Fewer but deadlier conflicts in ARMM in 2017 – report

Pia Ranada

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Fewer but deadlier conflicts in ARMM in 2017 – report

Bobby Lagsa

A dramatic rise in the use of improvised explosive devices and shift to group-related attacks from individual attacks defined ARMM conflicts last year, according to the Conflict Alert 2018 report

MANILA, Philippines – The year 2017 saw an “unprecedented” rise in deaths due to conflict in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) despite a decline in the number of violent conflict incidents, according to a report launched on Tuesday, October 2.

These figures point to a higher “magnitude of conflict” – a single attack can now kill more people than before.

“You have more people dying from fewer incidents,” said Francisco Lara Jr, Senior Peace and Conflict Adviser in Asia for International Alert Philippines. 

Lara was among those who presented the Conflict Alert 2018 report to media. International Alert Philippines has been keeping tabs on ARMM conflicts since 2011. 

The group found that in 2017, 2,260 persons were killed in violent conflicts – 82% higher than the number in 2016 (1,241). 

“The year 2017 stood out for the record number of conflict deaths and the highest year-on-year rate of increase in deaths since the Conflict Alert database was established,” reads the report. 

The total number of fatalities in 2017 amounted to 36% of the total number of conflict fatalities recorded from 2011 to 2017.

This despite fewer violent conflicts in 2017 compared to 2016. The report tallied 4,138 violent conflicts in 2017, fewer than the 4,361 incidents in 2016.

Why deadlier conflicts in 2017? The report identified 3 important factors for the heightened conflict magnitude:

  • Increase in group attacks versus individual attacks
  • Surge in use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs)
  • Ability of armed groups to cluster in specific areas and quickly concentrate or disperse when necessary

The year 2017 saw the number of attacks perpetrated by groups rise dramatically, compared to the rise in number of attacks perpetrated by individuals. 

“Group actors and attacks saw a 4-fold increase, in contrast to individual actors and attacks that increased only a 5th from the previous year,” reads the report.

The number of actors involved in group-initiated fatal conflict incidents shot up to 222,149 in 2017, from 46,058 in 2016 – a 382% increase.

Compare this to a mere 20% increase in the actors involved in individual-initiated conflict, from 1,657 in 2016 to 1,985 in 2017. 

More and more, armed groups are using bombs to wreak maximum havoc in a single incident.

While the use of guns for ARMM conflicts declined by 3% in 2017, the use of IEDs rose by 45%. This pattern was still evident even when the Marawi siege was taken out of the picture, said the report.

Deadly incidents where guns were used numbered 614 in 2017, down from 634 in 2016. But deadly incidents caused by bombs numbered 29 in 2017, an increase from 20 the year before.

The heightened tendency to deploy bombs for attacks, instead of firearms greatly contributed to the number of deaths a single conflict incident could cause.

Thus, while there were fewer incidents, the use of IEDs “compensated” by taking more lives.

“It’s good that the number of incidents dropped but the use of IEDs increased so the IEDs made up for the lower number of incidents,” said Lara.

Maguindanao was the province that experienced the most number of conflict incidents in 2017, followed by Lanao del Sur, Basilan (including Isabela City), Sulu, then Tawi-Tawi.

But it was Lanao del Sur that suffered the most number of deaths due to conflict, followed by Maguindanao (including Cotabato City), Sulu, Basilan (including Isabela City), then Tawi-Tawi. –

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.