THE MILITARY’S Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) has been reporting on the continued turn over of loose firearms in Lanao del Sur province, with the latest on Nov. 18 involving 44 weapons, including two homemade Uzis and a sniper rifle. “Through this campaign against loose firearms we will be able to end terrorism and other criminalities such as clan wars by disarming the armed groups in our area of operation,” Lt. Gen. Cirilito E. Sobejana, WestMinCom commander, said in a statement. On the same day, a conflict monitoring network released its September 2019 bulletin, flagging what it called a “worrying turn of events” in the province. Data from the Critical Events Monitoring System (CEMS) indicate an increase in violent incidents due to clan feuds, also referred to as rido, and a resurgence in extremist movements, including in the capital Marawi City. “Military shelling of an ISIS camp roused Piagapo before sunrise while the killing of a sultan primed Malabang for the resumption of a clan feud. They took place kilometers and days apart, with no seeming connection, except they marked an escalation in violence in war-weary Lanao del Sur,” The CEMS September report said. “These alarming developments did not happen out of the blue. Reports filed by Early Response Network (ERN) members in Lanao del Sur in previous months warned of the Maute-ISIS’s regrouping, pointed out sightings of members even in battle-scarred Marawi City, and recounted clashes between the military and Maute-ISIS fighters,” it said. CEMS, a project of peace-building organization International Alert, uses mobile phone messaging and high frequency radio to gather incidents relating to conflict and disasters. The ERN uses the data for response measures in coordination with local governments, national agencies, religious and community leaders, and security forces. The network’s command posts are led by local groups TASBIKKa, Inc., ERN Lanao del Sur, MARADECA, Inc., and Lupah Sug Bangsamoro Women Association, Inc.

Lt. Col. Ian P. Ignes, commander of the 55th Infantry Battalion under WestMinCom, said the support and cooperation of communities and local leaders is crucial in the continuing campaign against illegal weapons. “Through this (campaign against loose firearms), our people would feel more secure and safe in their daily activities,” he said. The CEMS report, however, cites that “Lanao residents have experienced a less strict and looser implementation of the campaign against illicit guns in recent months.” Under such condition, plus growing frustration and fears over the slow-moving rehabilitation of war-torn Marawi City, “the situation becomes ripe for radicalization and recruitment,” the CEMS report said. International Alert notes that extremism is linked to violent conflicts such as rido and that the Maute group, which led the 2017 Marawi siege, “had been known to instrumentalize clan conflicts to gain alliances and firepower.” The CEMS report said, “The implication is stark and real — a different security approach is required that ensures that weapons are kept in check.” — Marifi S. Jara