Following informal Norwegian-mediated talks in the Netherlands, govt and Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) 11 March agreed to restore ceasefires and resume peace talks suspended early Feb. President Duterte 19 March affirmed conditions for talks, set for 2-6 April; NPA must agree to bilateral ceasefire, stop demanding army leave areas they claim, release police and military hostages and stop collecting “revolutionary taxes”. Violence continued, including four police and one soldier killed by NPA 8 March in Davao del Sur; eight rebels and two soldiers reported killed in 30 March clash in Quezon province. NDF 31 March said they would not restore unilateral ceasefire by end-month as previously planned, following govt refusal to reciprocate. Expanded Bangsamoro Transition Commission, which includes Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) representatives and other Mindanao stakeholders, 6 March held first plenary session in Cotabato to revise Bangsamoro Basic Law, make it more inclusive. Govt and MILF 21 March signed Terms of Reference for implementing panels for Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and extended mandate for International Monitoring Team. Military reported 21 Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) killed in clashes with security forces in Maguindanao 13-16 March, said BIFF were sheltering foreign terrorists; BIFF denied claims. Clashes between military and Abu Sayyaf group continued; military 1 March reportedly killed five believed responsible for late Feb killing of German hostage. Duterte 9 March urged Muslim area mayors to help fight Abu Sayyaf, threatened to impose martial law if they did not. Police 21 March said Islamic State (ISIS)-linked Maute Group were present in capital region Metro Manila, claimed interception of IED intended for terrorist attack in Quezon City; army said it had not detected presence of group in capital.
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.