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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.”
Despite ongoing COVID-19 concerns, fighting between security forces and communist rebels resumed; meanwhile, violence in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) persisted in south. After ceasefire between govt and New People’s Army (NPA) fell apart late April, counter-insurgency operations and rebel ambushes on military presence resurfaced in Mindanao, Visayas and Luzon, leaving at least 30 combatants and civilians dead; at least 26 communist rebels 13-19 May killed in clashes in Surigao del Sur and Agusan del Norte following military offensives. In south, implementation of peace agreement with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) progressed slowly as main focus was on fighting COVID-19. At local level, clashes between clans reignited in Pikit municipality (part of BARMM) and in Matalam municipality (Cotabato province), leaving several houses burned and displacing hundreds. Clashes between soldiers and elements of Islamic State (ISIS)-linked Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) continued, leaving 3 May two ASG dead in Tandubas, Tawi-Tawi province, and 16 May three militants dead in Patikul, Sulu province. In Maguindanao province, members of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) 3 May killed two soldiers in Datu Hoffer town; clash between BIFF and military 18-19 May also left one soldier and two militants dead in Datu Saudi-Ampatuan. Nationwide, National Telecommunications Commission 5 May ordered largest Philippine broadcaster ABS-CBN to halt operations after govt 4 May refused to renew 25-year legislative franchise upon expiration; govt critics condemned decision, calling it illegal and “clampdown of the freedom of the press”; govt’s imposed COVID-19 lockdown in COVID-affected areas extended until 31 May.
Despite March ceasefire declaration between govt and communist insurgency, counter-insurgency operations against communist rebels continued in Mindanao, Visayas and Luzon; meanwhile, clashes between Islamic State (ISIS)-linked Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) militants and military persisted in south. Following end of agreed ceasefire, govt security forces 16 April announced continuation of combat operations against communist rebels, while NPA extended ceasefire until 30 April to “prioritize the fight against the pandemic”; govt 17 April accused rebels of 17 ceasefire violations, and NPA 13 April accused military of at least 13. President Duterte 27 April cancelled peace talks with communist rebels; 24 April threatened to impose martial law if rebels disrupt channelling of aid. In Maguindanao province, clashes between clans continued, including in Pagalungan, Talitay and Datu Saudi-Ampatuan municipalities, leaving six civilians injured and 200 families displaced. Clash between ASG militants and military 17 April left 11 soldiers dead and 14 wounded in Sulu province; six ASG members 23 April killed in clash with military in Patikul town in Sulu, eight soldiers wounded. By 28 April, five Indonesian hostages still with ASG.
Amid COVID-19 outbreak, ceasefire was declared between army and communist rebels, while violence continued in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). President Duterte 18 March declared unilateral ceasefire with communist insurgency 19 March-15 April, ending all offensive operations; founding chairman of Communist Party of the Philippines, Jose Maria Sison, 23 March recommended to all communist rebels to declare unilateral truce in direct response to UN’s call for global ceasefire to address COVID-19 epidemic; New People’s Army rebels 24 March declared they would observe ceasefire until 15 April. Several clashes took place early March between govt and communist insurgents in Luzon killing three rebels and injuring one soldier; ambush on Negros Island injured four soldiers. Congress 24 March granted country-wide emergency powers to Duterte to fight COVID-19 spread. In the South, clashes 2-6 March between Dawlah Islamiyah Torayfie Group (DITG) of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and military left at least 14 BIFF members killed and four soldiers dead in Maguindanao province. Feud between warring commanders of Moro Islamic Liberation Front 14 March re-erupted in Datu Saudi-Ampatuan village, Maguindanao. Unknown gunmen 16 March killed Maguindanao town councillor. Following 4 March meeting on “state of return for residents of Marawi city” between Senate’s Special Committee on Marawi City Rehabilitation and President Duterte, latter ordered the Budget Department to hasten the release of funds and called for establishment of a second military camp in Marawi, also vowed to visit Marawi regularly and monitor progress; while decision to have new military camp not yet final, resumption of idea could trigger tensions among local population.
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.
Violence continued in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), while less clashes were reported between army and communist rebels throughout country. During operation in Indanan, BARMM’s Sulu province 15 Jan, military rescued last of three Indonesian fishermen taken hostage by suspected Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) militants in Sept 2019. Suspected ASG militants also abducted eight Indonesian fishermen 16 Jan in Sabah, Malaysia, later releasing three; incident prompted clashes between suspected ASG militants and military 17-19 Jan in Parang town, Sulu province, which left one suspected militant dead, and in Tawi Tawi province, which killed four suspected militants allegedly affiliated with ASG or criminal group. Low-level political violence ongoing in BARMM, including killing of state official by unidentified assailants 11 Jan and of village chief 28 Jan, both in Cotabato City. Communal tensions persisted; notably, two rivalling Moro National Liberation Front factions clashed 15 Jan in Tabuan-Lasa, BARMM’s Basilan province. De facto truce between govt and communist New People’s Army (NPA) held after holiday ceasefire ended 7 Jan, clashes however took place in Camarines Norte province (Luzon island, north), North Cotabato and Surigao del Norte and Sultan Kudarat provinces (Mindanao island, south). Arrests and surrenders of NPA rebels continued across country: police arrested three suspected NPA rebels in Butuan city (northern Mindanao island) 11 Jan, and NPA rebels surrendered in Quezon province (Luzon island) 15 Jan. As part of first-ever Chinese Coast Guard’s port call in capital Manila, coast guards from China and Philippines 15 Jan conducted joint military exercises on “search and rescue and combating fire at sea”.
Fighting between armed forces and Islamist groups Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and pro-Islamic State (ISIS) Dawlah Islamiyah Torayfie Group (DITG) continued in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in south, while communist rebels clashed with armed forces in several regions. Military early Dec clashed with BIFF and DITG militants in Maguindanao province, notably Shariff Aguak and Shariff Saydona Mustapha municipalities; army mid-Dec said troops had seized almost a dozen BIFF camps in area; suspected Islamist militants 22 Dec launched simultaneous bomb attacks against security forces and civilians in Upi town in Maguindanao province, Cotabato city, and Libungan town in neighbouring Cotabato province, wounding at least 22 including eight soldiers. Implementation of Bangsamoro peace process continued with working groups inside Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) focusing on drafting priority legislation, such as election code or local govt code. BTA’s Intergovernmental-Relations body, expected to settle disputes between national and Bangsamoro govts, held first meeting 16 Dec to discuss its terms of reference. As part of peace process implementation, decommissioning of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) combatants continued, with up to 9,000 members laying down arms since late Sept. Martial law in Mindanao, implemented since 2017, expired 31 Dec but state of emergency remained in place. Court in capital Manila 19 Dec sentenced five to life in prison for planning murder of 58 people including members of rival clan and journalists in Maguindanao in 2009. Clashes between communist New People’s Army (NPA) members and armed forces continued early Dec notably in Luzon in north, Visayas in centre and Mindanao in south. Labour secretary and former chairman of govt panel for negotiations with communists, Silvestre Bello III, and founder of Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) Jose Maria Sison talked about potential opening to resume peace talks in Europe 7-8 Dec. Govt and CPP 22 Dec declared holiday ceasefire 23 Dec-7 Jan.
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).
