Violence and clashes involving New People’s Army (NPA) and Islamic State (ISIS)-linked militants continued, while govt mulled extension of martial law in Mindanao to secure 2019 elections and plebiscite on Bangsamoro Basic Law. Security forces clashed with NPA, armed wing of Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), including in Mindanao, where military reported it had seized control of NPA camp in Surigao del Norte 5 Oct. Military 17 Oct said it had captured five senior NPA leaders at checkpoint in Laguna province, south of Manila, accused of plot to oust Duterte. Alleged NPA attacks included one on road-building project in neighbouring Negros Oriental (centre) 18 Oct; and several deadly attacks on police in various provinces including in Camarines Sur (centre) and Aurora (north of Manila) 16 Oct. Military suggested NPA involvement in 20 Oct killing of nine farmers (including two minors) in Negros Occidental. Military 17 Oct said NPA attempting to incite unrest to push Duterte to declare martial law. Duterte 20 Oct said communist rebels should lay down their arms and would receive benefits including housing in return; communist leader Jose Maria Sison same day said ready to resume peace talks with govt. On one-year anniversary of end of five-month siege of Marawi City by ISIS-linked militants, Bangsamoro activist group reiterated complaints about official rehabilitation of destroyed city and alleged human rights violations by military. Presidential spokesperson 19 Oct said govt may again extend martial law in Mindanao, set to expire 31 Dec. Military continued operations against ISIS-linked Abu Sayyaf in south, including on Jolo island and in Mindanao’s Lanao del Sur, including three marines and seven suspected militants reported killed in clash in Patikul, Sulu 26 Oct. Military 22 Oct reported it had killed alleged key leader of ISIS-linked Ansar Al-Khilafah Philippines (AKP) in Mindanao’s Sarangani province, who they said was involved in 16 Sept explosion in General Santos city. Several killed in clashes between military and ISIS-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Mindanao’s Maguindanao province. UN General Assembly 12 Oct re-elected Philippines to another three-year term on UN Human Rights Council, in move govt said vindicated Duterte’s crackdown on drugs.
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.