Peace-building nongovernment organization (NGO) International Alert Philippines (IAP) has expressed alarm over what it described as “raging conflicts” over land and natural resources in the Bangsamoro amid the Covid-19 pandemic in the last two months.
The group has been monitoring events in conflict areas, particularly Mindanao, through its critical events monitoring system (CEMS) bulletin.
In the months of April and May, as Ramadhan ended and the government eased its lockdown measures, the group monitored the expulsion of indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands, clashes between rebel groups and between factions of these rebel groups, murder of a local government executive in Cotabato City, continued attacks by violent extremists and the death of two children from a mortar explosion, forced displacement of thousands of families due to these conflicts and tensions among ethnic groups related to the government’s Covid-19 response, according to Diana Jean Moraleda, senior program manager—Youth, Women, and Communications of International Alert Philippines, said in an e-mail message to the BusinessMirror.
The CEMS bulletin, an SMS and high-frequency radio-based reporting system being ran by IAP, peace-building organization captures conflict incidents and tensions in communities.
It is used by Alert’s Early Response Network (ERN), a group of men and women who share real-time information and work with key stakeholders in coordinating quick and context-specific responses.
In a news statement, IAP said that ongoing violence first erupted on May 29 in South Upi, where portions of land are occupied by the indigenous Teduray but also claimed by the Maguindanaon Muslims. The contested land is also being eyed by agribusiness and miners, the group said.
The group reported that a series of clashes also occurred in Maguindanao and North Cotabato between commanders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and between MILF groups, including their families and clans.
MILF combatants occupying land surrounding their base camps in Lanao del Sur compounds the conflict, the bulletin reported.
Nikki de la Rosa, International Alert country manager, explained that while these flashpoints are tied to land issues, the groups’ access to weapons and manpower and their links to state apparatus prolong violence.
“They have access to resources and have political connections, that is why they are able to engage in long-term violence,” she explained.
According to International Alert Philippines, clashes between MILF and MNLF commanders happened in Pikit over several days in April and in Matalam on April 29. There were also clashes in the towns of Sultan Kudarat and Guindulungan on April 12 and, May 14 and 15, respectively. A firefight erupted again in the boundary of Pikit and in Pagalungan from May 7 to 10. Meanwhile, a recurring conflict played out between two MILF commanders in Pikit from April to May.
These clashes could be an indication of polarization of communities around land and other natural resource issues, coupled with identity and political issues, said Dela Rosa.
“Polarization is a state of increased attitudinal divergence between groups of either side of a social boundary, whether ethnic identity, clans, cultures, and beliefs. High levels of polarization indicate looming violence between two parties that have taken extreme positions,” de la Rosa added.
These shooting wars that have killed many and forced the evacuation of thousands of families actually mimic the armed conflict between Christian paramilitary groups and allied indigenous peoples groups versus Moro tribes and their armed fronts in the 1960s and 1970s, de la Rosa added.
“We see that violence activated by land disputes and deepened by religious divides half a century ago, resulting from government’s resettlement of hordes of Christian Filipinos from Luzon and Visayas to Mindanao, has kept its grip on the region and will continue to affect generations to come,” de la Rosa said.