Clashes continued between armed forces and militants, including Islamic State (ISIS)-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and Abu Sayyaf group in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in south, and communist rebels in several regions. In BARMM’s Maguindanao province, encounter between govt-aligned Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and BIFF faction under Abu Toraify reportedly killed seven MILF and four BIFF in Shariff Saidona town 4 Oct. Armed forces 6 Oct killed suspected BIFF member believed to be involved in 4 Oct clash at checkpoint in Pandag, Maguindanao. Armed forces and MILF 19 Oct launched operation to dislodge Toraify Group from Maguindanao-North Cotabato border; following operation, roadside bombing 24 Oct injured seven MILF members; ISIS claimed attack, announced three deaths. In BARMM’s Sulu province, armed forces killed suspected member of Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and captured another after intense firefight 6 Oct in Sitio Kan Pataw, Talipao municipality. MILF reportedly continued to talk to two BIFF factions (under Kagi Karialan and Commander Bungos) but groups apparently remain unwilling to return to MILF or disband. Security on periphery of BARMM remained volatile; British national and his wife were kidnapped in Tukuran, Zamboanga del Sur province 4 Oct; ransom demand raised later in month, although no group claimed responsibility. Implementation of Bangsamoro peace process continued with meeting of peace implementing panels involving govt and MILF in Davao 19-20 Oct, while President Duterte mid-Oct named govt delegates to Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA)’s Intergovernmental-Relations body, expected to settle disputes between national and Bangsamoro govts; MILF appointed members months earlier. Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) reported it had decommissioned over 2,000 MILF combatants since early Sept. Clashes between govt and communist New People’s Army (NPA) occurred in several areas, including Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental, Quezon (centre), Sarangani (south), Isabela (north), and Las Navas, Samar island, as govt continued counter-insurgency efforts despite local peace dialogues; several NPA and govt forces reported killed.
Clashes continued between armed forces and militants, including Abu Sayyaf in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in south, and communist rebels in centre. In BARMM’s Sulu province, security operations against Abu Sayyaf 10 Sept resulted in one suspected militant killed. Army 16 Sept reported it had recovered approximately 700 kg of bomb components belonging to Abu Sayyaf in Sulu. Military 21 Sept reported three Abu Sayyaf members surrendered in Basilan province. U.S. State Department 11 Sept added Abu Sayyaf leader Hatib Hadjan Sawadjaan to its global terrorist list, along with suspected militant Almaida Marani Salvin. In centre, encounter between Communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels and armed forces in Iloilo 20 Sept left one suspected NPA dead, further clashes 25 Sept resulted in no govt casualties. Military 28 Sept killed suspected NPA commander in shoot-out in Bukidnon province. Security forces 17 Sept arrested two NPA during clashes in Negros Occidental; authorities same day arrested high-ranking NPA leader in Laguna province. Islamic State (ISIS)-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) 7 Sept reportedly carried out bomb attack that wounded eight in Sultan Kudarat province in Mindanao; military 23 Sept arrested suspected Swedish militant and two local militants. UN Human Rights Council 19 Sept released report naming Philippines in list of countries linked to growing reprisals against victims of human rights abuses and activists; govt said it “condemns all acts of intimidation and reprisals”.
Security forces continued to clash with Abu Sayyaf militants and communist rebels. Suspected Abu Sayyaf militants 12 Aug killed two soldiers and one child during ambush in Mindanao province. Abu Sayyaf militants 19 Aug wounded two police officers during ambush in Sulu. In continued anti-militant operations, police 15 Aug arrested suspected Abu Sayyaf member in Pasay City. President Duterte 8 Aug said he had ordered recruitment and training of up to 10,000 elite special forces to combat threat of terrorism, which he claimed “is getting bigger”. Suspected communist New People’s Army (NPA) members 15 Aug killed two pro-govt militiamen in Abra province. Military 18 Aug arrested three NPA rebels and seized manufacturing site of explosive devices in Negros Occidental. Duterte 27 Aug in speech urged military to end communist insurgency, “serving notice” there will be “a little trouble” in coming months. Philippines 9 and 19 Aug filed diplomatic protests with China over maritime disputes (see South China Sea).
Clashes involving militants and communist rebels continued. In Negros Oriental province (centre), communist New People’s Army (NPA) 18 July killed four police officers; in subsequent days unidentified assailants killed at least ten people, including a total of seven in separate incidents on 25 July. Police arrested four suspected NPA members during operations 26 and 29 July. Govt 29 July announced deployment of over 300 Special Action Force troops to province. Military reported clashes with Abu Sayyaf on southern island Basilan including suspected Abu Sayyaf militants 15 July killing one and wounding four members of security forces during attack on military auxiliary forces, next day military reportedly killed mid-level commander during raid and arrested two other militants. Civilian killed and two others injured during 25 July military air and ground assault in North Cotabato targeted at splinter group of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) militants, at least one militant reported killed. Military 30 July reported it killed at least nine suspected members of BIFF in late-July clashes in Mindanao province, local media reported one soldier dead. Military 23 July reported at least seven foreign militants running training camp for suicide bombers in southern provinces of Sulu, Maguindanao, and Basilan; foreign suspects supposedly “embedded” with Islamic State (ISIS)-linked Abu Sayyaf and BIFF militant groups. Authorities 12 and 17 July arrested two suspected members of Abu Sayyaf in separate raids in Manila and Quezon City respectively. Authorities 23 July arrested two alleged ISIS sympathisers in General Santos City, recovering explosives and bomb-making materials. Numerous militants surrendered to authorities between 15 and 22 July, including over 200 former NPA rebels along borders of North Cotabato, Bukidnon, and Davao del Sur provinces. Govt 31 July filed protest with China over maritime disputes (see South China Sea).
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).
Legislative and local elections accompanied by some incidents of violence in Mindanao and elsewhere, while clashes involving militant groups and communist rebels continued. NGO International Alert 22 May reported 144 election-related incidents involving violence in Mindanao 11-13 May, most involving rival clans, including use of grenades and IEDs as well as fights between rival supporters, although with less gun violence than past; warned of potential for revenge killings. Nationally, police reported overall significant decline in election-related violence compared with previous votes, citing shift to vote-buying by rival candidates; police reported 33 election-related killings nationwide between mid-April and 13 May; in results, President Duterte secured firm majority in Senate and held lower house. Govt and MILF implementing panels 21 May handed over Proposed Transition Plan (PTP) to Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), including codes for BTA to legislate on electoral, local govt, education, administrative, revenue and civil services procedures; BTA chief Murad Ebrahim called handover another milestone in Bangsamoro peace process. Clashes continued between military and Abu Sayyaf in Sulu where military killed one suspected militant 5 May; six militants killed and fifteen wounded on 26 May in fighting in Patikul; two children killed and six civilians wounded in clash. Military said Dutch national held captive for over seven years by Abu Sayyaf was killed by militant group 31 May while trying to escape. Military reported continued fighting between govt troops and New People’s Army leading to several suspected rebels killed, including: one in Las Navas, Northern Samar (north) 5 May; five in Caraga region (north east) 19 May; at least three in Occidental Mindoro province (centre) 22 May.
