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.
Clashes between authorities and communist rebels continued and govt conducted raids against Abu Sayyaf militants in south. Govt troops killed vice chairman of New People’s Army (NPA) 13 June in Sorsogon province; same day, suspected NPA fighters attacked police station in Mindanao province in south. Govt task force to end communist insurgency, created by President Duterte under executive order in 2018, reported NPA members 15 June killed two human rights activists in Sorsogon. In Negros Occidental, military 20 June killed two NPA militants in shoot-out in Santa Catalina town while one soldier died in clash with NPA in Manjuyod next day. Authorities early June arrested six suspected Abu Sayyaf members in separate raids in south; military announced deployment of 1,700 additional troops in Jolo to fight militants. Malaysian officials said Filipino gang members with suspected links to Abu Sayyaf militants abducted ten fishermen off Borneo island 18 June, taking them to southern Philippines; police 22 June reported that some hostages were freed in Sulu province, though total released remained unclear. Suicide bomb at military base in Jolo killed five and injured twelve 28 June; Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for attack while military said ISIS-linked Abu Sayyaf likely behind attack. Police in Cotabato province 10 June shot dead an ISIS-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter militant who had escaped detention in 2018. Security forces 15 June arrested two militants in Quezon city who took part in Marawi City siege of 2017. Filipino fishing boat sank following 9 June collision with Chinese vessel in contested waters in South China Sea (see South China Sea).
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.
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.
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.