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.
Violence between Islamic State militants and military continued while clashes involving communist rebels occurred in the north and south. In the south, gunshot 7 Feb wounded one military personnel in suspected attack of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao province; Abu Sayyaf militants 11 Feb kidnapped a doctor allegedly to treat a sick leader in Sulu province; suspected bomb expert working for BIFF killed following 12 Feb clash with security forces in Pikit village, North Cotabato province; two BIFF members 21 Feb killed in firefight with military in Maguindanao province; two suspected Abu Sayyaf militants 23 Feb killed by military in Patikul, in Sulu province. Amidst stagnant peace talks with communist rebels, several clashes between military and communist insurgents took place in Luzon and Mindanao throughout month: seven New People’s Army (NPA) suspected rebels 14 Feb killed in clashes with military in Isabela and Ilocos Sur provinces; exchange of fire between local police officers and communist rebels same day in San Narciso, in Quezon province, left two police wounded. Decommissioning process of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members continued with 10,000 combatants successfully decommissioned and more than 1,500 out of 2,000 firearms turned over between late Sept 2019 and Feb 2020. Govt 24 Feb arrested 38 alleged MILF members in possession of weapons in Talakag city, Bukidnon province in Northern Mindanao; most have now been released. Cotabato City Mayor Guiani-Sayadi 7 Feb submitted position paper to President Duterte requesting that Cotabato City be excluded from Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) until end of transition period on 30 June 2022, initial government position stipulated turnover of city will occur in Dec 2020. President Duterte 11 Feb announced termination of 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) which provides for procedures over treatment of U.S. forces inside country.
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.