Clashes between Communist New People’s Army (NPA) and security forces continued in Mindanao and in central regions as govt continued efforts to initiate local level negotiations following termination of peace talks with Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), while military operations continued against Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and Abu Sayyaf Group in Mindanao. Speaking at campaign rally for 13 May general (not presidential) elections 13 April, President Duterte said he would create new peace panel to manage local-level negotiations with NPA. National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, established by Executive Order in Dec 2018, met for first time 15 April; Duterte ordered that cabinet member be assigned to each region to oversee peace and development efforts. Jose Maria Sison, exiled founding chair of CPP which has long rejected idea of local-level talks, described peace panel as “war panel”. Several military and suspected NPA fighters killed in clashes during month, including two NPA killed in Davao del Sur 5 April; three suspected NPA in Negros Occidental 17 April; at least six soldiers in Samar 23 April. UN Humanitarian Agency reported almost 50,000 displaced by military operations against BIFF and remnants of Maute Group in Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur during last week of April. Military continued offensives against Abu Sayyaf in Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi; several police, soldiers and suspected Abu Sayyaf fighters killed in clashes; at least three Abu Sayyaf and two hostages killed following rescue attempt off Banguingui, Simisa Island 5 April. Security forces arrested two brothers in Cagayan, northern Luzon 28 March, first arrest of suspected ISIS sympathisers outside Mindanao. As part of “normalisation” annex of Bangsamoro peace agreement, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) 29 March announced it had submitted names of 12,000 fighters to be decommissioned, representing 30% of total fighters to be decommissioned. Police 4 April killed four MILF in “misencounter” in Lanao del Sur; MILF said it would investigate. Tensions increased with China over maritime disputes (see South China Sea).
Dozens of suspected militants and several soldiers reported killed and thousands of civilians displaced as army clashed with Islamic State (ISIS)-linked militants in Maguindanao, while govt announced end of peace talks with communist rebels. Several soldiers reported killed in attacks by Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) early March, with fighting escalating as military launched operations against group in Maguindanao 9 March; military 13 March said it had killed some 20 militants in air and ground assaults, including two BIFF leaders and Singaporean national belonging to Indonesian Jemaah Islamiya group; one soldier also killed. Two militants killed 14 March, one believed to be Abu Dar, senior Maute Group leader who escaped Marawi City siege in 2017; two soldiers killed. UN Humanitarian Agency reported over 35,000 fled fighting in Maguindanao, while clashes between military and Maute group in Lanao del Sur 11 and 14 March displaced almost 9,000. Military launched airstrikes and clashed with Abu Sayyaf group in Sulu and Basilan. Clashes continued with communist New People’s Army (NPA), including in eastern Mindanao and Northern Samar, and military reported mass NPA surrenders including in Negros Occidental and Mindanao; fourteen NPA reported killed in Negros Occidental 30 March. President Duterte 21 March announced permanent termination of dialogue with Communist Party of the Philippines, although govt said still open to localised peace talks with NPA rebels. Duterte 4 March approved executive order for implementation of final “normalisation” annex of Bangsamoro peace agreement, including, under security component, decommissioning and disarming of thousands of former MILF rebels and transformation of their camps; other components are development, confidence-building measures and transitional justice and reconciliation. Security officials 12 March warned first meeting of Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao regional peace and order council that Abu Sayyaf is still region’s top security threat, particularly in Sulu. Bangsamoro Transition Authority held inaugural session 29 March. Ahead of 13 May midterm poll, election commission 19 March declared Mindanao “category red” hotspot for risk of “election-related incidents” and “serious armed threats” by rebel groups.
Month saw second phase of plebiscite on new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and appointment of interim regional govt, while military campaign against militant groups continued. Following Jan plebiscite in Mindanao creating BARMM, Lanao del Norte province and parts of Cotabato province 6 Feb held plebiscite on whether to join entity: 63 out 67 villages in North Cotabato voted to join, while majority-Christian Lanao del Norte province voted against allowing six municipalities, all with strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) presence and in favour of joining BARMM, to do so, raising concerns over potential tensions and exclusion of major MILF camp from BARMM area. Lanao del Norte hit by three explosions on eve of plebiscite, no casualties. Duterte 22 Feb led swearing in of 80 members of Bangsamoro Transitional Authority (BTA), 41 of them appointed by MILF and 39 by govt, with MILF chair Murad Ebrahim chief minister. Military continued campaigns against militant groups and pursuit of individuals suspected of involvement in 27 Jan Jolo church bomb attack, reporting some suspects killed and some surrendered. Interior minister 1 Feb said Indonesian couple carried out attack assisted by Islamic State (ISIS) and Abu Sayyaf, Jakarta denied. Three suspected Abu Sayyaf militants and five soldiers killed in 2 Feb clash in Sulu province’s Patikul town, reportedly involving around 100 Abu Sayyaf. In clash with Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao 3 Feb, military reported eight militants killed. Interior minister 7 Feb said Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan believed to be new Abu Sayyaf leader. Abu Sayyaf also continued to target civilians and threatened to kill three civilian hostages. Military continued campaign to end communist New People’s Army (NPA) insurgency, with several soldiers, police and NPA fighters reported killed in clashes during month. NPA also reportedly killed several civilians and freed some hostages. President Duterte again offered to reopen peace talks with Communist Party of the Philippines, in return for stopping attacks on security forces and taxation which govt terms extortion.
Voters in Mindanao overwhelmingly ratified Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) in 21 Jan referendum, approving creation of new entity, Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). Compared to prior autonomous region, BARMM will have expanded powers, larger territory, budget allocation and parliament; referendum represented culmination of efforts to implement 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between govt and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), ending over 40 years of armed conflict in Mindanao. Voting took place in Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, Cotabato City and Isabela City (which voted not to join new region), with turnout reported at over 85%. Election commission declared BOL ratified 25 Jan, with over 1.7mn people voting yes and some 255,000 against. Further vote to take place 6 Feb in adjacent areas including Lanao del Norte province and North Cotabato on whether they want to join BARMM. MILF chair Murad Ebrahim, expected to lead 80-member Bangsamoro Transition Authority that will govern BARMM until Oct 2022 national elections, welcomed result but warned of “huge challenge” of transforming from revolutionaries to administrators; region faces high poverty and threat of armed groups affiliated with Islamic State (ISIS). MILF negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said he hoped splinter groups would recognise popular will for peace. Two days after results announced, double bombing at cathedral in Jolo, Sulu province (which voted against BOL), killed at least 22 people and injured scores 27 Jan; ISIS claimed responsibility. Govt uncertain if it was suicide attack. Authorities believe bombing perpetrated by Ajang-Ajang gang, an Abu Sayyaf subgroup. Military launched ground assault and air strikes against militants in Sulu’s Patikul town. Two people killed in explosion at mosque in Zamboanga City 30 Jan. Attacks by armed groups and clashes with military continued, including encounter with Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Maguindanao 15 Jan which left four suspected rebels dead. Clashes also continued between military and Communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in different parts of country, killing several suspected rebels. Defence secretary early Jan announced new three-year deadline to end NPA insurgency.
