How clan wars leave Muslim Filipino youth traumatized

Deutsche Welle

Posted at Mar 02 2023 10:53 AM

Even as a peace deal between the government and the largest Muslim separatist movement brings hope for peace in Mindanao, the cyclical violence of clan wars leaves a lingering trauma on Muslim youth.

Rido, the local term for "clan war" or fighting between families and kinship groups, is marked by recurring acts of retaliatory violence triggered by a real or perceived infraction. Targets of retaliation can be individuals or entire families, spurring a cycle of inter-generational violence, causing fear and anxiety among the youth for years.

"Local clan feuds affect many aspects of their [youth] lives — be it physical, psychological, economical, and even socio-cultural. Their dreams are being ruined. Rido puts the future of Mindanao and Muslim youth at risk," Abdul Hamitullah Atar, executive officer of Reconciliatory Initiatives for Development Opportunities (RIDO) Inc., a peace-building NGO focused on mending the societal divide brought by clan wars, told DW.

Threat to life and future 

As a child, Haifah Dida-Agun lost count of how many times she needed to flee the family home just to be safe from the violence brought by a feud between two warring clans in their village in Lanao del Sur, Mindanao.

Though her family was not directly involved in the feud, at 15, Dida-Agun had to learn how to handle a firearm to protect herself and ensure the safety of her younger siblings.

"There was a time when we had to dig a hole inside our house. When there was gunfire, we would go down there just to be safe. It was a very tense situation for me and my family," Dida-Agun told DW.

On one occasion, fighting among clan members broke out in their school, upending the notion of schools as traditional places of sanctuary.

"We had to go into hiding. We had no freedom. We could not go out. We couldn't even go to school. It really affected our dreams to have a peaceful and normal life," said Dida-Agun.

Volatile clan dynamics and political rivalries contribute to the instability in the southern region of Mindanao, with the intersecting violence of clan wars and insurgency paralyzing communities.

In May 2020, the government reported that clan wars had displaced more than 4,500 civilians.

In 2009, political rivalry between two families, the Mangudadatus and the Ampatuans, resulted in the deaths of 58 people, including members of the local press. The carnage is seen as the worst case of election-related violence in Philippine history.

According to Rufa Guiam, Director of the Research and Development Center, Mindanao State University and author of the book "Gender and Conflict in Mindanao," rido brings different but distinct struggles for men and women.

When male family members are primary targets, their mobility is limited and they cannot work or perform their expected duty as the breadwinner. This places a greater burden of generating income on women, in addition to their traditional duties of caring for homes and family members.

"In many cases, it causes depression among men. The women become the absorber of the depression and frustration of men," Guiam told DW.

Working for a peaceful future 

Like Dida-Agun, Jamal Baulo, 29, was also caught in a clan war between two families in his neighborhood.

The recurring violence and conflict in their community left Baulo feeling hopeless about his future and the future of Mindanao.

"I always asked myself: Do our leaders care about us? We were not safe and there was always fear," Baulo told DW.

While the horrors of living through clan wars during their childhood still linger on, it also motivated Dida-Agun and Baulo to advocate for peace so Muslim youngsters can aspire to have a future that is free from violence.

Dida-Agun and Baulo both hope that the promise of peace ushered in by the truce between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), signed in 2014, will also pave the way for the non-violent resolution of clan wars.

"We are all brothers and sisters, after all," Dida-Agun said.

Dida-Agun currently works in a non-government organization and, together with the local government, helps communities resolve their grievances through non-violent interventions.

Film highlights internal struggles

Meanwhile, Baulo is employing the combined power of personal narrative and visual storytelling to educate young Muslims about the far-reaching negative impact of rido.

Baulo's film highlights the internal struggles of a family affected by rido as told through the friendship of two young men.

Film showings are being organized in schools and among non-government youth groups.

"Film is a powerful tool to make a good impact on young people. It can influence their beliefs and principles in life and that will affect how they view the issue of rido in our community," Baulo said.

This story was produced under a reporting grant from the Probe Media Foundation, Inc. and The Asia Foundation.

Edited by: John Silk