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Case studies: Non-state armed groups in the Philippines – Assessing the effectiveness of the Arms Trade Treaty, Part 9

The Philippines signed the ATT in 2013, the first Southeast Asian state to do so. However, the process of integrating the systems and legislation to comply with the ATT took a number of years, meaning the Philippines did not ratify the ATT until March 2022, with it entering into force in June 2022.[i] They are the first ASEAN state to join the ATT and it is hoped this may motivate further ASEAN countries to join and ratify, particularly the six others who have already signed the ATT.

One of the key problems with arms in the Philippines is the availability of small arms and light weapons, which has meant that non-state groups, and even individuals, can easily access such weapons, for use in attacks, as a threat, or as protection. Non-state groups are the main cause of civilian casualties from manufactured explosive weapons in the Philippines. Though, it should be noted, that the Philippines’ ‘War on Drugs’ and other acts of state violence have also resulted in the deaths of thousands and had further impacts, which we are unable to explore here.[ii]

This case study will examine the impact of manufactured explosive weapon use in the Philippines, particularly grenade incidents. The section will then explore the impact of the ATT and the process of implementation and ratification on this type of violence in the Philippines.

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Civilian deaths and injuries from Philippines explosive weapon use

The above table indicates the harm seen each year from the use of manufactured explosive weapons across the Philippines. The vast majority of these casualties are due to grenade use; with 772 civilian casualties caused by grenades in this period.

Mortars were responsible for 44 civilian casualties, RPGs for 11, and airstrikes and air-dropped bombs for 10. Of all civilian casualties from manufactured explosive weapons, state actors were responsible for 14, non-state actors for 360 and for 468 it was unclear – many with an unknown perpetrator are likely to be due to explosive weapon use by non-state actors. Many are also likely to be caused by individuals, with weapons so easily available.

The vast majority of incidents were recorded without the perpetrating group identified. Some of the key non-state groups which are named in the data though, are: the New People’s Army (NPA), the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and Abu Sayyaf. Many of the incidents were also due to the use of grenades in gang-related violence or personal violence. 73 civilian casualties also occurred as a result of accidental grenade explosions, indicating the further harm as a result of the wide-scale availability.

As there is not the same level of violence as has been seen in some of the other case studies and the weapons used are lighter and with a smaller blast radius, it can be harder to identify the reverberating impacts. Nevertheless, the below will indicate some of the further consequences of light explosive weapons use by non-state actors in the Philippines, as it remains the case that these weapons are linked to harm that goes beyond deaths and injuries.

Impact on infrastructure and communities

AOAV recorded five incidents of grenade use and one of mortar use which resulted in reported damage to infrastructure as well as casualties, between 2012 and 2021. These mostly resulted in damage to homes in residential areas; one damaged a military outpost. As it is grenades and other light weapons, as well as small arms, that are most commonly used, the level of damage to infrastructure is likely to be significantly less than with the heavy explosive weapons more commonly used in the previous case studies. The casualties, as well as fear and other psychological harm caused, when these weapons are used in populated areas nonetheless remains significant.

AOAV has frequently recorded the use of these weapons in incidents which could demonstrate the use of these weapons to cause fear and intimidation, particularly during election periods, as well as during family disputes.

Impact on health and well-being

AOAV recorded at least three incidents of manufactured explosive weapon use at hospitals. Two were grenade incidents, causing four casualties in total, and one saw four mortars hit Zamboanga Medical Center in 2013, causing 11 injuries.

There is little further information on the long-term impact for healthcare. Nevertheless, we know that many of the casualties will require lifelong care or face more frequent hospital visits due to their injuries. Of the 842 civilian casualties recorded from manufactured explosive weapon use in the Philippines, the vast majority, 753 (or 89%), were injured. At least 81 of the casualties (dead and injured) were children; the injured among them may require health interventions throughout their life. Injuries are one of the leading causes of lost disability-adjusted life years in the Philippines.[iii]

Further, the regions worst impacted see the lowest levels of healthcare personnel compared to the population; with the country’s healthcare system already understaffed.[iv]

Impact on education

AOAV recorded at least four grenade attacks at schools between 2012 and 2021. The attacks resulted in 31 civilian casualties and 2 armed personnel casualties. Many children were casualties in these attacks; one child was killed. At least two of these attacks occurred during an election period when the schools were also being used as polling stations. Elections often see an increase in violence in the Philippines.