Month saw intense clashes between military and communist New People’s Army (NPA) amid announcement of new counter-insurgency task force, while govt extended martial law in Mindanao and preparations continued for plebiscite to implement 2014 Bangsamoro peace agreement. Congress 12 Dec approved by 235-28 extension of martial law in Mindanao for third time until end-2019. President Duterte appointed newly-retired army chief of staff Carlito Galvez Jr as new presidential peace adviser, fuelling concerns over possible militarisation of approach to peace. Duterte 4 Dec signed Executive Order creating National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict by addressing root causes including delivery of basic services and social development in affected areas; also includes “mechanism for localised peace engagements or negotiations”. Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder José María Sison said move intended to “terminate and prevent the resumption of peace talks at the appropriate national level”. Govt rejected CPP’s unilateral temporary ceasefire around holidays. Fighting between military and NPA included suspected NPA attacks on security forces in Bicol region and Capiz, one civilian killed; NPA raid in Sibagat, Agusan del Sur, 19 Dec, kidnapping twelve soldiers; clash in Compostela Valley 27 Dec wounding eleven soldiers. Congressman Rodel Batocabe shot dead 22 Dec in eastern Albay province along with police escort, amid concerns over possible violence around 2019 elections; NPA denied involvement. Clashes continued with Abu Sayyaf, including near Sulu’s Patikul 7 and 13 Dec killing two soldiers and several suspected militants; Duterte 17 Dec activated new 11th Infantry Division in Jolo, Sulu, to combat Abu Sayyaf. Clashes also continued with Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, including reported attack on army camp in Ampatuan, Maguindanao province 4 Dec. Bombing at mall in Cotabato City 31 Dec killed two, wounded 34. Electoral commission 7 Dec opened campaign period for plebiscite on Bangsamoro Organic Law to take place on 21 Jan in ARMM, Cotabato City and Isabela City, and on 6 Feb in Lanao del Norte, North Cotabato and local govt units that petitioned to take part.
Preparations continued for Jan plebiscite on Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), while violence involving Islamic State (ISIS)-linked groups and New People’s Army (NPA) persisted. Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leader Murad Ebrahim visited national army HQ 19 Nov, reciprocating Oct visit by army chief of staff to MILF camp; during visit, MILF and military leaders discussed security preparations for 21 Jan plebiscite on creation of new Bangsamoro region through ratification of BOL, campaigning for which starts 7 Dec. Earlier, Moro National Liberation Front in 29 Oct meeting with Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza reiterated support for BOL and pledged to conduct information, education and communications campaign in their communities to support yes vote. Local officials in Maguindanao 8 Nov pledged support for joint security plan signed by police and army late Oct to tackle bomb attacks by ISIS-linked groups in region, which continued to clash with military during month; military late Nov announced operations to target militants ahead of plebiscite. As attacks blamed on communist NPA insurgent group continued, and peace talks remain stalled, govt 22 Nov authorised deployment of more police and military personnel in central provinces of Samar, Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental and Bicol Region; later clarified order was not a prelude to declaration of martial law. Philippines Commission on Human Rights warned move could worsen situation and govt “should address the roots of violence and crime” to stop cycle of violence. Clashes with NPA also reported in Quezon and Aurora (north), Misamis Occidental (Mindanao), Iloilo (centre). Presidential palace 1 Nov announced creation of national task force to address communist insurgency. Discussion over whether to extend martial law in Mindanao beyond 31 Dec continued, with military recommending extension, citing ongoing threat from terrorism and NPA and support from some local govt officials. Presidential Peace Adviser Dureza resigned 27 Nov following corruption allegations against two officials in his office. Govt 20 Nov signed bilateral cooperation agreement with China.
Violence and clashes involving New People’s Army (NPA) and Islamic State (ISIS)-linked militants continued, while govt mulled extension of martial law in Mindanao to secure 2019 elections and plebiscite on Bangsamoro Basic Law. Security forces clashed with NPA, armed wing of Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), including in Mindanao, where military reported it had seized control of NPA camp in Surigao del Norte 5 Oct. Military 17 Oct said it had captured five senior NPA leaders at checkpoint in Laguna province, south of Manila, accused of plot to oust Duterte. Alleged NPA attacks included one on road-building project in neighbouring Negros Oriental (centre) 18 Oct; and several deadly attacks on police in various provinces including in Camarines Sur (centre) and Aurora (north of Manila) 16 Oct. Military suggested NPA involvement in 20 Oct killing of nine farmers (including two minors) in Negros Occidental. Military 17 Oct said NPA attempting to incite unrest to push Duterte to declare martial law. Duterte 20 Oct said communist rebels should lay down their arms and would receive benefits including housing in return; communist leader Jose Maria Sison same day said ready to resume peace talks with govt. On one-year anniversary of end of five-month siege of Marawi City by ISIS-linked militants, Bangsamoro activist group reiterated complaints about official rehabilitation of destroyed city and alleged human rights violations by military. Presidential spokesperson 19 Oct said govt may again extend martial law in Mindanao, set to expire 31 Dec. Military continued operations against ISIS-linked Abu Sayyaf in south, including on Jolo island and in Mindanao’s Lanao del Sur, including three marines and seven suspected militants reported killed in clash in Patikul, Sulu 26 Oct. Military 22 Oct reported it had killed alleged key leader of ISIS-linked Ansar Al-Khilafah Philippines (AKP) in Mindanao’s Sarangani province, who they said was involved in 16 Sept explosion in General Santos city. Several killed in clashes between military and ISIS-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Mindanao’s Maguindanao province. UN General Assembly 12 Oct re-elected Philippines to another three-year term on UN Human Rights Council, in move govt said vindicated Duterte’s crackdown on drugs.
Preparations underway for plebiscite on Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) to create new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BAR) amid attacks by suspected Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in south, and clashes continued between military and Abu Sayyaf and New People’s Army (NPA) communist insurgency in the centre and north. Election commission 5 Sept scheduled plebiscite for 21 Jan 2019 in areas being considered for inclusion in BAR. Islamic State (ISIS)-linked BIFF suspected of responsibility for improvised explosive device in Sultan Kudarat provincial capital Isulan in Mindanao 2 Sept, which killed two and wounded over a dozen in second attack in a week. Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal said attacks were attempt to derail peace efforts. Another bomb in Mindanao’s General Santos City 16 Sept injured at least eight; bomb in North Cotabato’s Midsayap same day caused no injuries. Authorities reported BIFF militants executed two farmers and injured two soldiers in attacks in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, 2 Sept. Gunfight between military and BIFF in Maguindanao’s Datu Montawal town 7 Sept killed three suspected militants and one civilian. Military reported seven Abu Sayyaf killed and seventeen soldiers wounded in gunfights in Sulu’s Patikul town 15 Sept, although local human rights group said they were civilians; military reported Abu Sayyaf militant killed in clash in area 10 Sept. Military 13 Sept reported 179 Abu Sayyaf had surrendered so far in 2018. Clashes between military and NPA continued, including in Negros Oriental province (centre), where clash with alleged NPA 3 Sept forced hundreds of civilians to flee; and police 12 Sept reported ambush by NPA on truck carrying civilians, killing at least nine; army reported two NPA militants and one soldier killed in separate clashes 13 Sept. Military requested President Duterte issue executive order to create national inter-agency task force to end insurgency. Duterte, facing two charges of crimes against humanity at International Criminal Court over thousands of alleged extrajudicial killings as part of his “war on drugs”, in 27 Sept speech appeared to admit responsibility for killings.
