MANILA— Despite a decline in conflict incidents, extremist violence and clan feuding remain in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, a peace-building organization said Thursday, two years since the milestone establishment of the region seen to spur peace and development in the long-restive area.
In its latest conflict report, International Alert said extremist violence remained persistent while clan feuds rose in the Bangsamoro, particularly in Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao, in 2019.
"Lanao del Sur is a very important cause for worry... We've been seeing this year an increase in violence," Dr. Francisco Lara Jr., the group's senior peace and conflict adviser in Asia.
"In Maguindanao province, the problem was increase in clan feuding in relation to land issues," he added.
The number of clan feuds rose by nearly 50 percent to 146, of which the highest concentrations were in Lanao del Sur (64) and Maguindanao (56), International Alert said in its report. These feuds were fueled by personal and political grudges, and land conflicts, among others.
The group also said Sulu was "on course towards reclaiming its notorious identification with terrorism," which Lara cited was due to the emergence of female, Filipino and foreign suicide bombers.
Although conflict incidents in the region fell in 2019, Lara said they were expecting a possible increase of violence in 2021 as the election nears.
"We're moving towards 2022 elections. No matter the presence of security forces, it's always been the case in the Bangsamoro that these have not been enough to decrease the number of violent incidents in relation to the elections," he said.
The region saw a decline in conflict incidents, recording 2,655 in 2019. This is less than 9 percent from 2,910 in 2018.
"We believe that the cause of decline has been the active presence of security forces and their implementation of strict measures that prevents people's movement," Lara said.
Conflict incidents spiked in 2016 with 4,363 due to the general elections, extremist activities and drug war, the group said. The region had 4,140 conflict incidents in 2017.
The group urged the national government and the BARMM and Bangsamoro Transition Authority to prioritize and act on land-related disputes and conflicts.
It also called for a multi-pronged approach to address the shifting nature of violent extremism.
"Such an approach includes intensified intelligence gathering and military operations, development inputs, deradicalization and restorative justice initiatives, and tit-for-tat battle in social media to curb extremist propaganda and recruitment," it said.