Clashes between Communist New People’s Army (NPA) and security forces continued in Mindanao and in central regions as govt continued efforts to initiate local level negotiations following termination of peace talks with Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), while military operations continued against Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and Abu Sayyaf Group in Mindanao. Speaking at campaign rally for 13 May general (not presidential) elections 13 April, President Duterte said he would create new peace panel to manage local-level negotiations with NPA. National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, established by Executive Order in Dec 2018, met for first time 15 April; Duterte ordered that cabinet member be assigned to each region to oversee peace and development efforts. Jose Maria Sison, exiled founding chair of CPP which has long rejected idea of local-level talks, described peace panel as “war panel”. Several military and suspected NPA fighters killed in clashes during month, including two NPA killed in Davao del Sur 5 April; three suspected NPA in Negros Occidental 17 April; at least six soldiers in Samar 23 April. UN Humanitarian Agency reported almost 50,000 displaced by military operations against BIFF and remnants of Maute Group in Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur during last week of April. Military continued offensives against Abu Sayyaf in Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi; several police, soldiers and suspected Abu Sayyaf fighters killed in clashes; at least three Abu Sayyaf and two hostages killed following rescue attempt off Banguingui, Simisa Island 5 April. Security forces arrested two brothers in Cagayan, northern Luzon 28 March, first arrest of suspected ISIS sympathisers outside Mindanao. As part of “normalisation” annex of Bangsamoro peace agreement, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) 29 March announced it had submitted names of 12,000 fighters to be decommissioned, representing 30% of total fighters to be decommissioned. Police 4 April killed four MILF in “misencounter” in Lanao del Sur; MILF said it would investigate. Tensions increased with China over maritime disputes (see 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.
The Philippine city of Marawi, on Mindanao island, remains in ruins more than a year after a five-month jihadist takeover. To avoid fuelling militancy, Manila must involve locals in reconstruction, implement a 2014 deal with Mindanao separatists and go beyond efforts to counter jihadist ideology.
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.