MANILA — Restricted access to firearms under martial law helped reduce violent incidents in Mindanao, but the region still recorded an “unprecedented” number of deaths last year, a new study released Tuesday showed.
More than half of the 2,260 fatalities were listed in Lanao del Sur, whose capital city of Marawi came under siege from ISIS terrorists last year, according to peace advocacy group International Alert.
The figure was 82 percent higher than the number of deaths recorded in 2016, it said.
“Mas maraming namamatay sa fewer incidents. Ibig sabihin, deadlier talaga 'yung conflict,” Francisco Lara, the group’s senior adviser, said in a press conference.
(More people were killed in fewer incidents. That means the conflict was deadlier.)
“Worrying dahil hindi ba dapat ang mino-monitor natin, hindi naman 'yung insidente. Dapat mino-monitor natin 'yung namamatay?”
(Worrying because shouldn't we be monitoring [the number of] those killed, not the incidents?)
The group recorded fewer violent incidents in Muslim Mindanao last year at 4,138, except in Lanao del Sur, where the number went up 83 percent.
More than 1,000 people, mostly ISIS-affiliated militants, were killed during the 5-month Marawi conflict, which erupted in May last year.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s immediate response to the crisis—a Mindanao-wide martial rule effective until the rest of 2018–“snuffed out other potential flashpoints from erupting at the same time,” the study showed.
Strict regulations imposed by the military, it said, “prevented the open and easy access” to illegal firearms, whose use went down 3 percent.
But the use of improvised explosives went up by 45 percent, Lara said, citing the relative ease by which groups were able to conceal them at military checkpoints.
Increase in the number of fatalities was the result of the shift from “scattered attacks to coordinated destruction,” he said.
Collective attacks by violent extremists last year involved 221,815 people (both victims and perpetrators), 5 times higher than the number recorded in 2016, according to the study.
Given this backdrop of deadly violence, Lara said the “first few months” of the new Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) would be “a time of firefighting and trouble-shooting.”
The BTA will run the new Bangsamoro autonomous region for 3 years from 2019 before a permanent ministerial government is put in place, assuming a successful plebiscite in January.
The new political settlement is the product of the 2014 peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
But Lara warned of an emerging “discourse” among some young Muslims, who were now asking about joint military and MILF operations against extremists groups.
“Why are Muslims running after fellow Muslims?“ was a common question raised during fieldwork by International Alert in some parts of the region, he said.