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RIDO and its Influence on the Academe, NGOs and the Military
By Svenja Schmelcher*
Posted 28 February 2007

Svenja at Balay Mindanaw. 
Photo: Bobby Timonera

Traditional conflict settlement procedures are becoming of more and more interest for local NGOs, state institutions and even foreign players. But why is this the case and what do they get involved in? Two papers are reflecting on this. One is focusing on traditional conflict handling mechanisms of feuds in Muslim society, and the other in the Indigenous Peoples’ (IP) society (in process). Actually, a third one should be written about Christian society. Why are feuds so abundant and deadly in Christian society as well, and are there traditional procedures to solve them? But unfortunately, not much research has been done about this topic. Minority groups always seem to be of more interest.

This paper is reflecting on ridos in Muslim communities in the western parts of Mindanao. Rido is the Moro term for feud or vendetta. At least three characteristics shape this particular kind of conflict: the long duration, repetitive killings and large scale family involvement. Like any other conflict and its settlement procedure, rido is embedded in a complex environment and, in the case of Mindanao, a complex conflict environment. And because any environment influences people and their behaviour, the article starts with summing up this surrounding world briefly. Then it will continue with the conflict, its causes, impact and the settlement procedure. At the end the article will show why and how new stakeholders are getting involved in the conflict and its traditional settlement procedure.

Historical and present aspects of the conflict environment in Mindanao

Mindanao and its distinct history of immigration, colonisation and power relations have created a complex conflict environment. Some conflicts already lasted for such a long time that the phrase “endemic conflicts” (TAF) has been used.

The immigration of three very different peoples is often seen as a heritage that has led to many of the conflicts in Mindanao because it has changed power relations quite dramatically over the centuries. In a first wave of migration, diverse indigenous peoples1 (IP) settled in Mindanao. Muslim immigrants arrived as early as the 14th century and are today a heterogeneous community composed of 13 ethnic groups (Rodil) such as the Maguindanao, the Maranao and the Tausug. Even though the Spaniards and the Americans were trying to invade Mindanao, it was only after gaining independence from these colonizers that Mindanao was finally conquered. The most successful strategy to really make the Muslim-dominated Mindanao a Philippine governed territory was the resettlement of Filipinos of Christian belief since the second half of the 20th century. Over the decades Mindanao was made a primarily Christian island. While first the Moros2 have influenced or dominated some IP communities, the Christian settlers subjugated both of them. Till today the relationship between these different cultural groups is tense and often very racist. Hence it is appropriate to talk about an ongoing cultural violence3 (Galtung) in Mindanao. Violence in this context stands for a negative judgment and treatment of people only due to their cultural background.

Rido caused the burning and abandonement of this village in Bayang, Lanao del Sur. Photo: Bobby Timonera

Interwoven into these different communities -- the IPs, the Moros and the Christian settlers -- are four so called revolutionary groups. Two of them see themselves as the voice of the Bangsamoro. Their activities are rated as “separatist movements” (TAF). The first organized Moro revolutionary group in Mindanao is the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front), formed in the late 1960s. Because its founder is Tausug, most of the members are Tausugs as well. They have pursued an independent Mindanao but settled, after two decades of fighting, for five provinces, the so called ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao). Many MNLF members, however, were very unhappy with this achievement. Early on in the Moro struggle for self determination, some MNLF members who had differences with MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari formed their own group, the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), in 1981. Here the originator is Maguindanaon and hence most members are as well. Till today they are fighting for self-determination in all Moro dominated provinces.

The two other groups come from a long tradition of communist movements in the Philippines. The CPP/NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines/National People’s Army) is seen as an insurgency (TAF). This group can be found all over the Philippines and is also very strong in Mindanao. Some members of this group have later distanced themselves from the ideology and practices of NPA and have established a separate rebel group in Mindanao, known as the RPM-M (Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa ng Mindanao). They are mainly pushing for development and see the government as the main obstacle and reason why development does not take place. The CPP/NPA is generally pursuing “deserters” and therefore actively fights the RPMM.

