Notes from the Field

Mitigating Clan Violence in Mindanao Ahead of Midterm Elections

May 8, 2013

Late last month, gunmen opened fire on a mayor of a town campaigning for local elections, killing 12 people including his daughter, in what has been the bloodiest attack ever in the Philippines ahead of midterm elections which are scheduled for May 13. Local officials declared the attack to have been motivated by rido, clan violence that continues to plague the southern region of Mindanao, and typically worsens during election periods.

Rido is a Maranao term that is commonly used in Mindanao to refer to clan feuds. The causes of rido vary from petty offenses to more serious crimes. In most cases, political rivalries matched with proliferation of firearms, weak law enforcement, and an inefficient justice system elicit the prevalence of rido in conflict-affected areas. The viciousness of this conflict is characterized by large-scale family involvement in repetitive killings that may span a long period of time. Rido threatens not only the security of the clans but also the safety of the communities that are trapped within the borders of the conflicting families. For instance, apart from the random killings waged by conflicting parties that can sometimes include innocent civilians as casualties, burning of houses and public properties may also form part in the series of retaliatory acts, causing massive internal displacement.

The Asia Foundation conducted a pioneering study that demystified the pervasiveness and viciousness of rido in the lives of ordinary people in several communities in Mindanao. This study has served over the years as a starting point for a variety of initiatives that facilitated the settlements of more than 200 rido cases all over Mindanao. In Lanao provinces alone, the Foundation has helped to mitigate and/or resolve some 40 rido cases since 2010.

Since 2011, through the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development Program Partnership Arrangement with the Foundation, we have had the opportunity to expand this effort and work directly with security forces to underpin peace in conflict-affected areas in the Southern Philippines. Deep-seated distrust shaped by hostile histories of armed intercessions has fuelled tensions between communities and security forces and induced the risk of violent conflicts at the local level.

In September 2012, the Foundation began supporting Community Relations Training (CRT) in Lanao del Sur province, where much of our success in conflict mitigation and rido resolution efforts have indicated very ripe opportunities for collaborative partnerships among community leaders, civil society, the police, and the Philippine Army to improve local security. The CRT is a localized concept, which was originally developed by the Philippine Marines, civil society, academe, and civilians in Sulu to build and strengthen their relations and work more smoothly together in their peacebuilding efforts. CRT has also been conducted and replicated in Lantawan, Basilan with the Civilian Active Auxilliary of Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) as participants together with the junior cadres of the Philippine Army.

Philippines CRT

Above, security forces and community members participate in a Community Relations Training course, which aims to break the cycle of further alienation in relationships between the two groups in Mindanao.

CRT course topics range from discussing the history of practices or traditions of local people, the principal values on community engagement and collaboration as perceived by the locals, and the perspective of the security forces on community relations. The training is flexible, rather than prescriptive, so it can include other topics that are critical to a particular security setting. Founded on mutual respect and understanding, the underlying concept for this initiative is to restore communication and develop harmonious relationships between community and security forces, so that they can cultivate trust over time.

The focus of the CRT in Lanao is on the Municipality of Piagapo, which was selected due to intermittent documented clashes between the communities and the security forces, particularly with the Philippine Army. Piagapo is also believed to be the hiding place of criminal groups that are involved in robbery, kidnap-for-ransom, and car theft in other areas in the province. This reputation has further isolated the communities in Piagapo, which has made it more difficult for security forces to capture lawless groups.  There are certain protocols that must be followed by the military and police as they try to isolate and interdict criminals that take refuge in or near Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) communities. The Municipality of Piagapo is a recognized territory of the MILF, in which the conduct of military operation associated with internal security are guided by certain set of rules that are have been agreed by the MILF and government within the current peace process.

On April 29, 2013, 60 participants of the CRT, composed of community leaders (some of whom are members or sympathizers of the MILF), Philippine Army, and police officers who are deployed in the Municipality of Piagapo and its neighboring areas, attended the graduation ceremony after completing the five-day training on community relations.  The CRT course was put together by a team of lecturers from the academe, civil society, religious sector, Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the MILF to ensure more context-sensitive and people-focused training program. Topics included concepts related to Maranao tradition and culture, Islamic society, community organizing, Maranao traditional conflict resolution processes, the peace process between the Philippine government and the MILF, the new Internal Peace and Security Plan of the AFP, and the Philippine National Police Community Relations Program.

Through continuous and constant dialogues and engagement, the Community Relations Training courses aim to break the cycle of further alienation in relationships between communities and security forces in Mindanao. In anticipation of May 2013 national polls, when Lanao del Sur will be placed on the election “watch list” due to its propensity for election-related violence, CRT provides opportunities for security forces and communities to create a secure environment for a smooth, and hopefully, peaceful election process in the Municipality of Piagapo.

Haironesah Domado is The Asia Foundation’s assistant program officer in the Philippines. She can be reached at hyro@asiafound.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

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