Peace group notes drop in violence in Mindanao

Declaration of martial law allowed Philippine govt to maintain a 'fragile peace' in the region
Peace group notes drop in violence in Mindanao

Francisco Lara, peace and conflict adviser of International Alert, explains the findings of the group's 2019 Conflict Alert Report that was released in Manila on Sept. 3. (Photo by Mark Saludes)

An international peace group has reported a decline in conflict-related violence and the number of resulting deaths in Muslim Mindanao in the Philippines in recent months.

In its 2019 Conflict Alert Report, released in Manila on Sept. 3, the International Alert group noted a 30 percent drop in incidents of conflict in the Muslim autonomous region.

The report noted that incidents dramatically decreased from 4,140 in 2017 to 2,910 in 2018.

Conflict-related deaths also dropped by 60 percent from 2,261 cases in 2017 to 900 in 2018.

The number of armed clashes and deaths in 2018 were, however, higher compared to the average data from 2013 to 2015.

The most violent year was 2016 when 4,363 conflict incidents were recorded.

Nikki Dela Rosa, country manager of International Alert Philippines, said the decline in violent incidents was due to the imposition of martial law in Mindanao.

In May 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte placed all of Mindanao under military rule after a local terror group attacked the city of Marawi.

Dela Rosa said martial law allowed the government "to maintain a fragile peace" in the region.

"Preventing the carrying and use of weapons in public ... has become the most resonant and recurring explanation for the decline," read the report.

Dela Rosa said a "drop in coordinated attacks and the lesser use of explosives by various armed groups" also resulted in the decline of cases.  

The 2019 Conflict Alert Report also noted that rebellion-related violence "has been on the downtrend" since 2016 following a peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The rebel group is scheduled to decommission its firearms from Sept. 7.

Francisco Lara, peace and conflict adviser of the group, clarified that International Alert is not supporting the extension or lifting of martial law in the region.

He said "certain conditions" have to be met before the government pulls the military from conflict areas.

"The lifting of martial law is certain, but there has to be a political settlement on the use of firearms before it is lifted," said Lara.

Dela Rosa, meanwhile, warned of a "newly emerging and complex set of actors and alliances" that might affect peace in Mindanao.

She said extremist violence remains "resilient and resurgent," adding that tension is rising because of delays in the rebuilding of the city of Marawi.

Close to half a million civilians were displaced, some still living in temporary shelters, while more that 1,000 others were killed in the five-month conflict in 2017.

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