Preparations began for plebiscite on Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), while attacks and clashes continued between military and Islamic State (ISIS)-linked militant groups and communist New People’s Army. At ceremonial signing of BOL 6 Aug, President Duterte said he hoped it will “finally end decades of conflict that is rooted in the Bangsamoro’s right to self-determination and recognition of their unique identity”. Referendum to ratify BOL expected to take place between Nov and Jan 2019. Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal 10 Aug reported group had begun decommissioning MILF firearms, with second phase to take place after plebiscite and appointment of Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), interim govt until first Bangsamoro elections. MILF 21 Aug selected its Chairman Murad Ebrahim as interim chief minister of BTA. Electoral commission 22 Aug said preparations on track for referendum, as efforts began to encourage residents to register to vote and inform them on BOL content. Govt and MILF 9 Aug agreed to cooperate on rehabilitation of Marawi City, heavily damaged during five-month siege in 2017. Clashes between military and ISIS-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Front (BIFF) rebel group continued in Mindanao; included two suspected militants killed carrying bomb in M’lang, North Cotabato province 8 Aug; and seven suspected militants killed in clash in Maguindanao province 20 Aug; clashes between rival BIFF factions reportedly displaced scores in Shariff Saydona Mustapha town late month. Homemade bomb exploded during festival in Isulan town, Sultan Kudarat province 28 Aug, killing three and injuring dozens; military blamed BIFF, ISIS claimed responsibility. Clashes also continued with ISIS-linked Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG): security forces killed ASG commander in Patikul town, Sulu, 15 Aug; 22 soldiers wounded and one ASG fighter killed in Patikul 23 Aug. ASG suspected of kidnapping ten-year-old son of official in Jolo mid-month. Unidentified gunmen killed six people and abducted pro-govt militia leader and his wife in Siriwai, Zamboanga del Norte province, 31 Aug. With peace talks suspended, military also continued to clash with communist New People’s Army, including seven rebels reported killed in clash in Antique (centre) 15 Aug; several soldiers also killed in clashes, including three in Masbate (centre) 3 Aug.
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.