The GCPEA also recorded some additional incidents, without casualties, including: an RPG attack at a college in Maguindanao province on November 18th 2017; a grenade attack on a field next to an elementary school in Pagalungan, in Maguindanao, during local elections on May 14th 2018; an incident where an armed group set off a landmine in front of a school in Barangay San Vincente, Dimasalang town, Masbate province, on June 4th 2018; and, a mortar attack on a school in Patikul town in Sulu province, while medical services were being provided there by military and NGO personnel, on February 16th 2019.[v] In 2021, the GCPEA also identified a grenade attack at Bicol University in Albay province, which caused slight damage.[vi]

Additionally, indigenous schools, or Lumad schools, have often been targeted by state aggression and paramilitary groups which has forced many to close.[vii

Impact of the ATT

While the impact of these arms may not seem as serious as seen in the previous two case studies, the Philippines highlights other aspects where the ATT could have an impact in preventing harm from explosive weapons: providing international assistance and preventing diversion. Therefore, this case study will not examine which states export arms to the Philippines,[viii] but instead, what impact the Philippines’ ATT implementation process had on this harm.

A M60CMA 60mm commando mortar of the Philippine Army, 23 March 2022, Philippine Army Facebook official page, Public Affairs Office, Philippine Army.

The problem

As has already been acknowledged, there is a wide availability of small arms and light weapons across the Philippines, and it is these light weapons, particularly grenades, which have been responsible for causing the harm described above.

According to Small Arms Survey research carried out in 2013,[ix] the year the Philippines signed the ATT, three key groups, the NPA, Abu Sayyaf and MILF, had weapon reserves which include light explosive weapons – other groups and individuals across the Philippines also have access to these weapons.

Among the types of manufactured explosive weapons that the NPA had in their reserves were mortars, grenade launchers, grenades, RPGs and landmines. The MILF and Abu Sayyaf had mortars, RPGs and grenade launchers.

Of 1,000 small arms, light weapons and rounds of light weapons ammunition seized by the Philippines government between 2007 and 2012, 13% were grenades and grenade launchers and 12% were landmines.[x] The majority were firearms while a small amount were rockets, RPGs, or mortars. It should be noted a number of these explosive weapons were craft-produced.

Grenades accounted for the most common manufactured explosive weapon seized, which could account for the scale of grenade incidents in the Philippines in the years following 2012, as recorded by AOAV. Nearly all of the grenade launchers seized were US-designed under-barrel M203 or hand-held, single-shot M79 launchers. Some of the IEDs had also been constructed using 60mm and 81mm mortar rounds.

Also worth noting, is that nearly half of the mortars captured were seized from ‘the Ampatuans’, members and supporters of a powerful political family in Maguindanao.[xi]

The weapons appear to have mostly been sourced from military and police depots, such as through attack and looting[xii] Reports indicate that soldiers and police have been a key source of grenades on the illicit market.[xiii]


There have been many instances of support and assistance to the Philippines as part of their ATT implementation.[xiv] Most have focused on technical and legal assistance to help implement the ATT, as well as building capacity.

The United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific (UNRCPD), for example, in 2017 completed a two-month project working with the Philippines to strengthen national capacity to control weapons transfers and prevent their illicit trade and diversion.[xv] Some of the specific areas of focus were physical security and stockpile management; this would directly address the ways in which arms have made their way into non-state group hands in the Philippines and, if addressed properly, could lead to a reduction in the violence outlined above.

The Philippines has also been supported by assistance in improving export systems, such as the European Union Outreach Programme. This programme saw expert visits, organised dialogues, regional seminars, and other initiatives organised with the Philippines in order to assist in their ATT implementation, and utilise expertise and experience on a range of areas related to arms transfers and challenges.[xvi]


It seems that this process of implementation and the international assistance provided, not only saw the Philippines ratify the ATT in 2022, but also appears to have helped contribute to a reduction of violence from explosive weapons.

AOAV’s data shows that the number of grenade attacks, and the number of casualties caused as a result, have consistently declined in recent years. In 2021, AOAV recorded 12 casualties (10 civilian and 2 armed actors) caused by 4 grenade incidents; a fall of 95% from 238 casualties (214 civilians and 28 armed actors) in 2012.

Further indicators, like total homicide deaths, also seem to suggest steps taken by the Philippines to implement the ATT and prevent the diversion of weapons have led to a reduction in violence. While homicide rates remain high, with 4,764 in 2019, this is the lowest rate seen in over two decades.[xvii] Though it should also be borne in mind that the violent crackdown by the Philippines government as part of their ‘War on Drugs’ may have contributed to this, though these actions themselves resulted in thousands of deaths, which are not captured by these figures.