Mindanao is also known for some declared terrorist groups. The Abu Sayyaf is probably the most well known group, but others like Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and the Pentagon Gang are also active in the western parts of Mindanao, especially the Sulu islands and the south-central part of mainland Mindanao.

All of these groups are involved in an armed conflict with the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines). Due to these and other conflicts within Mindanao, people get displaced easily. In 2003, 400,000 were internally displaced (IDPs) within ARMM and 160,000 in 20054 only because of clashes between the MILF and AFP.

But Mindanao is not only well known for its abundant and diverse conflicts; it is also known for its poverty. Most of the poorest provinces of the Philippines are in Mindanao. Poverty and unequal power relations are factors that Galtung sums up under the term structural violence (see footnote 3).

Again, why are all these background information important to understand rido and its handling mechanisms? One can argue that pressure caused by the surroundings -- may it be due to power relations, corruption, poverty or fights between conflicting parties -- has effects on the people, their own conflicts and conflict handling mechanisms. This outside pressure can create tension that enforces conflicting behaviour not just within an individual but also the community at large. Hence it is influencing ridos as well.

But looking at the history and at the present conflicts, some changes in the conflict constellations have happened over time: from conflicts between Christians and Muslims to conflicts between rebels and the military to conflicts between or within clans (Dayag-Laylo). And indeed, even though outside pressure is still manifold, clan violence is seen “as more pertinent in the daily lives of the people” than the other forms of violence and that “the issue of clan violence is becoming all the more complicated when mixed with separatism, banditry, and military involvement” (TAF).

What is seen to be a rido and how common is it?

Even though feuds are common all over the Philippines, it seems to be twice as high in ARMM (Vitug). Vitug also writes that in one province in ARMM, there is no town without a rido and that clan wars seem to have increased recently due to an augmented distribution of “loose firearms, the absence of effective courts, and the weak local leaders”. Actually, clan wars are seen as killer number one in the ARMM area. The conflicts between the military and the rebel groups only come second (Vitug).

The duration of rido can vary. Anything between a few months and a few decades is possible. Fischeder writes that one rido lasted up to six generations.

Most of the time rido is seen as a conflict between two families or clans that can be of very large number. But rido is not limited to conflict between clans at all. Very often it is a conflict within one extended family (Bagayaua, 2004). But one way or the other, the pattern of the conflict is always the same. It starts with an act (most of the time done by an individual) that is seen as an offence by somebody else. The interpretation about the gravity of the offence by the offended is the deciding factor for the next step. If it is seen as severe and the response is to kill the offender, it is most likely that this will continue in a series of mutual killings. At this point the conflict turns into a rido. Hence rido is an act of retaliation or blood vengeance of members of one group against an opposing other.

Potential targets or victims can be any adult male member of the family while the “degree of kinship is irrelevant” (Fischeder). If a series of killings has started, the next victim should be higher in position and social status than the last one (Vitug). Children and women are exempted – in theory. Someone who kills a woman on purpose is perceived as a coward (Bagayaua, 2004). But exceptions exist and it will be pointed out later that with the increased use of larger weapons victims are becoming more and more random.

What can cause a rido?

The causes of a rido have two or even three dimensions. There is the initial deed itself and, on the other hand, the interpretation and hence the cultural context of the offended. Interestingly enough some articles dug deeper and came to a different interpretation of the causes, making the distinction between causes and root causes, the latter has to be looked for externally. That can well be seen as a third dimension. But how do initial deeds, the cultural context and the potential external root causes look like?

Fischeder sums up some initial deeds that can trigger of a conflict, for example “petty disagreements, misunderstandings, gossip, insult, temper, competition in politics (election), (sexual) harassment, rape, pre-marital relationship, quarrels over dowry, land disputes, theft”. Another article actually stresses the role of women. Women are often blamed for causing a rido, like when tricking a man into marriage. Or in another case women have caused a rido because “of rumour-mongering by one that the other has earlier led a ‘loose life’ by having boyfriends” (Gutoc).

