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.
Two August bomb explosions in the southern Philippines’ Sulu archipelago highlighted how militant networks may be splintered but are deeply entrenched. To keep the long Bangsamoro transition to peace on track, the government should strengthen outreach to local elites and improve cooperation between security services.
Originally published in The Diplomat
Security forces clashed with militant groups in south as well as with communist rebels across country. In Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in south, administration of Cotabato City 15 Dec was officially turned over to BARMM in accordance with Jan 2019 referendum. Clan violence continued at relatively lower levels than previous month, while clashes between insurgents and security forces remained at similar levels. In Maguindanao province, hostilities resumed between members of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and military; elements of BIFF under Kagi Karialan 3 Dec attacked police station and fired shots toward military detachment in Datu Piang town; members of BIFF 9 Dec attacked military detachment in Shariff Aguak town and 13 Dec clashed with military in Northern Kabuntalan municipality; mortar shelling 15 Dec killed one civilian and injured six others in Datu Salibo and parts of Datu Unsay municipalities. In south, implementation of peace agreement with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) remained delayed as main focus was on fighting COVID-19; total cases countrywide rose to over 467,000, with average of 1,000-2,000 new cases daily throughout month. Following military operations against elements of Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) last month, small clashes between soldiers and ASG militants continued in Zamboanga del Norte and Sulu provinces; military 2 Dec clashed with suspected militants in Sibuco municipality; clashes 17 Dec injured at least five soldiers in Patikul municipality; police raid same day killed one militant in Ipil municipality. Meanwhile, clashes between armed forces and communist New People’s Army (NPA) continued in Luzon in north, Visayas in centre and Mindanao in south with at least 27 combatants and civilians killed and three injured throughout month. On island of Negros, unknown gunmen on motorcycles 15 Dec shot and killed a female doctor and her husband who led community’s response to COVID-19 after they were linked to communist rebels.
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.
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.
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.
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