dialogues, documenting genealogies, and more.

With the proliferation of clan violence in Mindanao, it is hoped that the efforts of the Foundation and its local partners to reconcile the clans will not only reduce incidents of rido in the long term, but also have a significant effect on reducing election violence in the upcoming May 2010 national and local elections. Addressing the large assembly of royal families during the enthronement ceremony, Dr. Steven Rood said that, “united or reunited clans are more capable of maintaining peace and order in their communities and improving governance in their respective areas. … Continuous efforts to do so will lessen potential election violence in the upcoming elections and eventually in the dawning a new era of leadership for this country.”

With support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), The Asia Foundation has been working with local partners in designing and implementing strategic interventions to settle clan conflicts across rido-prone provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, and Sulu. The Foundation focuses on rido that have the potential to interact with separatist conflict or escalate into widespread violence. For instance, in a recent intervention in the southern Philippine province of Sulu, two prominent Sulu clans who were engaged in a bloody feud signed a peace pact ending four years of hostilities. The Caluang and Halun clans signed the peace covenant during a Thanksgiving ceremony (salamat duwa’a) held in Zamboanga City on Aug. 15, 2009. The ceremony, attended by over 200 people, was led by the patriarchs of the two families: former Mayor Hadji Al Hussein Caluang and Hadji Peping Halun, village chieftain of Pitogo in Kalingalan Caluang town. The feud between the two families began with a murder on Nov. 6, 2005. The succeeding retaliations between the two clans left a total of 24 fatalities and 14 injuries. In separate statements from political allies and relatives of the two clans, they noted that the settlement was crucial in preventing more violence in the coming elections.

This reconciliation was made possible through the collective efforts of Regional Reconciliaton and Unification Commission of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (RRUC-ARMM), local NGOs Unyited Youth of the Philippines-Women, Inc. and Sakayan Mindanao, with the support of The Asia Foundation and USAID.

The various successes of the Foundation’s partners in resolving rido settlements can be attributed to the use of specific approaches that are acceptable to each local community. While partners may have different strategies in resolving rido, what is common in their approach is the deliberate effort to work with local governments and utilize local conflict-resolution bodies such as peace councils, council of elders, and other hybrid groupings of local chief executives and traditional or religious leaders. Since October 2007, there have been a total of 135 cases of rido resolved by Foundation partners. However, once the violence starts, it’s much harder to stop. Thus the importance of preventing the outbreak of violence in the first place. The newly crowned Sultan of Madaya has the responsibility of leading more than 30,000 clan members. It is hoped that he will help maintain the peace and unity among his clan as well as other residents in the region.

Yvette Selim is a Rotary World Peace Fellow at the University of Bradford, England. She recently served as an Intern in the Conflict Management Unit of The Asia Foundation’s office in the Philippines. She can be reached at tafphil@asiafound.org.

View all posts by Yvette Selim

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