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.
Peace in the Philippines’ majority-Muslim region requires disarming 40,000 ex-rebels and encouraging economic development where they live. But progress toward these goals, together called “normalisation”, is sputtering. Both Manila and the former insurgents need to hit the accelerator lest the process lose momentum entirely.
Violence persisted in south between militant groups and security forces, prompting tens of thousands to flee in Maguindanao. In Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in south, low-level violence between insurgents and security forces continued. In Maguindanao, suspected elements of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) 3 and 17-19 March repeatedly attacked military outposts, leaving four militants dead and three soldiers injured, and displacing 70,000 civilians; military 18 March retaliated with ground offensive, including mortar shelling, that reportedly killed 20 combatants and displaced 60,000 locals from ten towns; five BIFF combatants 17 March surrendered. Govt security forces 6 March clashed with elements of Daulah Islamiyah in Madalum, Lanao del Sur, in five-hour-long gunfire exchange. Smaller cohorts of Islamic State (ISIS)-linked Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) 14, 16 March continued to surrender to govt, especially in Sulu province; govt forces 19 March rescued three Indonesian hostages held by ASG elements in Tawi-Tawi province. Military 20 March killed key ASG commander Majan Sahidjuan, aka “Apo Mike”. Clashes between communist New People’s Army and armed forces throughout March continued in Visayas islands in centre, Mindanao island in south and Luzon island in north, leaving at least 13 dead and six injured. In south, implementation of peace agreement with Moro Islamic Liberation Front remained stalled.
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.
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.
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 recently established Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) offers new hope for a peaceful future for its majority-Muslim population after decades of war. The success of BARMM, and more broadly, the peace process, could send positive ripple effects across the wider region.
Originally published in Philippine Strategic Forum
The glacial pace of the city’s reconstruction could fuel disillusionment among the region’s population.
Originally published in The Diplomat
It is a challenge to represent South Madaya Proper, a district in Marawi, the Philippines’ historic “Islamic city”, depopulated two years ago in a battle between government forces and jihadists. To do so, a young council chair says, she acts as both official and activist.
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.