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Brian Ven Climaco Bag-ao
Associate Professor, Social Work Department, Mindanao State University (Main Campus), Marawi City, Philippines

Multi-stakeholders' and youth participation in conflict transformation: insights from marawi siege, philippines

This article is a reflection drawn from praxis of being a social work educator in a state university in the Philippines situated in a conflict-affected area. It emphasizes multi-stakeholders' and youth participation in conflict transformation in a multi-ethnic society. Objectively, this paper aims to talk about the following: Marawi Siege in a nutshell, the ecological determinants of ethnic conflict, and my social work stances on the reflection with regards to the multi-stakeholders' and youth participation in conflict transformation.

The Marawi Siege, in a nutshell:

Mindanao conflict is multi-layered, resulting from a combination of factors, including dispossession of land, relative deprivation, political disenfranchisement, deep-seated and widespread prejudice between diverse groups, power struggles between clans, and the recent rise of violent extremism (Muslim, 2005a). Protracted conflict appears to be an inevitable reality in many communities in the Philippines, particularly in Southern Mindanao. This conflict has often been depicted as a result of historical and ideological friction between tri-people communities (Muslim, Christian, and Indigenous Peoples), although religious and cultural differences have, in fact, only partly shaped the conflict.

The siege began when the Philippine military attempted to capture Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of a southern group loyal to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. However, the soldiers encountered stronger resistance than planned (Hincks, 2017). They attacked the city together with another pro-ISIS brigade called the Maute Group. The group seized Marawi as the location of their intervention. The known Islamic City has been left in ruins, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes and seek temporary shelter in neighboring cities and municipalities. Everything that transpired during the siege caused a collective trauma to everyone residing in Marawi. According to Pangandaman et al. (2019), the Marawi siege wreaked havoc on the lives of the Meranao people in the Philippines. Indeed, the Marawi conflict was the result of unresolved Mindanao conflict emanating from various socio-economic, political, cultural, and religious conditions of Mindanao, Philippines.

Determinates of ethnic conflict

The socioeconomic conditions in the region such as widespread poverty, marginalization, and othering, unemployment, limited to no access to education, money, and socio-economic inequalities are other underlying causes pushing individuals toward violent extremism, (Muslim, 2005b). These unmet social and economic needs are a deprivation of socioeconomic rights-especially when combined with other factors such as widespread corruption, a weak political unit, and lack of security and justice-and may be exploited by violent extremist groups to claim legitimate demand and to seek alternative solutions in response to such deprivations.

This socioeconomic uncertainty has been a reality for the displaced people of Marawi settling in transitional shelters. This was after four years of supposedly being liberated from the extremist group and receiving millions of donations from the international community. A number of families are still not allowed to return to their homes and rebuild their lives nor has there been any compensation for the damages to their personal properties. This perhaps might be another push factor that aids young people to engage in radicalization and violence.

The lack of representation, as well as misrepresentation, of Muslims in national politics are also one of the factors that provoke the Moro resistance and other radical groups to reject secular governance. This provocation is seen in the off and on, slow-pace, and top-level peace negotiations as well as in the different versions of approaches among political leaders in addressing the Mindanao conflict. This top-down intervention can be a living manifestation of LIBERAL PEACE Strategy and the MUSCULINISTIC intervention in conflict transformation and peacebuilding. This is a local application of the MUSCULAR intervention concept (O'Reilly, 2012). The continuing cycle of violence and conflict is still widespread, affecting the tri-people communities. The region is also plagued with some of the worst development indicators in the Philippines as levels of insecurities are among the lowest levels of development in the country. The gap between the conflict-affected regions and the rest of Mindanao continues to grow, despite the large and growing international aid programs directed to the area.

Impact in social dimension seen in microcosm level;

The said conflict reveals that young people are among the most vulnerable sectors, often as victims of violence. Reports show that Moro youths were also recruited as combatants and many of them were maimed and killed because of the conflict, (Pangandaman et.al, 2019). Others who were not directly involved were deprived of education, employment, and health care; and were even separated from their families. Further, the expanding breeding ground of radicalization among young people in Marawi now poses an imminent threat with its potential to become a local recruitment center for the Islamic State.

Even in the post-conflict reconstruction in Marawi, young people are still confronted with different challenges. They are excluded from participating in peacebuilding, security mechanism, and other political processes such as the rehabilitation of the city. Youth are left out in many aspects of peacebuilding. Thus, here comes the challenge as to how a social worker should coordinate to the local leaders and even national leaders to fight for the inclusive government which would allow the youth in the policy making process ensuring their right to participate. Hence, right based approach. Also, social work education has its paramount role to mainstream conflict transformation and peacebuilding in the social work curriculum in the Philippines.

Presence of international actors for MARAWI Reconstruction

Conflict erupted in Marawi City in May 2017 between armed groups and the Philippine government, displacing nearly 360,000 people at its peak. The United States government has committed more than $63.6 million (Php 3.4 billion) through USAID or the United States Agency for International Development to humanitarian and recovery efforts in and around Marawi. USAID is working to improve the economic and social conditions of internally displaced people in collaboration with the Philippine Government, development organizations, civil society, and the private sector.

