Martial law helped lessen violence in ARMM – report

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte’s martial law in Mindanao helped lessen violence in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) by discouraging armed groups from bringing out their weapons.

This was one of the findings of the 2018 Conflict Alert report, launched on Tuesday, October 2.

“It disabled the ability of armed groups to take out their weapons….The biggest effect we saw of martial law is control of the weapons,” said Francisco Lara Jr, Senior Peace and Conflict Adviser in Asia for International Alert Philippines. 

Lara was among those who presented the report to media.

He also shared insights from ARMM stakeholders interviewed by International Alert for the report on how martial law helped limit the use of weapons, particularly firearms.

Ang sagot nila simple lang, ‘hindi makalabas ng baril kasi nahuhuli sa checkpoint eh’ (Their answer was simple, ‘they can’t bring out their guns because they will get caught in checkpoints’),” he said. 

Asked to clarify if this reduced ability of armed groups to take out their weapons meant martial law was working in the southern island, Lara said it led to “less violence.”

The 2018 Conflict Alert itself states that martial law had “dampening effects” on flashpoints outside of Marawi, the city that was under siege for 5 months by members of the Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf Group.

The imposition of martial law was one explanation offered by both security officials and traditional leaders for the paradox of reduced number of violent conflict incidents in 2017 but a rise in deaths due to the Marawi crisis. (READ: Fewer but deadlier conflicts in ARMM in 2017 – report)

Stricter rules and regulations “prevented the open and easy access to, and use of, illicit weapons across the region.”

In short, while full-scale war broke out in Marawi, martial law helped prevent conflict incidents in the surrounding areas and other parts of ARMM.

“Whatever the case was, the Marawi conflict was used to justify the imposition of martial law which in turn snuffed out other potential flashpoints from erupting at the same time,” reads the report.

Martial law also saw local government units and security forces impose daily curfews. Checkpoints that led to the caoture of weapons “ensured that various urban centers would not be infiltrated by armed groups intending to do a repeat of Marawi,” says the report.

Strong security response not enough

But while martial law has had a “positive effect” so far, Lara urged government to complement its heavy security response with one that addresses the root causes of conflict in the region.

“Our problem now is the government is operating with a strong security response so those other things are left behind. Government talks of a whole of government approach. I don’t see it,” he said.

A good “second response” includes improving access to education among the ARMM youth – vulnerable to extremist thinking.

“You need to fix the madrasah, you need educational inputs. There needs to be more efforts to get the youth to work on prodructive projects, not livelihood, projects that will get them together,” said Lara.

What he described as the “glacial pace” of Marawi rehabilitation could also become a source of dissatisfaction that could ultimately fuel future conflicts.

The report called for a “multi-faceted” approach where government leaders, especially the future Bangsamoro Transition Authority, consult the many clans and groups on the development of the region.

For the landmark Bangsamoro Organic Law to bring lasting peace, BTC leaders need to form alliances with clans and make sure not to exclude groups. 

"The multi-causal violence that precedes and follows extremist violence requires focusing not only on the breakdown in social cohesion and resilience within Muslim communities, but also on the extremist, exclusionary, and discriminatory attitudes within Christian communities," reads the report.

It adds that avoiding a “one-size-fits-all” security approach is crucial because of the multi-causal nature of violent conflicts in ARMM.

The report found that the precursor to extremism in Mindanao is not religious polarization but clan feuds.

Other causes include political infighting, illegal drugs and weapons trafficking, and land disputes. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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