Preparations began for plebiscite on Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), while attacks and clashes continued between military and Islamic State (ISIS)-linked militant groups and communist New People’s Army. At ceremonial signing of BOL 6 Aug, President Duterte said he hoped it will “finally end decades of conflict that is rooted in the Bangsamoro’s right to self-determination and recognition of their unique identity”. Referendum to ratify BOL expected to take place between Nov and Jan 2019. Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal 10 Aug reported group had begun decommissioning MILF firearms, with second phase to take place after plebiscite and appointment of Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), interim govt until first Bangsamoro elections. MILF 21 Aug selected its Chairman Murad Ebrahim as interim chief minister of BTA. Electoral commission 22 Aug said preparations on track for referendum, as efforts began to encourage residents to register to vote and inform them on BOL content. Govt and MILF 9 Aug agreed to cooperate on rehabilitation of Marawi City, heavily damaged during five-month siege in 2017. Clashes between military and ISIS-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Front (BIFF) rebel group continued in Mindanao; included two suspected militants killed carrying bomb in M’lang, North Cotabato province 8 Aug; and seven suspected militants killed in clash in Maguindanao province 20 Aug; clashes between rival BIFF factions reportedly displaced scores in Shariff Saydona Mustapha town late month. Homemade bomb exploded during festival in Isulan town, Sultan Kudarat province 28 Aug, killing three and injuring dozens; military blamed BIFF, ISIS claimed responsibility. Clashes also continued with ISIS-linked Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG): security forces killed ASG commander in Patikul town, Sulu, 15 Aug; 22 soldiers wounded and one ASG fighter killed in Patikul 23 Aug. ASG suspected of kidnapping ten-year-old son of official in Jolo mid-month. Unidentified gunmen killed six people and abducted pro-govt militia leader and his wife in Siriwai, Zamboanga del Norte province, 31 Aug. With peace talks suspended, military also continued to clash with communist New People’s Army, including seven rebels reported killed in clash in Antique (centre) 15 Aug; several soldiers also killed in clashes, including three in Masbate (centre) 3 Aug.
President Duterte 26 July signed Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) which creates Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), implementing 2014 peace agreement between govt and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which ended 40-year conflict in Mindanao region. Senate and House earlier ratified BOL after bicameral conference committee approved final version 18 July. Bill provides for self-rule of entity, home to estimated five million Muslims, by 2022. BARMM to have more powers and cover bigger area than entity that it replaces: will have 80-member regional parliament which will select chief minister to head govt; will keep 75% of locally collected taxes and receive govt funds; manage natural resources; and incorporate Islamic law into regional justice system for cases exclusively involving Muslims. Central govt to retain control over police and military, MILF to lay down arms in phased approach and decommission its fighters, which leaders say number 30,000-40,000. First local elections to be held 2022; before then, Duterte will appoint 80-member Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA). Martial law to remain in place in Mindanao until end of 2018 so that security forces can tackle Islamic State (ISIS)-linked groups. MILF leadership satisfied with BOL, which they said would help win back splinter rebel groups and make them less susceptible to ISIS-linked foreign groups. Regional referendum needed to ratify BOL anticipated for Oct; MILF began efforts to build support for BOL, including consultation at main MILF camp in Maguindanao province 29 July reportedly attended by tens of thousands of MILF members. MILF leaders visited national military HQ in Manila 12 July. Military retook town taken by ISIS-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao 4 July; military reported twelve BIFF killed in clashes in Maguindanao province 8 July. Army reported one soldier, five paramilitary troopers and four civilians killed by vehicle suicide bomb at checkpoint on southern island Basilan 31 July; ISIS claimed responsibility. Duterte 27 July offered to open talks with Abu Sayyaf rebel group; presidential spokesman said his remarks were calling for surrender. Amid stepped-up military offensive against communist New People’s Army in north late month, Duterte 26 July said he hoped govt and communist rebels would return to negotiating table.
Ahead of bicameral conference committee hearings (scheduled 9-15 July) to reconcile differences between House and Senate versions of Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), for Duterte to sign it into law 23 July, concerns remained over difficulties in finding agreement over significant differences between the two versions, including inter alia on banning of political dynasties, extent of regional powers and tax collection. At conference on BBL 6 June, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) continued to voice concerns about House and Senate versions of BBL, which omit provisions contained in version submitted mid-2017 by Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC, chaired by MILF). Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza said stakeholders need to manage expectations and recognise need to comply with constitutional parameters. Duterte 17 June said Moros should give govt more time if BBL fails to pass in July; also said national govt would not seek to claim untapped oil reserves in Maguindanao, estimated at $1bn. Communist National Democratic Front (NDF) rebel Political Adviser José María Sison released statement 28 June saying his movement was abandoning talks with Duterte govt, said it would prepare to resume negotiations under a new administration. Peace talks had been scheduled to resume in Norway late June, before govt decided mid-June to postpone for three months, citing need to allow for public consultations on draft agreements. Duterte spokesman 21 June confirmed govt had suspended all backchannel talks with NDF. Hostilities continued between military and communist New People’s Army (NPA) forces, including in Mindanao and northern Luzon. Army troops 25 June killed six policemen, wounded nine, in “friendly fire” incident on Samar Island; police were hunting communist guerrillas at time of incident. Military clashed with Islamic State (ISIS)-linked Maute Group fighters in Lanao del Sur province mid-June, in operation targeting Abu Dar, who govt believes to be new “emir” of ISIS in South East Asia; 19 June reported it had destroyed Maute Group camp in Tubaran, near Marawi City; more than 11,000 people reportedly displaced by fighting, at least five suspected fighters reported killed. Govt 22 June raised bounty on Abu Dar to $112,600. Military assault on ISIS-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) bomb factory in Liguasan, Maguindanao, 10 June resulted in fifteen suspected BIFF militants killed; thousands of families displaced.
Lower house of Congress 30 May and Senate 31 May passed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) bill, which paves way for creation of self-governing Bangsamoro region in southern Philippines, in accordance with 2014 peace agreement between govt and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). President Duterte 29 May certified BBL bill as urgent, meaning both House and Senate could approve their versions of bill before Congress adjourns 1 June. Bill now set to go to bicameral conference committee during recess to reconcile House and Senate versions of bill, before being sent back for both houses to ratify 23 July in time for Duterte to sign ahead of his state of the nation address. MILF peace panel chair, Mohagher Iqbal, 30 May said he hoped reconciled BBL would be faithful to peace agreement. MILF filed complaint with govt peace panel after police in Mindanao shot dead nine MILF members during operation as part of Duterte’s war on drugs 25 May. Duterte late month said he had agreed to resumption of peace talks with Communist rebels, but that they had to take place in Philippines, not Norway. Representatives of govt and Communists reported they had agreed in back-channel talks early May on interim ceasefire, amnesty for political prisoners and rural development reform. Netherlands-based leader José Marìa Sison reported sides had agreed to sign interim peace agreement in late June for resumption of formal talks. Late-month clash between New People’s Army (NPA) and military saw three rebels killed in Mindanao. Authorities arrested NPA leader Elizalde Cañete 12 May. On one-year anniversary of start of five-month Islamic State (ISIS) siege of Marawi city in Mindanao, anger continued over govt approach to reconstruction and inability of many residents to return – Red Cross reported some 230,000 remain displaced. Military 25 May rejected calls to lift martial law in region. Several killed in continuing clashes between military and Abu Sayyaf group in southern Basilan and Sulu provinces.