For an outsider it might be difficult to understand that gossip, as well as rape, can both lead to murder and the circle of violence, hence a rido. Therefore, one has to look at the second cause, and that is the cultural context. Here the concept of maratabat is a crucial factor. Within the Maranao language the term stands for pride, honour, dignity or self-esteem and determines the behaviour pattern and the social graces of people (Fischeder). Maratabat is not just individual in nature but projected onto the family in large. Fischeder writes “maratabat is a guiding principle for every Maranao regardless of sex, status or age. It is actually an important part of the socialization process of children already”. Maranaos are said to be very sensitive so a mere nothing might trigger violence (Fischeder + Bagayaua). The journalist Samira Gutoc has first-hand experience with this: “Mentioning the family names of Maranaos even for an article is a sensitive matter. I have been verbally harassed for reporting on a family’s defeat in the election.”

But initial deeds, their interpretation and cultural context still do not explain rido fully. As rido becomes more and more frequent, some people see the difficult economic situation and a lack of governance as the root causes for most ridos nowadays. Fighting over limited resources (Vitug) and difficulties to pursue their own livelihood (Gutoc + Arguillas) are seen as underlying causes of the conflict. At the same time the absenteeism of town officials (Arguillas) and functioning institutions inflame the situation. If criminals are not being punished, people protect themselves and take justice into their own hands.

What is the impact of rido on a clan and the community?

Once a rido has started the impact on a family and even the community at large is manifold. Fischeder writes that during a rido, every member of a family has to take extra precautions that disturb daily routine. Security, especially at night, has to be provided or men have to hide completely and have to leave women and children behind. Even evacuation and moving to a safe residence far away might be necessary. Property can be destroyed and income reduced. Because targets of high status are preferred, it is often the breadwinner who is in danger. That way the opponent group can cripple the enemy financially (Vitug). Also the education of children gets neglected which can have far reaching consequences. And even though women, children and outsiders are normally excluded, these barriers seem to loosen up. Cases of wilful murder of a teenager and a woman are reported (Gutoc). With the increase of more and bigger arms such as machine guns, random murder increases too (Timonera + Arguillas).

Therefore not just the conflicting parties but the community as a whole is suffering. On top of random killings, public property and surrounding houses are getting destroyed. In one case 53 houses got burned (Gutoc). The captain of that community also sees fear as a destructive factor: “Rido has destroyed us because of the fear that at any hour, rido would strike” (Gutoc).

But the impact of rido does not stop with the family and the community. It even has a national dimension: it threatens the peace talks between the government and the MILF (Arguillas + Canuday + Bagayaua, 2005). As members of the feuding clans might be closely related to either government or military officials on one side or members of the MILF on the other side, both forces are easily dragged into the conflict. This can lead to a “full-blown war” (Arguillas).

If and in whatever way the government is dragged into a conflict, it will cost the taxpayers millions of pesos (Arguillas). And not just war is costly, but peace is as well. If the government supports an amicable settlement local officials often have to look for resources to help in rebuilding houses or raising the blood money that is requested by the offended party (Arguillas + Vitug). In Sulu “the province spent about P2.75 million in the last three years to settle family feuds” (Vitug). Here feuds are already seen as counterproductive because they take time and resources away. On top of that, they cause a brain drain and scare entrepreneurs away (Vitug). Underdevelopment follows promptly.

Settlement of rido

Feuding Maranaos settle a long-running rido in Iligan City by swearing upon the Koran. Photo: Bobby Timonera

In general, three different roads to conflict settlement are possible amongst the Bangsamoro: customary law, Shari’ah or the Philippine law. According to Burton & Co. the choice itself can present “a dilemma for the Meranao, as preference for one form may brand a person as outcast, infidel or unpatriotic”. As already mentioned the Philippine law is seen as corrupt (Vitug) and slow, sometimes dragging on for years and is still not achieving reconciliation. This is probably the main reason why groups return to customary laws.

