President Duterte 23 May declared martial law in Mindanao after some 100 Abu Sayyaf and Maute Group militants took over large parts of Marawi City, capturing Christians, destroying buildings and freeing prisoners. Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for attack, which followed attempted raid on hideout of ISIS-linked Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Isnilon Hapilon. Over 170,000 individuals forced to flee Marawi fighting as military fought to retake city using aerial strikes; authorities 30 May reported 89 militants, 21 govt forces and nineteen civilians killed in fighting. Duterte said martial law could be extended to entire country if needed. Earlier, air and ground assaults in Maguindanao’s Datu Salibo town 5-11 May reportedly killed 31 Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) members and forced some 24,000 residents to flee. Twenty suspected militants killed in anti-Abu Sayyaf raid in Basilan 11 May. Military 9 May reported at least eight foreign terrorists operating in Lanao Del Sur, including from Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. Abu Sayyaf 25 May ambushed soldiers in Patikul, Sulu, killing one. Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) 25 May ordered New People’s Army (NPA) carry out tactical offensives nationwide and recruit more fighters in response to Duterte’s proclamation of martial law, leading to breakdown of fifth round of peace talks between govt and CPP-NPA-National Democratic Front, scheduled for 27 May-1 June in the Netherlands. Bangsamoro Transition Commission 15-25 May conducted consultations across Mindanao to finalise draft basic law to submit to president’s office first week of June for review. Bangsamoro Coordination Forum including Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) members met in Saudi Arabia 7-8 May, agreed that any attempt by Philippines Congress to draft a basic law not compliant with 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro would be unacceptable. Court 21 May granted MNLF leader Nur Misuari liberty from being served arrest warrants for six months, enabling his free movement and participation in negotiations. Misuari 30 May pledged 5,000 MNLF fighters to assist govt in Marawi; MILF agreed to set up humanitarian corridor for civilians.
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.