President Duterte 4 Feb announced govt withdrawal from peace talks with Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) insurgents, resumed since Aug 2016 with Norwegian facilitation. Move came amid increased clashes and as govt refused communist demand to released 400 imprisoned insurgents. Communist insurgents 1 Feb declared end to ceasefire and reportedly killed three unarmed soldiers; govt 3 Feb lifted its unilateral ceasefire. Senior military officer 26 Feb reported at least fourteen rebels killed in clashes following ceasefire collapse; seven govt soldiers also reported killed. Communists called for continuation of talks, 19 Feb offered to free six POWs; presidential palace 20 Feb listed ceasefire conditions communists needed to meet before Duterte would reopen talks, including, inter alia, end to extortion and ambushes on military personnel. Duterte early Feb named expanded 21-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) to draft new enabling law for proposed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, agreed in March 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro; BTC includes eleven MILF figures. Presidential adviser on peace process Jesus Dureza also said Bangsamoro Basic Law drafted under Aquino govt could be basis for new law; BTC, officially launched in Davao City 24 Feb, must submit draft to Congress by July. Defence Minister Delfin Lorenzana 9 Feb said links between IS and Philippines militants “very strong”; senior military office 26 Feb said some 50 IS cells operating in Mindanao. Several Abu Sayyaf fighters reported killed in ongoing operations during month; Abu Sayyaf attacks and bombings also continued. FM Perfecto Yasay said Abu Sayyaf likely behind 19 Feb attack on Vietnamese cargo ship near Baguan island in which one crew member killed. Govt reported Abu Sayyaf beheaded German hostage in Sulu 26 Feb after ransom deadline lapsed.
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.