Military made gains in battle over Marawi City with Islamic State (ISIS)-linked militants from Abu Sayyaf and Maute Group, clearing three militant strongholds including historic Bato Mosque 16 Sept and rescuing five hostages. Military 18 Sept confirmed it had killed three Maute brothers; Omar Maute and Abu Sayyaf/ISIS regional leader Isnilon Hapilon still alive. As of 24 Sept, at least 879 people, including 680 militants and 152 government forces, killed since May, 40-60 hostages remain. Defence minister 25 Sept reported militants’ funds for Marawi operation came partly from ISIS HQ and partly from drugs trade. Govt 15 Sept reported foreign funding for govt reconstruction plan for Marawi has reached around $40mn. Defence minister 27 Sept said govt plans to conduct “post conflict needs assessment” after city has been cleared of militants. Marawi bishop announced that Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) offered to provide security to Christian groups who assist displaced. Duterte 8 Sept said no resumption of peace talks with Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), National Democratic Front (NDF) and New People’s Army (NPA), which broke down in May, without a ceasefire; clashes continued as soldiers 20 Sept killed nine NPA rebels in Nueva Ecija. Duterte 20 Sept agreed to certify as “urgent” the stalled Bangsamoro Transition Commission version of Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), after discussing BBL’s status in congress with MILF earlier in month. Duterte also met Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chair Nur Misuari in Davao 16 Sept; Misuari reiterated MNLF’s support for nationwide federalism and offer of help in campaign against extremism in Mindanao. House majority leader 29 Sept confirmed that BBL has been filed as House Bill 6475 and referred to Committees on Local Government, Muslim Affairs and Peace, Reconciliation and Unity for deliberations.
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.
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.