World Vision, an international humanitarian organization dedicated to assisting families in overcoming poverty, had a cash-for-work program in Marawi called Bahay Pag-asa, which began in January, providing money as incentives for people who work in community-building activities like farming and construction (World Vision, 2018). It also provided educational and psychosocial support to affected children and their families. Some of the interventions that were made brought by the effects of the conflict include psychosocial care for children.

In partnership with local and international organizations, World Vision was able to implement projects that advance socio-civic engagement and recovery. Through their projects, children were able to play, meet with fellow children, and express themselves through different activities. The spaces are also crucial to address their psychosocial needs while most schools are still not open.

Miwa Kato, UN Women's Asia Pacific Regional Director, visited the Philippines to continue discussions with women affected by the siege and to meet with government, UN and other aid agencies, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the ground to better understand women's needs and priorities in recovery and preventing the recurrence of conflict and violent extremism in their communities, (Matsuzawa, 2017).

Numerous publications reveal that a large number of locally based NGOs, faith-based organizations, and human rights advocacy groups helped. During the siege, the NGO community was diverse. Some organizations were veterans of the humanitarian field, such as the Ranaw Disaster Response and Rehabilitation Assistance Center (RDRRAC), Maradeca, and Ecosystems Work for Essential Benefits (ECOWEB). Many faith-based organizations - Catholic diocese and Protestant church-arms, for example - as well as relative newcomers among Moro professional and youth groups were also present (Hall & Deinla, 2019). In the consequential talks with fellow humanitarian workers that I have had worked with before, there were narratives that civil society and military engagement were characterized with a somehow lack of coordination rather than collaboration and communication.

The need for multi-stakeholders' and youth involvement in peacebuilding Local peacebuilders and government must also see the importance of consolidating efforts of different institutions and local movements to mitigate radicalization and extremist ideology through the institutionalization of peace education, tri-people studies, and peace journalism in all public and private higher institutions and other platforms in the Philippines. Through this, Muslim and indigenous ethnolinguistic groups and their histories, realities, and shared future will be recognized, which will then support interfaith dialogue and develop respect for one another regardless of religious and socio-cultural diversities.

Indeed, the Marawi conflict is the result of long-standing Moro resistance, which emanates from socioeconomic, political, cultural, and religious exclusion. It is a structural and systemic problem that costs lives, causes displacements, and negatively alters the future of people. To address this, it is necessary to adopt a more grassroots-based, people-centered, and intersectional approach in crafting the peace framework where internally displaced and grassroots communities, religious and community leaders, youth, women, academe, and other stakeholders are key actors in the decision-making process. This is in relevance to the concept of "EMANCIPATORY PEACEBUILDING (Cooper et.al, 2011). In realizing this, social workers continue to advocate its core values of human rights enliven in the essence of participation. In realizing this, social workers must ensure that " no one is left behind" in ensuring collaborative efforts amongst peoples.

De Boeck and Honwana (2005) point out that the youth "are at the center of societal interactions and transformations," but are most of the time "placed at the margins of the public sphere and major political, socio-economic, and cultural processes." They show that in a situation where few of the younger population have access to education, employment, health care, and basic services, it is the younger population that is especially vulnerable to the many ongoing societal challenges.

Furthermore, the pandemic has also underscored huge insecurities and suffering experienced by the youth especially out-of-school and displaced youth in Marawi. This fragile state and multilayer burdens faced by young Moro push them to engage in illegal behavior or worse, extremism, for survival. Young people's well-being in conflict situations is a deep concern. The youth have been engulfed by various conflicts, and post-conflict situations face circumstances that substantially alter and shape their lives and prospects.

Hence, involving youth and hearing children's voices in conflict transformation and peace building strategies is one of the many doorsteps to respect children's rights and the youth's essential role in nation-building as future leaders. This view as well assumes that young people are competent citizens with a right to participate in the decisions that affect their lives and a responsibility to serve their communities.


Cooper, N., Turner, M. and Pugh, M. (2011). The end of history and the last liberal peacebuilder: a reply to Roland Paris. Review of International Studies, 37, pp 1995-2007 doi:10.1017/S0260210511000143
Hall, R., & Dienla, I. (2020). The Marawi siege and after: Managing NGO-military relations | The Interpreter. The Marawi Siege and after: Managing NGO-Military Relations |The Interpreter; www.lowy institute.org. lowyinstitute.org
Hincks, J. (2017). ISIS in the Philippines: The Battle for Marawi City. Time USA, LLC. Retrieved from time.com
De Boeck, F. and Honwana, A.(2005) Makers and Breakers. Children and Youth in Postcolonial Africa. Oxford: James Currey Oxford.
Matsuzawa, M. (2017). Marawi crisis: What we know-and don't know-so far. Phil Star Global. Retrieved from tinyurl.com
Muslim, Macapado A, 2005 : Poverty Alleviation and Peace Building in Multi Ethnic Societies: The Need for Multiculturalist Governance in the Philippines.
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Res. 7. Retrieved from 10.21474/IJAR01/8364 World Vision International (2018): World Vision Uses Mobile Technology to Speed Up Cash-for Work Program in Marawi. Retrieved from tinyurl.com