Efforts continued to pass Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) by 1 June – when second regular session of Congress adjourns – for president to sign into law. BBL will establish new Bangsamoro Region with wider autonomy to replace Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to implement 2014 peace agreement. Joint committee of House of Representatives 16 April approved BBL version endorsed by President Duterte and submitted by Bangsamoro Transition Commission. MILF secretariat Chair Mohammad Ameen 3 April said MILF will not disarm up to 9,000 former fighters as scheduled in May unless congress passes BBL. Fifteen suspected ISIS-linked militants reported killed in clashes with military in southern Philippines mid-April; military reported several civilians killed in attacks by ISIS-linked militants. Duterte 4 April announced intention to resume peace talks with Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), National Democratic Front (NDF) and New People’s Army (NPA) insurgency, after calling off talks Nov 2017; said rebels must first agree to ceasefire. Ministry of defence and military said insurgents must also stop extortion and abandon plan to join a coalition govt. Duterte 21 April said he had set 60-day timeframe for revived talks, urging Netherlands-based leader Jose Maria Sison to join talks. Security forces reported at least four NPA killed in clashes in Camarines Sur province 8 and 10 April; several suspected NPA rebels killed in clashes in Mindanao 21 April; 24 April reported they had captured NPA leader and two followers following clash in Massim, southern Mindanao. Two injured by bomb outside church in Koronadal, Mindanao 29 April; authorities blamed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). Suspected Abu Sayyaf militants 28 April beheaded two Christian farmers in Maguindanao.
As Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) warned of growing frustration in Mindanao due to delay in passage of Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), needed to implement March 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and set up regional govt, senate and House leaders 13 March told President Duterte they hope to pass BBL by 30 May. Presidential adviser to peace process Jesus Dureza reported President Duterte, in Davao City 27 March, assured MILF leaders of his support for BBL and willingness to exercise “administrative directives” should congress fail to pass it. Military early March reported that surviving Islamic State (ISIS)-linked militants from 2017 Marawi city siege were regrouping and setting up new base in southern Philippines. Officials also reported that ISIS had appointed new emir in South East Asia, “Abu Dar” from Lanao del Sur. Army 11 March reported at least 44 suspected members of ISIS-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters killed in clash in southern Maguindanao 8-9 March. In western Mindanao operations continued against ISIS-linked Abu Sayyaf group, still believed to number several hundred despite some 200 surrenders since start of year. Duterte 26 March said surrendered Abu Sayyaf should receive same reintegration assistance as those from Communist Party of the Philippines’ (CPP) armed wing New People’s Army (NPA). Senior Abu Sayyaf member Nurhassan Jamiri reportedly surrendered to authorities in Basilan province 28 March. Media reported that govt has filed petition to declare more than 600 alleged members of CPP and NPA “terrorists”. Dureza 29 March said govt remains open to reviving peace talks with CPP provided there is an “enabling environment”, after CPP leader said group wanted to resume negotiations and over 60 legislators called for renewed talks. Civilians displaced by fighting in Marawi protested 18 March against construction of military camp and military abuses, urged govt to end martial law. Govt 16 March informed UN secretary-general of its decision to withdraw from International Criminal Court.
Senate completed its consultations on Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) while House of Representatives scheduled public hearings in Mindanao from 1-16 March; legislators hope BBL will be ready for voting before Congress goes on recess 24 March. BBL supporters asked legislators to approve a version of BBL that reflects 2014 peace agreements. Deputy Presidential Peace Adviser Nabil Tan 23 Feb reiterated that passage of BBL will provide current regional govt in Mindanao much-needed boost to prepare for when national govt shifts to federal system. Congress also continued to tackle planned shift from presidential to federal system of govt; President Duterte 25 Jan appointed top magistrates, lawyers, academics and former officials to consultative body on charter change, including Randolph Parcasio, lawyer of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and founding chairman Nur Misuari. Rehabilitation of Marawi city following 2017 siege continued to face challenges, with local NGOs and ethnic Maranao Muslim traditional leaders opposed to govt’s plan to construct second military camp near main battle area. Marawi residents called on govt to pay them reparation for destroyed properties and allow them to rebuild their own homes. Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chairman Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim 20 Feb warned that ISIS-linked terrorists (including foreign nationals), with guns and cash looted from Marawi, could seize cities like Iligan and Cotabato; said MILF was battling pro-ISIS groups for influence in schools, and repeated his plea for govt to approve BBL immediately. Police 16 Feb arrested Fehmi Lassqued, Egyptian believed to be ISIS recruiter. Six Abu Sayyaf members killed in clash with govt troops in Basilan 24 Feb; authorities arrested Juromee Dongon, widow of slain Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Bin Hir alias Marwan, during raid in Tubod, Lanao Del Norte 25 Feb. Military 25 Feb overran Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters camp in North Cotabato.
Special committees in both upper and lower chambers of Congress continued deliberations on Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) drafted by Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), which aims to create new autonomous government in southern Philippines in line with the signed peace agreements. Senate BBL sub-committee visited Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) administrative office in Sultan Kudarat and conducted public hearings in Cotabato City and Marawi City 25-26 Jan. House of Representatives sub-committee 31 Jan conducted first public hearing ahead of Feb visit to Mindanao. President Duterte 12 Jan assured BBL will be passed before charter change and shift to federal system of govt; Congress’ target is March 2018. However, Duterte 27 Jan expressed that BBL’s constitutional issues can be resolved under a federalism arrangement; observers fear prospects for a BBL consistent with Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) are dim. Series of attacks by Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) that started 25 Dec forced hundreds of indigenous people Maguindanao to flee their homes. Authorities blamed BIFF for IED on national highway in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao 14 Jan. Six soldiers injured 20 Jan in clash with suspected Maute gunmen in Masiu town, Lanao Del Sur. MILF and Moro National Liberation Front 6 Jan organised Biwang Bangsamoro Unified Coordinating Council, joint action group opposed to Islamic State (ISIS)-inspired groups reportedly operating in central Mindanao. Military 19 Jan verified reports that Malaysian Amin Baco, son-in-law of late ISIS emir Isnilon Hapilon, still alive and hiding in Patikul, Sulu, under protection of Abu Sayyaf leader Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan. Spanish national accused of being Abu Sayyaf sympathiser was arrested Basilan 20 Jan. Police 23 Jan reported some 2,000 families fled Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao after two MILF commanders fought over overlapping land claims. Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and Thailand 25 Jan launched intelligence-sharing initiative “Our Eyes” to respond to ISIS and cross-border security threats.
Legislators from lower chamber of Congress and committees on Local Government, Peace, Reconciliation and Unity and Muslim Affairs 5 Dec agreed to organise sub-committee to consolidate Bangsamoro Transition Commission’s version of Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) with three other bills on Bangsamoro autonomy. Consolidated draft will be discussed in series of public hearings in select provinces in Mindanao scheduled in Feb. Senate 20 Dec conducted its first session on BBL, to continue early 2018. President Duterte 19 Dec said BBL unlikely to surmount constitutional barriers. Congress 13 Dec overwhelmingly approved Duterte’s request to extend martial law in Mindanao until 31 Dec 2018, citing need to eradicate Islamic State (ISIS)-influenced and local terrorist groups as well as Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples’ Army (NPA). Authorities remain on high alert for possible lone-wolf style attacks in Mindanao, and reports that remnants of Maute group and other extremists now aggressively recruiting new fighters. Military 17 Dec recruited 300 fighters from indigenous peoples (IP) groups as part of militia against NPA. UN-appointed experts on Internally Displaced Persons and IPs, local NGOs and opposition lawmakers raised concerns that martial law will lead to human rights violations by state forces. Military operations 21-23 Dec in North Cotabato killed eleven members of ISIS-inspired Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) faction under Esmael Abdulmalik alias Abu Toraife; govt tagged Toraife as former militant leader Isnilon Hapilon’s possible successor. Another BIFF faction 27 Dec killed chieftain from indigenous Teduray tribe as retaliation for military’s 25 Dec airstrikes that killed at least ten BIFF fighters in Maguindanao. NPA southern Mindanao 26 Dec said ready to face Duterte’s “full-scale-war” in 2018. Tropical storm Tembin (local name Vinta) 22-24 Dec unleashed landslides and flash floods in Mindanao that left over 200 dead and over 138,000 displaced. Govt 27 Dec turned over first batch of 500 transitional homes to Marawi residents that lived in main area of battle; Marawi mayor said around 19,000 individuals have returned to their homes after military clearing operations.
