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Violent conflicts in BARMM continue downtrend, but flashpoints remain —report

Violence in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) declined for the third straight year in 2019, but clan feuds and land-related conflicts threaten to slow the transition to peace, a peacebuilding organization said Monday.

Conflict Alert, International Alert Philippines' conflict monitoring system focused on Mindanao, recorded 2,655 incidents of violent conflict in Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi, including the cities of Cotabato and Isabela, by the end of 2019. 

This is a 9% decrease from the previous year's 2,910 incidents and reflects a continuing decline from a height of some 4,300 incidents in 2016, according to Conflict Alert's report released Monday. 

The figures varied per province, with Maguindanao, Sulu, and Basilan reporting lower numbers, offsetting increases in Lanao del Sur and Tawi-Tawi, the report states. 

In step with a lower number of incidents, death caused by violence also decreased in the region in 2019, with the exception of Lanao del Sur, which posted a 26% rise in deaths as it also recorded a 29% increase in conflict. 

The report suggests that the imposition of martial law in Mindanao until the end of 2019, as well as security measures implemented by local governments, contributed to the decline in violence. 

But while the overall conflict incidence dropped, clan feuds caused by personal and political grudges and land conflicts, among others, increased by almost 50% to 146 incidents, most of them recorded in Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao, the report states. 

Thirteen clan feuds involving "Moro Islamic Liberation Front-affiliated" actors displaced thousands of people in 2019, it states. 

And though violent extremism incidents dropped by 26% in 2019, the researchers warned against complacency. 

"Sulu, compared to Basilan and Maguindanao, posted the lowest decline in number of extremist violence incidents at 13% and 10% in terms of deaths," the report states. 

"Wracked by suicide bombings, with reports of continued recruitment and radicalization among youth and women, Sulu is on course towards reclaiming its notorious identification with terrorism," it adds.

The researchers also found an increase in the number of illegal drug-related incidents in all BARMM provinces except for Basilan including the city of Isabela. 

They said the 2019 results show that the BARMM and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority need to prioritize acting on land-related conflicts, including assuaging the fears of settlers and indigenous peoples of land-grabbing. 

In addition, they suggested the use of a "multi-pronged approach to address the shifting nature of violent extremism."

"Such an approach includes intensified intelligence gathering and
military operations, development inputs, deradicalization and restorative justice initiatives, and tit-for-tat battle in social media to curb extremist propaganda and recruitment," the report states.

Finally, the researchers said that the results imply a failure of policies meant to address shadow economy issues, which they said should prompt new strategies mainly to prevent the illegal drug and firearms trades from "fuelling war and violent extremism."

BARMM marked its second founding anniversary last week. It was created through the signing of the Bangsamoro Organic Law in 2018, and its ratification by a plebiscite in 2019, following years of peace negotiations between the MILF and the government. —KG, GMA News

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