Even though the scale of a rido can have very different dimensions and even though the government might be dragged into the conflict or conflict settlement, the settlement through customary law always shows some common characteristics within Muslim communities. Of importance are the family members who are supposed to be included in the settlement, the choice of negotiators or mediators and the procedure itself.

The Family

It is important that all adult members of the opposing groups have to be involved and, if possible, have to be present during the settlement. Interestingly enough, one article states that the initiative for a settlement can never come from a man: “It is an insult for the family of a man if he is the one to initiate peace talks. […] It is like losing your manly pride” (Bagayaua, 2004). So once a woman has initiated the beginning of a settlement, all clan members are obliged to help. If not, they can never expect help in return (Vitug).

The Mediators

The people who are chosen to mediate in the process of conflict settlement are women and (most of the time) men who are highly respected by both parties. Mediators are mainly elders of the community or family, respected government officials, religious leaders or even NGO workers. In Muslim conflict settlement, knowledge of the Koran is of advantage and importance because citations are frequent during the procedure (Bagayaua, 2004). It is also important that mediators are of some wealth as it is their role too to support the settlement financially. Bagayaua gives the example that a mediator had to buy the land of one conflict party in order to help them in raising the blood money and later sold it back to them at a much lower price. She also stresses the potential danger mediators are exposed to. If they fail, they can be caught in the crossfire.

The Procedure

Once the settlement is initiated and the mediators are agreed upon, their first task is to settle the amount of blood money that has to be paid to the alleged victim. Fischeder has the most detailed description of the procedure. She explains that in a Maranao settlement procedure, the mediator or offender is sending ginger and money as a token of confession within a black, red and white cloth. Black symbolizes evil spirits, red the aggression and hot temper and white a good relationship. Ginger shall help to chase away the bad spirit. With this gesture, the offender is out on bail and has now time to look for the blood money that can be up to 50,000 pesos. Gutoc even mentions sums between 125,000 and 300,000 pesos depending on “gender, class or stature of the family and extent of loss to the family (such as being the breadwinner of the family)”. Also, if a woman got murdered, her family might go for the higher price (Bagayaua, 2004).

Once the blood money has been agreed upon, a ritual gathering of the two clans follows. The settlement gets celebrated through a “fiesta-like public event” (Gutoc). Fischeder describes that at the beginning of the ceremony, speeches of leaders confirm the will of the feuding parties to restore the relationship. The ceremonial leader presents the genealogy of families, retracts their bloodlines and discloses their common descent. A joint meal, the kandori, follows. This shall cleanse the hearts of both parties so that the spirits of the descendents can go to heaven. After that, the so-called “ganta” ceremony starts. The ganta itself is a measuring cup that symbolizes justice. It contains some eggs that represent the heads of the offending parties. Fischeder explains that if anyone will break the agreement, their heads will break just as easily as eggs. “Close to the ‘Ganta’ is a small light that stands for the eyes of the assaulting party. In case they violate the agreement they will go blind” (Fischeder). The agreement will be then read aloud. After that, a traditional leader will introduce attendants to the following procedure: “the opposing parties are asked now to group in order to stretch the rattan cord held by all clan representatives. The rattan cord symbolizes a snake/cobra that will come to life if one of the parties involved will break the agreement. After cutting the cord on a piece of wood placed on the ‘Ganta’ both groups will exchange their half of the rattan” (Fischeder).

Gutoc witnessed that “Pacifying elders, mostly male, spoke lengthily about common ancestry, kasusulai, to appease the anger of the feuding parties, who were ready for the kill”. In another paper, it is explained that in a Moro ritual, maratabat is playing a special role again. As maratabat is not individual but includes the extended family, it is important “that the mediator appease the maratabat of the offended first as it may pose a hindrance to its resolution” (Burton). A mediator explains that “Maranaos would be told to remember the pact of their ancestors in the 15th century sultanate system that invoked their being one people and that feuds were ‘cursed’ if they split the Maranaos” (Gutoc).

