Friday, February 04, 2011

Philippines: The scourge of clan violence

Members of a Christian militia group raise their weapons

(IRIN) - Wilson Nandang, 35-year-old mayor of the remote southern Philippine town of Labangan on the island of Mindanao, is in hiding in Manila: He believes gunmen loyal to a political rival, whose family want to take over Nadang's agricultural municipality of 30,000 people, are after him.

Travelling in a sports utility vehicle with tinted windows and accompanied by bodyguards, he said his enemy is known to deploy assassins, the same ones who have killed at least five of his close political supporters and who burned down his home last year. His wife and 10 children have had to move to a safer area.

The feud, preceded by years of clan fighting ('rido’), has not only forced him to abandon local government work in the municipality but fuelled an explosion of social ills: Many children suffer from malnutrition; education, health facilities and other basic services are lacking.

"I fear for my life. I cannot work. I cannot govern," Nandang told IRIN in Manila. "My town needs urgent development, food for the people, medicines for health centres, but I cannot do anything because my hands are tied."

Nandang's plight is not uncommon: Clan wars and political feuds have been hampering development on the mineral-rich island, where a tribal warrior culture - coupled with the proliferation of unlicensed firearms in the hands of so-called private armies controlled by political warlords - has exacerbated a long-running Muslim insurgency which has claimed thousands of lives.


Pam Pagunsan, a communications specialist at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said `rido’ also leads to the temporary displacement of families, who are often difficult to access because of the security situation.

"In 2010, UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP) conducted a joint nutrition and food security assessment, which concluded that areas affected by armed conflict had poor nutritional status and therefore faced higher risks of disease and death," she said.

Similarly, stunting among children under five, a measure of chronic malnutrition, is also extremely high at 41 percent, the Mindanao Humanitarian Action Plan for 2011 said.

"Areas with ongoing clan wars are typically harder to access," Pagunsan said, adding that humanitarian agencies had had to deal with certain powerful clans or groups just to be able to reach those affected.

Pombaen Kader, a social welfare official in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), said `rido’ and the insurgency had come to define the poor quality of life in the area.

Behind on MDGs

She said official statistics showed ARMM trails behind the rest of the Philippines in achieving its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The incidence of poverty is 62 percent, compared to the national average of 33 percent.

Only 40 percent of children complete primary school, against the national average of 75 percent, while under-five mortality is three times the national rate, according to UNICEF.

"It might be too simplistic to say `rido’ is the cause of all of this. It is much more complicated than that. But it certainly contributes to the problem," said AARM social welfare official Kader.

`Rido’ has contributed to the region's instability, said Willy Torres, a conflict management expert for think-tank The Asia Foundation. From 2000 to 2004, the NGO documented around 637 cases of `rido’ - an annual average of 127 cases. Thousands of people have reportedly lost their lives. In one case alone, he said, 11 clan members were wiped out, with 13 others wounded, and feuding families had spent tens of thousands of dollars on ammunition and other costs.

"Rido sustains an exclusion-orientated political economy which only serves the interests of a few economic and political elites, thereby marginalizing the rest of the population from opportunities that can lead to improvements in their lives," Torres said.

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