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LANAO DEL SUR, Philippines -- In an attempt to thwart election-related violence, the Philippine National Police has imposed a gun ban throughout the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and five nearby cities this month, when voters in the region re-register.
But how effective will a gun ban be in a region where a far more complicated problem than criminality exists?
Will the gun ban be effective in ending -- even temporarily -- the age-old problem of “rido,” or the blood feuds that break out between clans?
Everything appears quiet in a small seaside village in a fourth-class municipality in this Central Mindanao province.
Along the highway, police and military personnel man checkpoints to enforce the gun ban.
But just a few kilometers away, two men armed with M16 rifles stealthily traverse rough back roads on a motorcycle.
Members of one of the largest and most influential clans in the town, the two say they need to arm themselves against attacks by another family with which they have been locked in rido since 2006.
The patriarch of the Iranun clan, who insists on being identified only as Bapa, an honorific for elders, says the murder of his brother and a nephew by the rival family triggered the rido.
“Pinatay nila ang kapatid ko, pati ang anak niya. Hindi namin sila mapatawad (They killed my brother and his son. We cannot forgive them),” Bapa says, flanked by his children and grandchildren.
And in an eerily calm voice, he vows: “Kahit mag-ubusan pa kami hinding-hindi namin sila mapapatawad (Even if we finish each other off, we will never, ever forgive them).”
Bapa willingly agreed to display all his clan’s weapons, laying down M16 rifles and caliber .45 pistols on a wooden table outside his spacious home. He says all of his sons and sons-in-law are armed to protect themselves and their families, even as he acknowledged not all the weapons are licensed.
“Walang magagawa, ganoon talaga. Ubusan ng lahi (We can do nothing, that’s the way it is. A fight to the finish),” he says.
Lanao del Sur has one of the highest incidence of rido.
The 2007 book “Rido: Clan Feuding and Conflict Management in Mindanao,” edited by Wilfredo Magno Torres III, says that from the 1930s to 2005, 377 rido took place in the province.
The 1,266 rido during this period claimed the lives of 5,500 persons and displaced thousands more. And, to date, as many as 64 percent of these conflicts remain unresolved.
But far from the simplistic view of rido as just another part of the local culture, the book explains that socio-political realities play a major role in why blood feuds break out.
Rido, says the book, are “characterized by sporadic outbursts of retaliatory violence between families and kinship groups as well as between communities” in places where “government or a central authority is weak and … where there is a perceived lack of justice and security.”
In the current context, rido can go beyond the confines of clans, as they intertwine with the separatist conflict, with clashes sometimes involving members of the same armed groups -- say, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front -- or drawing in the police and military.
Just last week, a rido erupted in the town of Pualas, also in Lanao del Sur, killing two people just days before the gun ban took effect.
Bapa says he has lost count of how many of his enemies he has killed.
“Ah, hindi ko na mabilang (Ah, I cannot keep count),” he says.
Nor does he see any end to the bloodshed.
“Ayaw namin magkaroon ng settlement. Hindi kami papaya (We do not want a settlement. We will never agree to one),” he says.
‘Gun ban an opportunity for enemies’
Bapa belittled the gun ban, saying warring clans would merely take advantage of this to attack their enemies.
“Hindi maganda ang gun ban. Hinihintay nila ito na wala kaming armas para magawa nila ang gusto nilang gawin (The gun ban is no good. They are waiting for when we are disarmed so they can do what they want),” he says.
The military admits it has a hands-off policy on rido.
Brigadier General Manuel Ochotrena, deputy commander of the 6th Infantry Division, says soldiers steer clear whenever a rido erupts for fear they might be identified with any of the warring clans.
“If you help one side, it will be unfair to the other side,” he says.
All the police and military can do, he says, is make sure those not involved in the rido are not harmed and displaced families taken care of.
“We make sure that they (combatants) stay only in a certain area and they do not cross the highway and affect other civilians,” Ochotorena says.
In some cases, the military and police act as mediators in attempts to help solve the conflicts.
But with the gun ban in place, Ochotorena says warring clans should not be exempt.
“They are not allowed to bring their guns out,” he says.
ARMM regional police director Chief Superintendent Mario Avenido said rido would not hinder the implementation of the gun ban.
But Bapa and his clan maintain they will not honor the gun ban.
“Hindi. Para maproteksyunan namin ang aming sarili (No. This is for our protection),” Bapa says.