In Moro tradition the ritual finds its closing with a swearing upon the Koran that no further hostilities would ensure (Bagayaua + Vitug + Fischeder). Fischeder explains that for those who have touched the Koran “or the shoulder of the ones in the first row in order to be part of the vow, it is a solemn oath. Hence, none of them will ever break the agreement. However, family members who were not present or too young to participate are exempted from the peace accord”. The ceremony ends with a closing prayer.

But settlement is not necessarily the same as solution. A mediator cited by Vitug says “that the solution to rido is livelihood and education – plus taking away the firearms”.

Strength and Weaknesses of Traditional Conflict Settlement and the Involvement of NGOs and the Military

Even though it is the strengths of customary law and its procedure that get the interest of other stakeholders, weaknesses in customary law exist too. As customary law is not able to settle all ridos, one has to look for reasons that explain this shortcoming. Fischeder gives some examples why ridos continue despite traditional conflict intervention or why they might break out anew. She describes that in some cases the blood money cannot be raised so that the whole process gets stuck. Here customary law seems to lack flexibility in the settlement procedure as it depends extremely on blood money. It can also happen that there no proper traditional leader who knows the procedure and is accepted by both sides can be found. Often they simply do not exist anymore because traditions are getting weaker – or traditional leaders are not accepted because traditions are not respected anymore. In times of rapid cultural change, customary law gets left behind as it cannot keep up with the speed and dynamics of external influences. But it is difficult to regard this as weakness as it happens only in times of fast cultural change. Fischeder also mentions that after years of peace between two parties, a fight might break out again because the excluded members are not bound to the treaty. Here customary law lacks inclusiveness. It also does not deal with judging the appropriateness of means in a conflict, e.g., why should a small insult lead to murder.

Soldiers undergo a conflict management training, which includes dealing with ridos, at the headquarters of the Army's 1st "Tabak" Division. Photo: Bobby Timonera

Further, one can argue that customary law does not address the root causes of the conflict. It sees the conflict as an isolated case for which a result is needed that both parties can agree upon. But at the same time a new rido breaks out in the same community and for the same reason only amongst different groups. While customary law shows a way in settling one conflict quite effectively, it does not address the cultural and economical changes (like the increase in poverty) that influence the conflict behaviour and enhance aggressive behaviour. In the case of rido this seems to be a clear weakness but one has to raise the question in what way any law can deal with such changes?

On the contrary, what are the advantages of customary law in a conflict settlement procedure compared to others laws? It has to be mentioned again that the choice of customary law does not seem to be entirely voluntary. The absence and misuse of state institutions and officials make people turn to customary law in order to seek justice. Therefore one advantage of customary law is clearly its availability and the trust people have in the procedure, the mediators and the result – a result that all members of the conflict accept and respect in the future. And in order to create a healthy and strong community, conflicts need to be settled in a quick and lasting manner. Customary law seems to be so far the best way of granting this.

But defining an advantage through the absence of official institutions has far reaching implications. In countries where the state is weak and structural violence (such as poverty and corruption), as well as cultural violence (e.g. racism), is abundant, people do have to look for ways that deal with local crimes and criminals effectively. Customary law seems to fill this gap. And this is exactly the interest of the other stakeholders.

All of the new stakeholders are in some way or another involved in development projects or peace and order affairs in Mindanao. For an NGO that is implementing development projects in remote and conflict prone areas, peace is a prerequisite for any sustainable project. Hence their interests in peace and a quick and effective way of solving conflicts are obvious. NGOs are now using traditions in order to strengthen communities because this has been the best way to deal with inside as well as outside pressure and to bring development.

