Land, guns are pressure points in Bangsamoro transition, sustainable peace — IA report

UNREGISTERED weapons seized by the military in Maguindanao in 2019. — WESTMINCOM

CONFLICTS over land ownership and continued proliferation of illegal guns are two of the main threats to the Bangsamoro’s ongoing political transition and sustaining peace in a restive region, according to a global peacebuilding organization.   

International Alert (IA), in its book Conflict’s Long Game: A Decade of Violence in the Bangsamoro launched on Thursday, said measures that will settle land disputes and curb loose firearms must be prioritized by the regional and national governments to mitigate continued cycles of violence.   

“What is lingering, what is continuing is always those issues pertaining to land. And what should be raised is the increasing tendency even among violent extremist groups to involve themselves in land issues,” International Alert Senior Peace and Conflict Adviser Francisco Lara, Jr. said during the launch.   

Violent incidents in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao was on a downtrend from 2016 to 2020, based on the data-driven book. However, the 2020 total was still more than double the under 1,000 recorded in 2011.   

The problem on illegal guns is partly tied to the slow implementation of the decommissioning program wherein armed combatants of the former rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which signed a peace deal with the government, are to give up their weapons.   

“The longer that is delayed will create a lot of problems,” Mr. Lara said.   

An immediate solution, he said, is to require all non-decommissioned MILF members to register their guns based on the country’s firearms regulation law under Republic Act 10591.  

Loose firearms are also linked to “the return of the illegal drug trade,” a major facet of the underground economy in the region, especially in urban areas such as the cities of Marawi and Cotabato.   

International Alert Philippines Country Director Nikki C. de la Rosa said getting the Bangsamoro out of the “conflict trap and cycles of violence” requires an understanding of the dynamics of “identities” in a multi-cultural region with a Muslim majority.  

“What cuts across the ebb and flow of violence in the last 10 years is identities,” Ms. De la Rosa said.    

“Identities can be instrumentalized for political gains during election period, for specific things whether that relates to the use of your affiliation with a certain armed group, and land issues, and non-Moro indigenous peoples land, and so on.” — MSJ