Security operations continued against militant groups pledging allegiance to Islamic State (IS). Defence minister 26 Jan reported intelligence showing that Isnilon Hapilon, leader of Abu Sayyaf group and reported IS emir for South East Asia, was moving on IS instructions to southern Lanao del Sur province to expand IS presence, unify extremist groups. Military 29 Jan reported fifteen militants killed, Hapilon seriously injured in airstrikes, Lanao del Sur. Security forces early Jan moved against IS-allied Ansar Al-Khilafah Philippines (AKP) in Sarangani province, reportedly killing leader Mohammad Jaafar Maguid 6 Jan. Police arrested Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Faizal Jaafar in Zamboanga City 27 Jan. President Duterte 27 Jan told MILF and MNLF to deny sanctuary to IS-linked militants, or face military incursions into their territory. Three children killed in bomb in Al-Barka, Basilan 29 Jan; officials blamed Abu Sayyaf. Malaysia 23 Jan reported four arrested linked to Mindanao IS cell. Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said speedy peace process in S Philippines needed to avoid IS militants leaving Syria and Iraq regrouping there. Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza 6 Jan said govt considering constitutional amendments to accommodate adjustments to new Bangsamoro autonomy enabling law. Govt, Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front (CPP/NPA/NDF) peace talks continued in Rome. Following Russian weapons offer, Duterte 7 Jan visited Russian anti-submarine vessel docked in Manila, asked Russia to be ally and protector. (See also South China Sea).
Hopes are high that one of the world’s longest-running civil conflicts can be resolved in the Philippines. The newly-elected president must act on his commitment to the outgoing administration’s promise of autonomy for the southern Bangsamoro (Muslim Nation) population. Failure to do so risks more lawlessness or reigniting the insurgency.
The Philippines has had some recent success in winding down decades-long negotiations with rebel groups, but achieving peace with the country’s biggest insurgency, in Mindanao, requires both new energy and fresh thinking.
The next round of talks between the Philippines’ largest Muslim insurgent group and the government is a crucial step towards implementing a sweeping peace agreement signed in October.
Politics in the Sulu archipelago could be an unforeseen stumbling block for a negotiated peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the southern Philippines.
The Philippine government and Muslim rebels need to take concrete steps to address the precarious situation of indigenous peoples, known as the Lumad, to secure their support for the peace process on the southern island of Mindanao.
The Philippine government is experimenting with a creative but risky new strategy to resolve the conflict in Mindanao.
If [President] Duterte can move this [the peace deal] forward during this honeymoon period rapidly, it has a much better chance of going through. I think it's an opportunity that's a tragedy to lose.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has put his weight unequivocally behind efforts to bring a negotiated end to more than four decades of conflict in the south of the country, but uncertainty is bleeding momentum from the process and the clock is ticking.
Originally published in The Interpreter
Cooperating on oil won't work - but fishing might.
Originally published in The National Interest
The southern Philippines is potentially closer to peace than at any time in the four decades since Muslim insurgents started fighting for independence, but the substantial progress over the past six years is also fragile. The new President, Rodrigo Duterte, needs to build quickly on the foundations laid by the last administration or the process risks collapse.