International organisations with large scale development projects have exactly the same interests. Additionally they are supporting academic research about conflicts and local settlement procedures to find out different ways of how to handle conflict situations. The Asia Foundation (TAF) conducted the largest research on rido so far and is publishing the findings mid this year. Their work will again find its way into academic institutions in Mindanao, the Philippines and most certainly also overseas.

The interests of police and military are even more obvious. Looking for other ways to achieve peace, they are having a closer look at traditional ways too. Today they are already teaching their staff traditional conflict handling mechanisms in order to make them more sensitive towards the conflict environment and more effective in dealing with it (BMFI + Arguillas). Balay Mindanaw Foundation, together with professors from the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT) and some high-ranking officers from the AFP have been and still are working on curricula to train soldiers and officers different conflict handling mechanisms. This year a series of trainings will be conducted starting off with members of the CAFGU (Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units) and their cadres. Further trainings including other ranks are planned to be held later this year.

Because traditional conflict handling mechanisms are finding their way into civil and government organisations, they are not only getting professionalized but also institutionalised on a large scale. And maybe the involvement of NGOs, the academe, the police and military might in return help to strengthen the communities and their traditions in the long run. The appreciation of outsiders for traditions might help to keep them alive.

While customary law in conflict settlement has obviously some weaknesses, its advantages are even more evident. So far no other law is as efficient and effective. Quite noticeable is also the influence it has on today’s society and organisations in Mindanao. Customary law and traditions just started to become of interest for a wide range of people and institutions and it will be interesting to see how it will inspire the complex conflict environment in Mindanao in the future.

1In Mindanao the term ‘Lumad’ is also used to refer to the indigenous people of the island. But I heard that today IPs find this term ‘Lumad’ degrading and prefer to call themselves ‘indigenous people’. Hence I will use this term throughout this paper.

2The Spaniards introduced the term to refer to the Muslim inhabitants of Mindanao. Today it gets proudly used by the Moros themselves, e.g. Bangsamoro (Moro nation).

3Johan Galtung, known as the founder of peace studies, is arguing that violence has three faces: the direct, physical violence and the indirect violence such as cultural violence (e.g. racism) and structural violence (e.g. unequal power relations, poverty, corruption etc.). Therefore his definition of peace is: “Peace = direct peace + structural peace + cultural peace. But the definition has a basic shortcoming: it is too static. So let me try this one: Peace is what we have when creative conflict transformation can take place non-violently”. 

4IDMC (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre)


Arguillas, Carolyn O. (2005): Cheap Guns, Costly Feuds. In: Newsbreak, 17. January 2005

Bagayaua, Gemma B. (2004): Women Who Dare. In: Newsbreak, 20. December 2004

Bagayaua, Gemma B. (2005): It’s All About Power. In: Newsbreak, 28. February 2005

BMFI (Balay Mindanaw Foundation, Inc.)

Burton, Erlinda M.; Moctar I. Matuan; Guimba Poingan; Jay Rey G. Alovera (2005): Executive Summary. Choices of Response to Inter-Kin Goup Conflict in Northern Mindanao

Canuday, Jowel F. (2004): They win the peace. In: Newsbreak, 8. November 2004

Dagay-Laylo, Carijane C (2004): Exploring Conflict Management in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao

Fischeder, Susanne (2006): ‘Ridos’ in the Hinterland Barangays of Iligan City. (unpublished)

Marites Danguilan Vitug (2005): The Big Kill. In: Newsbreak, 25. April 2005

Rodil, Rudi (2006): (Power Point; unpublished)

Samira Gutoc (2004): In Cold Blood. In: Newsbreak, 22. November 2004

TAF Asia Foundation (2005): Conflict Management in the Philippines

*Svenja Schmelcher is a peace worker of the German Development Service assigned at BMFI for two years (2005-2007). She is currently part of the technical staff of the Independent secretariat of the GRP-RPMM Peace Process.


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