Senate president 6 Nov filed Senate Bill 1608, a version of Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) different from that drafted by Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC). Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) panel chair Mohagher Iqbal described senate bill as “between a CAB [Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro]-compliant BBL and the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao law”. BTC, with support from MILF and Moro National Liberation Front Chairman Yusoph Jikiri, conducted Bangsamoro Assembly in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao 27 Nov; President Duterte pledged to address historical injustices suffered by the Bangsamoro and suggested special session in Congress to discuss BBL and other proposals. Despite Oct retaking of Marawi City and death of militant leaders including Isnilon Hapilon, authorities remained on high alert for possible attacks. Six soldiers killed 8 Nov in clash with Abu Sayyaf militants in Sumisip town, but MILF said it was a “misencounter” between soldiers and MILF fighters. Amid concerns about recruitment by remaining Islamic State (ISIS)-influenced groups, police 10 Nov arrested three Abu Sayyaf members suspected of planning to attack mid-Nov ASEAN summit in Manila. Police 6 Nov declared top Malaysian terrorist Sabahan Mohammad Amin Baco has succeeded Hapilon as ISIS regional leader, however military said Baco was killed during Marawi siege. Military 15 Nov launched airstrikes and ground operations against ISIS-linked Toraife faction of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Datu Unsay and Shariff Aguak. Airstrikes in both Maguindanao and North Cotabato provinces forced some 5,000 to flee. Amnesty International report 17 Nov said widespread rights abuses and war crimes committed by both Maute fighters and govt forces during Marawi siege. President Duterte 23 Nov signed proclamation ending peace talks with Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), National Democratic Front (NDF) and New People’s Army (NPA), which broke down in May, and called NPA a terrorist group; Duterte next day asked for rebels who were freed earlier in year when talks restarted to surrender. Military 28 Nov killed fourteen NPA rebels in Batangas, follow-up to 20 Nov operation that seized NPA base.
President Duterte 17 Oct announced liberation of Marawi City from Islamic State (ISIS)-influenced Abu Sayyaf and Maute Group, following five-month military campaign. Military confirmed it had killed Abu Sayyaf/ISIS regional leader Isnilon Hapilon, Omar Maute, and Mahmud Ahmad, Malaysian who facilitated transfer of funds from ISIS central to Marawi City; govt arrested alleged ISIS recruiter Karen Aizha Hamidon, widow of militant alleged to have staged Sept 2016 Davao City bombing. As of 29 Oct, 920 extremists, 165 govt forces and at least 45 civilians reported killed in conflict. Moro group Suara Bangsamoro 22 Oct said govt responsible for death, displacement and disruption in Marawi, called for probe into alleged human rights violations by military. Govt task force for Marawi reconstruction 27 Oct working on post-conflict assessment; govt initially estimated at least 50 billion pesos ($971 million) needed for city’s recovery. Military on high alert for possible retaliatory attacks from remaining members of Abu Sayyaf and Maute groups. Bangsamoro Transition Commission’s version of Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), currently with congressional committees for deliberation, is expected to face opponents in congress. Congressman Celso Lobregat 4 Oct warned BBL might create Bangsamoro “superstate” in Mindanao that will receive more rights and resources than other regions, and said govt’s federalism agenda needs to be tackled first. Moro Islamic Liberation Front Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim 23 Oct reiterated that BBL is crucial in fight against ISIS, with delays in peace process used to foster radicalism. Duterte 29 Oct asked congress to expedite passage of BBL or else there will be “trouble”. Govt negotiator Silvestre Bello 12 Oct said peace negotiations with Communist Party of the Philippines, National Democratic Front and New People’s Army (NPA) remained alive, govt waiting on Duterte’s instructions. Police 19 Oct arrested two high-ranking NPA officials, Aurora Cayon (Lilay) and Louie Antonio Martinez (Louie Castro) in Negros Occidental, and eighteen NPA rebels 23 Oct surrendered to govt forces in Sultan Kudarat province.
Military made gains in battle over Marawi City with Islamic State (ISIS)-linked militants from Abu Sayyaf and Maute Group, clearing three militant strongholds including historic Bato Mosque 16 Sept and rescuing five hostages. Military 18 Sept confirmed it had killed three Maute brothers; Omar Maute and Abu Sayyaf/ISIS regional leader Isnilon Hapilon still alive. As of 24 Sept, at least 879 people, including 680 militants and 152 government forces, killed since May, 40-60 hostages remain. Defence minister 25 Sept reported militants’ funds for Marawi operation came partly from ISIS HQ and partly from drugs trade. Govt 15 Sept reported foreign funding for govt reconstruction plan for Marawi has reached around $40mn. Defence minister 27 Sept said govt plans to conduct “post conflict needs assessment” after city has been cleared of militants. Marawi bishop announced that Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) offered to provide security to Christian groups who assist displaced. Duterte 8 Sept said no resumption of peace talks with Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), National Democratic Front (NDF) and New People’s Army (NPA), which broke down in May, without a ceasefire; clashes continued as soldiers 20 Sept killed nine NPA rebels in Nueva Ecija. Duterte 20 Sept agreed to certify as “urgent” the stalled Bangsamoro Transition Commission version of Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), after discussing BBL’s status in congress with MILF earlier in month. Duterte also met Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chair Nur Misuari in Davao 16 Sept; Misuari reiterated MNLF’s support for nationwide federalism and offer of help in campaign against extremism in Mindanao. House majority leader 29 Sept confirmed that BBL has been filed as House Bill 6475 and referred to Committees on Local Government, Muslim Affairs and Peace, Reconciliation and Unity for deliberations.
Battle in Lanao del Sur region’s Marawi City between govt troops and Islamic State (ISIS)-linked militants continued into fourth month. Govt tallied displaced from Marawi and surrounding provinces at 600,000; govt efforts continue to prepare for rebuilding city once fighting has ended. Military 28 Aug intercepted ten armed men who tried to enter Marawi, killing five; govt preparing for final push as military cornered remaining Maute fighters including Abu Sayyaf-Basilan leader Isnilon Hapilon; Madie Maute reportedly killed while trying to escape. Mayors in Lanao del Sur 12 Aug signed manifesto declaring war against Maute group, prompting concerns over potential clashes between Maute clans and other Maranao families. Security forces on high alert after death of Maute patriarch Cayamora Maute 27 Aug in govt custody; military continue operations in Basilan against Hapilon’s followers. Fighting broke out between MILF and faction of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) aligned with ISIS early Aug in part of Maguindanao province: at least 25 people killed including five MILF. President Duterte 30 Aug announced possible meeting with Indonesian president and Malaysian PM on international terrorism. Office of the president 14 Aug forwarded Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to House of Representatives and Senate, however BBL has no sponsors and was not included in the initial list of 28 priority bills approved by govt. Former president and district representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo 3 Aug filed alternative Bangsamoro enabling law, “Basic Act for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region” (BABAR), containing elements previously condemned by Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) due to proposed Bangsamoro region less autonomous than current arrangement; MILF described BABAR as “disgusting in all aspects”. Duterte 2 Aug maintained his decision to cancel peace talks with Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), National Democratic Front (NDF) and New People’s Army (NPA); govt official 3 Aug said signed formal notice of termination of peace talks with communists is forthcoming.
