Combining traditional, formal and NGO peacebuilding to resolve violent Rido in Maguindanao



In 2012 a comprehensive peace agreement was signed between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Government of the Philippines, ending a decades-long war in Mindanao and providing a framework for the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). However, conflict in Mindanao involves far more armed groups, local elites and militias than the peace agreement covers, so while the war has officially ended, outbreaks of fighting continue.

An important feature of conflict in Mindanao in general, and Maguindanao in particular, is power struggles between clans and Datus – local strongmen who head political dynasties and wield significant economic, political and coercive power through their own militia. These Datus, and the family or clan networks which support them and rely on their patronage, have an extremely long history in Mindanao, as similar political dynasties have throughout the Philippines and Southeast Asia. It is quite normal in state formation processes for local strongmen living in areas outside state control to enter into arrangements with the state whereby they are granted a high level of autonomy as long as they control a restive population and quash any potential challenges to state authority (North et al. 2009). In the Philippines, colonial powers and postcolonial governments have entered into a multitude of arrangements with local Datus and armed militia in Mindanao, but these arrangements have continually shifted in a complex web of instability. The limits of Datu power were, and still are, continually contested, expanded, limited and negotiated through interactions with other, rival Datus and their militia, armed opposition groups such as the MILF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and the Philippines state (especially the armed forces).

There is a long history of jostling between the clans and Datus for power over land, people and resources in Mindanao. But since decentralisation and economic modernisation, attaining political office is also a path to political-economic control (Adam, et al., 2014). The Barangay (Village) Captain and the Barangay Council hold considerable local power because they determine how the Barangay’s Internal Revenue Allotment will be spent and decide on issues such as zoning, building permits and public service contracts, so elections are highly and violently contested. Many of the same people in the Barangay Council are also in the Barangay Peace and Order Committee, often resulting in one clan dominating Barangay governance.

Jostling and violent competition between the clans and Datus for power is termed ‘rido’. Rido, or clan feuding, is “a state of recurring acts of violence carried out to avenge a perceived affront or injustice” (Torres, 2014, p.4). A clan leader explained to an Islamic Relief researcher that “If the relatives are involved in the conflict, they are like fighting cocks that will never stop until all the feathers are removed”. Rido violence has been found by Islamic Relief to be the most worrying and prevalent type of conflict for local inhabitants in Maguindanao, surpassing armed separatist conflict with the Philippines state. Whilst the threat of conflict and violence from rido remains, peace and stability will continue to be fragile and fractured.

Rido conflicts in Mindanao are often resolved in practice through a combination of traditional and formal conflict resolution practices mediated by a respected elder, another Datu, an armed group commander (which could be either a state or nonstate actor) or someone else with significant authority, and resolved through the payment of ‘blood money’. The resolution is then legitimated through a public ritual such as a Kanduli peace ceremony, to prevent the disputants from reneging on the agreement later. It may also be formally accepted by members of the state judiciary or other officials.

This case study examines a recent rido in Maguindanao, shedding light on a clan conflict over political-economic power and its eventual resolution. It also demonstrates how community peacebuilding supported by Islamic Relief interacts with rido resolution.