After decades of insurgency, the government of the Philippines is making efforts to deliver peace to Mindanao in the south of the country. Although the creation of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority in 2019 can be seen as an initial success on the road to peace, this entity is faced with a difficult task in managing the transition until the 2022 elections. Violence continues between the government and several armed groups, including ISIS-affiliated elements and the communist New People's Army. Through field research and advocacy, Crisis Group works to support the peace processes, promote strategies designed to limit the space for jihadist recruitment and mobilisation, and strengthen social cohesion in Mindanao.
Elections in 2022 will bring an autonomous regional government to the Bangsamoro, a part of the southern Philippines long riven by rebellion. To prepare for the 2014 peace deal’s last test, the area’s interim self-rule entity needs to accommodate the big families that dominate its politics.
In south, violence continued unabated, while concerns over spread of COVID-19 delayed implementation of peace agreement. In Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), clan feuds continued, including: in Palimbang on Mindanao island before temporary ceasefire agreement reached on 11 July; in Tipo-Tipo municipality on Basilan island, where firefight involving members of local army and paramilitary 3 July broke out, killing four and injuring four; in Pigcawayan municipality in North Cotabato, Mindanao, where an ambush 10 July left four men dead; in Datu municipality, Minguadanao, Mindanao island, where members of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and local politician’s supporters 14 July engaged in tit-for-tat gunfights in Montawal municipality, wounding two combatants; and in South Upi municipality, Minguadanao, where tensions between members of MILF and indigenous Teduray natives over land persisted. In Maguindanao province, violence involving Islamist militants continued with slight escalation between govt and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters: notably, insurgents of Ansara Khilafa Philippines 1 July clashed with police operatives in Polomolok town in South Cotabato province, killing one militant; bomb explosion targeting police car 10 July killed two policemen and injured four in Shariff Aguak municipality; army infantry force 30 July exchanged fire with militants near Datu Salibo town, leaving two soldiers and about ten militants dead. Clashes between govt forces and elements of Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf Group continued in Sulu province, including killing of five Abu Sayyaf members in Patikul municipality on 6 July. In south, concerns over spike in COVID-19 cases delayed implementation of peace agreement between govt and MILF as interim govt focused on responding to coronavirus. Efforts to rehabilitate Marawi city also stagnated once again due to govt’s focus on contagion; task force Bangon Marawi on 15 July announced govt however remained on track to complete city’s rehabilitation by Dec 2021. Govt 1 July signed agreement with EU for €25mn in Support to Bangsamoro Transition program to help Bangsamoro executive and parliament’s capacity during transition. Meanwhile, clashes between communist New People’s Army and armed forces in Visayas in centre, Mindanao in south, and Luzon in north continued at comparable levels as in June, killing at least 13 combatants and civilians in total throughout month.
The new autonomous Bangsamoro region in Muslim Mindanao promises to address longstanding local grievances and drivers of militancy in the Philippines. But the Bangsamoro leadership faces steep challenges in disarming thousands of former militants, reining in other Islamist groups and transitioning from guerrillas to government.
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.
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.