Ongoing battle in Marawi City between govt troops and Islamic State (ISIS)-linked militants from Abu Sayyaf and Maute Group, which began 23 May, reported to have claimed 630 casualties (mostly militants) and, as of 20 July, 466,000 displaced. Military 28 July estimated 60 extremists remain, limited to two barangays (districts) in Marawi City. Surviving military described fighters as “well-equipped” and employing fighting style seen in Iraq. Police 5 July arrested Monaliza “Monay” Romato, niece of Maute matriarch and suspected financier and logistics supporter of ISIS-linked militants. Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict 21 July reported ISIS has funnelled money and recruits to help local militants seize territory. Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim 18 July refused any talks with Maute group. Local Muslim leader 17 July alleged that Marawi City siege co-leader Abdullah Maute is still alive, Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon escaped Marawi end-May. Congress 22 July agreed to extend martial law in Mindanao until end 2017. Suspected Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters 29 July fired on helicopter carrying Maguindanao governor, who was left unscathed. President Duterte 19 July again cancelled peace talks with Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), National Democratic Front (NDF) and New People’s Army (NPA), which had been set to resume in Aug, after members of Presidential Security Group were wounded in encounter with NPA in North Cotabato. Duterte 21 July declared he would order offensive against NPA after Marawi Battle is won. Firefights between govt forces and NPA raged in provinces of Negros Oriental, Sorsogon, Pangasinan, Agusan Del Sur following breakdown of talks. Bangsamoro Transition Commission 17 July submitted first draft of Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to president. Institute for Autonomy and Governance based in Cotabato said delays in BBL’s passage a driver for extremist recruitment.
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.