Control Arms coalition members with Libran N. Cabactulan, Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the United Nations after signing the Arms Trade Treaty. CREDIT: Champion Hamilton, 27 September 2013. Source: controlarms/9969008953/ (Control Arms)

Navigate the report:

Assessing the effectiveness of the Arms Trade Treaty – Executive Summary

Part 1: Nation-by-nation review analysis

Part 2: Who is causing the most harm?

Part 3: Who is providing arms?

Part 4: Thematic examination

Part 5: Conclusion

Part 6: Recommendations 

Part 7: Case studies – Myanmar’s military

Part 8: Case studies – Saudi Arabia in Yemen

Part 9: Case studies – Non-state armed groups in the Philippines

Part 10: Case studies – the Taliban

Part 11: Case studies – China before and after ATT accession

Part 12: Case studies – the United Kingdom, from key ATT architect to key violator?

[i] Control Arms, ‘The Philippines joins the Arms Trade Treaty’, 29 March 2022, (accessed 07 Jan 2023)

[ii] You can read more on the harm from the Philippines’ ‘War on Drugs’ here: Human Rights Watch, ‘“License to Kill”: Philippine Police Killings in Duterte’s “War on Drugs”’, 02 March 2017, (accessed 07 Jan 2023), Ratcliffe, R. and L. Bayani, ‘Victims of Duterte’s drug war in Philippines exhumed as leases run out on their graves ‘, 23 May 2022, Guardian, (accessed 07 Jan 2023)

[iii] Data collected from the WHO ‘The Global Health Observatory: Global health estimates: Leading causes of DALYs’, (accessed 07 Jan 2023), and WHO, 2018. ‘The Philippines Health System Review’, Health Systems in Transition, Vol. 8, No.2.

[iv] WHO, 2018. ‘The Philippines Health System Review’, Health Systems in Transition, Vol. 8, No.2.

[v] Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, 2020, ‘EDUCATION UNDER ATTACK 2020’,  (accessed 07 Jan 2023) 

[vi] Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, 2022, ‘EDUCATION UNDER ATTACK 2022’ (accessed 07 Jan 2023) 

[vii] Kennedy, C. ‘Fighting For An Education: Lumad Schools In The Philippines Under Attack’, 02 March 2021, Organization for World Peace, (accessed 07 Jan 2023) 

[viii] Though providing arms to the Philippines is not without its concerns under the ATT.

[ix] Schroeder, M. and Small Arms Survey, 2013. Captured and counted: illicit weapons in Mexico and the Philippines. Small Arms Survey 2013: Everyday Dangers, pp.283-317. (accessed 07 Jan 2023) 

[x] Schroeder, M. and Small Arms Survey, 2013. Captured and counted: illicit weapons in Mexico and the Philippines. Small Arms Survey 2013: Everyday Dangers, pp.283-317. (accessed 07 Jan 2023) 

[xi] Schroeder, M. and Small Arms Survey, 2013. Captured and counted: illicit weapons in Mexico and the Philippines. Small Arms Survey 2013: Everyday Dangers, pp.283-317. (accessed 07 Jan 2023) 

[xii] Schroeder, M. and Small Arms Survey, 2013. Captured and counted: illicit weapons in Mexico and the Philippines. Small Arms Survey 2013: Everyday Dangers, pp.283-317. (accessed 07 Jan 2023) 

[xiii] ABS-CBN News, ‘’Cops, soldiers sell MK-2 grenades’’, 05 October 2010, (accessed 07 Jan 2023); Falcatan, R., ‘Military captain, police major arrested for gun smuggling, extortion’, 23 March 2021, Rappler, (accessed 07 Jan 2023);  Garcia, T., ‘Westmincom to probe soldiers nabbed for gun smuggling’, 24 March 2021, PNA, 07 Jan 2023); Philstar, ‘PNP: Masbate cop linked to illegal arms trade killed in buy-bust’, 24 October 2021, (accessed 07 Jan 2023); Parry, R.L. ‘Duterte police ‘smuggled guns to Philippines jihadists’’, 09 June 2017, Times, (accessed 07 Jan 2023) 

[xiv], ‘Reporting Challenges and Assistance Needs IN THE ASIA-PACIFIC REGION’, 2014, (accessed 07 Jan 2023) 

[xv] UN, ‘Technical and Legal Assistance Project to Support the Philippines in the Implementation of the UN PoA and the ATT’, 28 March 2017, (accessed 07 Jan 2023) 

[xvi] Control Arms, ‘The Philippines joins the Arms Trade Treaty’, 29 March 2022, (accessed 07 Jan 2023) [xvii] Data collected from ‘Philippines – Gun Facts, Figures and the law’: (accessed 07 Jan 2023)