After decades of insurgency, the government of the Philippines is making efforts to deliver peace to Mindanao in the south of the country. Although the creation of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority in 2019 can be seen as an initial success on the road to peace, this entity is faced with a difficult task in managing the transition until the 2022 elections. Violence continues between the government and several armed groups, including ISIS-affiliated elements and the communist New People's Army. Through field research and advocacy, Crisis Group works to support the peace processes, promote strategies designed to limit the space for jihadist recruitment and mobilisation, and strengthen social cohesion in Mindanao.
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.
Military operations continued against Islamist militants, including Islamic State (ISIS)-linked Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in south, notably in interior parts of Maguindanao province and Sulu province’s Patikul town, while communist rebels clashed with armed forces in several regions. In BARMM, armed forces 23-24 Nov killed six ASG members, including a major leader, in two separate encounters in Sulu province. Army operations against BIFF and ASG led to temporary alliances between sub-groups, notably ASG’s Radullan Sahiron and Hatib Sawadjaan. Army 25 Nov, with help from local Moro National Liberation Front, rescued British national and his wife, kidnapped by ASG 4 Oct, near Parang town, Sulu province. Political violence also resurgent, including ambush by unidentified perpetrators on Lanao del Sur mayor in Buadipuso-Buntong town 10 Nov that killed police escort and injured two civilians. As part of Bangsamoro peace process implementation, decommissioning of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) combatants continued, with more than 7,000 members laying down arms since late Sept. Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) continued its work, with working groups focusing on drafting priority legislation, including administrative code, election code and local govt code. BARMM end-Nov also approved 65.6bn Peso budget for 2020. While surrenders of communist New People’s Army (NPA) members to armed forces continued, clashes took place in Nueva Ecija and Quezon (Luzon, north), northern and eastern Samar island (Visayas, centre) and Agusan del Sur and Bukidnon Sultan Kudarat (Mindanao, south). NPA attacks included explosive device in Borongan in eastern Samar, killing six soldiers and injuring twenty others 12 Nov. Security forces early Nov arrested over 40 NPA militants in Negros island (Visayas).
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.