LANAO DEL SUR, Philippines (IRIN / June 24, 2009) - The murder of Helen Accoon, a college principal, on the southern conflict-ridden island of Mindanao in 2008, shocked many people as it seemed to mark an escalation in clan feuding, known as 'rido', according to the United Nations' Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN).
The 'rido' code of honour does not normally allow attacks on women.
Accoon was gunned down by an unidentified assailant while walking in Marawi City, the provincial capital of Lanao del Sur. The victim was the wife of Macadadaya Accon, the son of the mayor of Buadi Puso Buntong Municipality.
Wilfredo Torres, editor of a book entitled Rido: Clan Feuding and Conflict Management in Mindanao, defines 'rido' as “armed hostilities between families and kinship groups”.
The Mindanao provinces of Lanao de Sur, Maguindanao, Lanao del Norte and Sulu have been identified as having the highest number of 'rido' cases.
Deeply rooted in the Muslim culture of honour, “'rido' is characterized by a series of retaliatory acts of violence to avenge an affront or injustice - whether real or perceived”, said Torres.
Such acts could be sparked by petty theft or insults, political rivalries, land disputes or more serious matters like homicide. Improper overtures to, or advances on, a woman could also lead to 'rido', he said.
Armed conflict less of a threat?
Many in Mindanao view 'rido' as more of a threat than the decades-long conflict, which has left thousands dead and many more displaced.
A 2005 study by the Social Weather Station, a public opinion body which tracks economic, political and social indicators, indicated that people in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) were more concerned about 'rido' than armed conflict.
According to the survey, 'rido' has been experienced by 28 percent of ARMM families, compared to only 16 percent of families nationwide.
The Philippine National Police in ARMM estimate that 5,500 people have died in 'rido'-related cases over the past three decades - equivalent to about 183 deaths per year.
Police Superintendent Gani Paramata Asira in Marawi City, said there were 218 cases of 'rido' in 2006, but that the numbers are an underestimation.
“It is rare that anyone will press charges or stand as a witness for fear of incriminating other members of their family,” he said, adding that data for more recent years were incomplete.
Poverty and poor go
vernance contribute to 'rido'. However, certain elements unique to the island such as the proliferation of firearms, lack of law enforcers and an inefficient justice system exacerbate the situation.
Abdul Hamidullah Atar is the executive director of Reconciliatory Initiatives for Development Opportunities (R.I.D.O, Inc.), an NGO which aims to resolve and reduce clan wars.
“The Philippine judicial system is based on the American one. It is not adapted to the sensitivities of Muslim culture. Every clan wants to collect guns to purvey its own brand of justice because we cannot get justice elsewhere,” Atar said.
“Much attention is given to the ongoing conflict between the Philippine government and the MILF [Mindanao Islamic Liberation Front], when there are probably more casualties resulting from 'rido',” he added.
R.I.D.O, Inc. tries to resolve clan wars by examining genealogy: neutral relatives of conflicting parties are identified as possible mediators.
Code of honour
But the 'rido' code of honour normally bars the killing of women or children.
“Women, like children and the elderly, are traditionally seen as defenceless and therefore untouchable in 'rido'. They may be collateral damage, but not the target,” Samira Gutoc, a Muslim rights activist and former secretary-general of the Philippine Muslim Women’s Council, told IRIN.
Gutoc said that in the Amai Pakpak hospital in Marawi City, there were 50 'rido'-related incidents between December 2008 and February 2009.
“What is fearsome is that women like Helen Accoon have become recent targets of this vendetta phenomenon. Killing women is a more powerful way of creating fear,” Gutoc said.
Asnawi Abdullah, a surgeon at the Amai Pakpak hospital, said no official records of 'rido' cases were kept at the hospital.
“We don’t ask questions. Our priority is to stabilize the patient… We want to avoid a situation where a patient is finished off on hospital premises. It hasn’t happened yet, but there is always the fear it could.”
IRIN is part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, but its services are editorially independent.