A peace agreement between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippine government has ended a decades-long armed conflict in Mindanao, but experts warn clan wars remain a threat to sustainable peace and development in the region.
Clan wars, or rido, are recurring hostilities between families and kinship groups marked by a series of retaliatory acts of violence to avenge a real or perceived infraction.
Members of an entire family can become the target of a retaliation, spurring a cycle of violence that can turn into intergenerational conflict.
"The new [Bangsamoro] government promises peace and security in the region. But, rido is one of the major factors that can make or break the peace process," Yasmira Moner, a professor of post-conflict governance at Mindanao State University, told DW.
"Without the resolution of rido, violence can spill over to other communities until it becomes a large-scale conflict," Moner said.
The peace deal ushered in the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) as an administrative region comprising five provinces in southern Philippines.
Seeking justice, without seeking revenge
Rido violence can be traced back to pre-colonial power struggles between local tribal leaders. These strongmen wielded significant economic and political power, and enforced this power through their own militia. US colonization took advantage of rido to turn families against each other and weaken the opposition to colonial rule, Moner explained.
In May 2020, the Philippine News Agency reported on a clan war that displaced 4,574 civilians. Last year, local news outlets reported that a bloody clash between two families dispersed hundreds.
In 2009, political rivalry between two families, the Mangudadatus and the Ampatuans, resulted in the mass killing of 58 people, including members of the local press. The carnage is seen as the worst case of election-related violence in the Philippines.
Esmael Mangudadatu, who lost two sisters, his wife, and some relatives in the violence, later started a conflict settlement program through the Maguindanao Task Force on Reconciliation and Unification (MTFRU) during his time as governor.
In 2017, the peace council settled about 138 clan conflicts, according to government data.
Speaking to DW, Mangudadatu said that he cited his own experience when negotiating clan conflicts. "I deliberately chose not to retaliate. It was very painful for me, but if I sought revenge, it would only lead to perpetual conflict. I wanted to serve as an example."
In 2019, a court found 30 people, which included members of the Ampatuan dynasty, guilty of 57 counts of murder and sentenced them to life imprisonment.
Ending a life of war
Peace advocates say that those most affected by clan wars are the estimated 1 million young people in BARMM region, who represent about 5% of the Philippine population.
"When we speak of war in Mindanao, we always think of the conflict with the army, but if you look at it, clan wars are what damage our communities the most," said Nair Amer, 26.
"I grew up without freedom, without a permanent address. My life was contained in the bags we carried whenever we fled," Amer told DW.
"Nothing good will come out of rido. Communities are displaced, schools are closed, futures are put on hold. We all suffer," he added.
Amer is determined to prevent Muslim youth from growing up in a vicious cycle of violence and accepting it as the norm. Currently, he serves as a staff officer in the Bangsamoro Transition Authority Welfare and Reconciliation Committee, which collects data on ongoing clan wars and also mediates negotiations between clans.
How clan violence affects women
Norhaifah Esmail, 21, has seen the impact of rido on young Muslim women like her. Some are told not to attend school because of safety risks.
"It is sad to think that because of rido, there are women who are forced to change their direction in life, just for their safety," Esmail told DW.
The local government through the Ministry of Public Order and Safety (MPOS) is taking an active stance in institutionalizing methods such as conflict mediation workshops in communities to assist warring families come to a truce. Financial and legal assistance is also provided to ensure lasting peace.
Maguindanao del Sur provincial administrator Cyrus Torrena told DW he believes the method works in containing rido and preventing it from spilling over into other forms of violence such as violent extremism.
"If you are able to resolve the conflict between families, between clans, you will be able to also resolve other conflicts and issues in the province," said Torrena.
This story was produced under a reporting grant from the Probe Media Foundation, Inc. and The Asia Foundation.
Edited by: Sou-Jie van Brunnersum