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.
Elections in 2022 will bring an autonomous regional government to the Bangsamoro, a part of the southern Philippines long riven by rebellion. To prepare for the 2014 peace deal’s last test, the area’s interim self-rule entity needs to accommodate the big families that dominate its politics.
Low-intensity fighting between security forces and communist rebels continued, while violence persisted in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in south. Clashes between communist New People’s Army (NPA) and armed forces in Luzon in north, Visayas in centre and Mindanao in south continued, although at lower level of violence compared to April-May due to weakening of some NPA front units; at least 18 combatants and civilians killed throughout month. In BARMM, clan feuds continued in Pikit and Pagalungan municipalities, often involving Moro Islamic Liberation Front commanders, leaving several houses destroyed and hundreds displaced. In South Upi municipality, Maguindanao province, IED 22 June exploded targeting the town’s mayor who was unharmed. Clashes between soldiers and elements of Islamic State (ISIS)-linked Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) 7-13 June continued in multiple provinces: four soldiers and two ASG militants killed and 17 injured in Pakitul, in Sulu province 5 June; one ASG militant killed during operations against drug syndicates in Bongao municipality in Tawi-Tawi province 7 June; two policemen killed and two injured after armed men attacked Parang police station in Sulu province 13 June. In Maguindanao province, members of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters 9 June killed one soldier in Sultan Kudarat town. Despite delay in formal aspects of peace process due to COVID-19 outbreak, Bangsamoro Transition Authority 16 June resumed parliamentary sessions after temporary COVID-19 suspension. House of Representatives and Senate 8 June agreed on controversial “Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020” to be signed by President Duterte into law; human rights groups and other critics highlighted concern that police and military could resort to extended detention and more unchecked arrests. Authorities 15 June indicted social news network Rappler.com CEO Maria Ressa for cyber-libel; journalists, NGOs and UN Special Rapporteur on Free Speech David Kaye condemned verdict as attack on freedom of press. FM Teodoro Locsin Jr. 2 June announced govt suspended 11 Feb notice to terminate Visiting Forces Agreement with U.S., citing “political and other developments in the region.”
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.
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.