The RSIS’ Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies and the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) co-organised a public seminar on the Mindanao conflict at RSIS Lecture Theatre on 18 September 2017. The seminar featured two researcher-practitioners working at the frontlines of the conflict in the southern Philippines. They are Mr Benedicto Bacani, Executive Director of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG), and Ms Rosemain “Dadang” Abduraji, Executive Director of Sulu-based NGO Tumikang Sama-Sama (TSS).
Mr Bacani shared the findings of IAG’s research on youth vulnerability to violent extremism in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. He pointed out that until now; there has been no evidence-based data to develop policies and programmes that effectively respond to the Muslim youth’s vulnerability to extremism. IAG’s research findings show that awareness among youth on what constitutes extremism is limited and their attitude is ambivalent. Poverty, limited access to education, and corruption are among the most commonly identified push factors that may drive young Filipino Muslims to join extremist groups. Meanwhile, recruitment through the charismatic influence of extremist leaders, cash incentives, and the promise of fraternal bonding are identified pull factors.
Ms “Dadang” Abduraji narrated how TSS, an organisation of community mediators, helps resolve Rido or clan wars, in Sulu Province, Mindanao. She noted that clan wars have further complicated the delicate security situation in Sulu, the hometown of the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Moro National Liberation Front. Rido creates demand for weapons, forces people to align with hard-line groups to protect themselves, breeds a culture of violence, and prevents economic development. TSS uses a combination of legal mechanisms and indigenous traditions, which are central to the lives of Tausugs (people of Sulu), to mediate clan conflicts. It also seeks the participation of community elders, religious leaders, and village officials. TSS also facilitates ceasefire agreements and traditional peace covenants between warring families.
Both speakers emphasised that the proposed creation of an autonomous ‘sub-state’ for Muslim Mindanao and federalism are not the antidotes to counter extremist narratives. Through collective leadership and greater inward reflection, the Muslim community itself should be at the forefront of crafting long-term solutions to extremism and orchestrating the ending of the decades-long armed conflict in Mindanao.