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.
Battle which began 23 May in Marawi City between govt troops and Islamic State (ISIS)-linked militants from Abu Sayyaf and Maute Group continued: as of 30 June death toll stood at 429, including 44 civilians, 82 govt troops and 303 militants; 349,000 displaced. Military 23 June reported 40 foreign terrorists in country including Indonesians, Malaysians, Saudi Arabians and Yemenis, warned more may come. Malaysian Mahmud Ahmad, who channelled funds for siege, and group leader Omar Maute, reportedly killed early June; govt 28 June still verifying reports that Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon escaped Marawi City. Military 27 June reported attackers had forced their civilian hostages to loot, men to fight govt forces and women to serve as sex slaves. Following breakdown of peace talks between govt and communists in May after martial law declaration, National Democratic Front (NDFP) 17 June recommended New People’s Army (NPA) refrain from attacking govt forces and help fight ISIS-linked militants in Marawi. Govt 18 June declared it will not undertake offensive operations against NPA, but only in Mindanao. Progress in Bangsamoro peace process as Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) 16 June approved and signed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which it said reflected concerns from indigenous people, Christian communities, traditional leaders, women and youth, and unimplemented provisions of MNLF’s previous peace agreements. BTC will submit new draft BBL 10 July to Duterte, who promised its passage in Congress. Military 23 June said it believes Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) have tactical alliance with Maute Group; defence minister earlier reported 40 militants from BIFF and Ansar Al-Khilafah Philippines joined Maute terrorists in Marawi. Philippines-hosted security meeting with Indonesia and Malaysia 22 June, agreed to prevent extremists from setting up base in region, address root causes of terrorism; countries earlier launched joint naval patrols to prevent movement of terrorists. U.S., Australia and China provided support to govt in dealing with Marawi crisis, including U.S. intelligence-sharing from drones, Australian surveillance planes, $16mn of weapons/ammunition from China, $920,000 humanitarian aid from Australia, $300,000 from China for rehabilitating Marawi.
President Duterte 23 May declared martial law in Mindanao after some 100 Abu Sayyaf and Maute Group militants took over large parts of Marawi City, capturing Christians, destroying buildings and freeing prisoners. Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for attack, which followed attempted raid on hideout of ISIS-linked Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Isnilon Hapilon. Over 170,000 individuals forced to flee Marawi fighting as military fought to retake city using aerial strikes; authorities 30 May reported 89 militants, 21 govt forces and nineteen civilians killed in fighting. Duterte said martial law could be extended to entire country if needed. Earlier, air and ground assaults in Maguindanao’s Datu Salibo town 5-11 May reportedly killed 31 Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) members and forced some 24,000 residents to flee. Twenty suspected militants killed in anti-Abu Sayyaf raid in Basilan 11 May. Military 9 May reported at least eight foreign terrorists operating in Lanao Del Sur, including from Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. Abu Sayyaf 25 May ambushed soldiers in Patikul, Sulu, killing one. Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) 25 May ordered New People’s Army (NPA) carry out tactical offensives nationwide and recruit more fighters in response to Duterte’s proclamation of martial law, leading to breakdown of fifth round of peace talks between govt and CPP-NPA-National Democratic Front, scheduled for 27 May-1 June in the Netherlands. Bangsamoro Transition Commission 15-25 May conducted consultations across Mindanao to finalise draft basic law to submit to president’s office first week of June for review. Bangsamoro Coordination Forum including Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) members met in Saudi Arabia 7-8 May, agreed that any attempt by Philippines Congress to draft a basic law not compliant with 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro would be unacceptable. Court 21 May granted MNLF leader Nur Misuari liberty from being served arrest warrants for six months, enabling his free movement and participation in negotiations. Misuari 30 May pledged 5,000 MNLF fighters to assist govt in Marawi; MILF agreed to set up humanitarian corridor for civilians.
Military 11 April launched operation against around a dozen militants in central resort island Bohol, suspected of planning to kidnap tourists and launch attack on ASEAN summit; five suspected militants including leading Abu Sayyaf figure Muamar Askali reported killed, plus three soldiers and a policeman. Militants reportedly suspected of belonging to at least three groups that had pledged allegiance to Islamic State (ISIS), including Abu Sayyaf. President Duterte 19 April offered reward for capture of escaped militants, threatened to invade Abu Sayyaf stronghold in Jolo island, Sulu. Military 23 April reported it had killed three Abu Sayyaf militants in Bohol, still pursuing two or three. Over ten Abu Sayyaf reported killed and 32 soldiers wounded in attempt to free Vietnamese hostages in Talipao town 2 April. Abu Sayyaf beheaded fisherman and soldier in Sulu province during month. Military 22-25 April killed 36 suspected ISIS-linked rebels, including from Maute group and Indonesian group Jemaah Islamiyah, in Lanao del Sur, reported capture of main base; reportedly killed leading Abu Sayyaf militant and kidnapper in Sulu 28 April. Duterte 2 April announced peace talks with Moro National Liberation Front under Nur Misuari may start in May; Misuari’s six-month temporary liberty granted by court ended 27 April. Peace negotiations between govt and Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front, which collapsed in Feb, resumed in Netherlands 2 April despite absence of bilateral ceasefire; 5 April agreed on temporary joint ceasefire and to release prisoners. Duterte 3 April threatened “full power of the state” if conditions set out in March are not respected and talks fail. Mohainmen Abo (brother of senior Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) figure and chair of Bangsamoro Transition Commission Ghadzali Jaafar) killed 11 April during police raid in Barangay Linangcob. Police claimed Abo was resisting arrest and firing at police officers; Jaafar denied, said police had not respected coordination mechanism contained in 1997 ceasefire agreement. MILF 17 April urged govt to investigate alleged unilateral police operations against rebels. Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters suspected of several bombs in Sultan Kudarat and North Cotabato, including in Tacurong City 17 April injuring at least eight.
Following informal Norwegian-mediated talks in the Netherlands, govt and Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) 11 March agreed to restore ceasefires and resume peace talks suspended early Feb. President Duterte 19 March affirmed conditions for talks, set for 2-6 April; NPA must agree to bilateral ceasefire, stop demanding army leave areas they claim, release police and military hostages and stop collecting “revolutionary taxes”. Violence continued, including four police and one soldier killed by NPA 8 March in Davao del Sur; eight rebels and two soldiers reported killed in 30 March clash in Quezon province. NDF 31 March said they would not restore unilateral ceasefire by end-month as previously planned, following govt refusal to reciprocate. Expanded Bangsamoro Transition Commission, which includes Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) representatives and other Mindanao stakeholders, 6 March held first plenary session in Cotabato to revise Bangsamoro Basic Law, make it more inclusive. Govt and MILF 21 March signed Terms of Reference for implementing panels for Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and extended mandate for International Monitoring Team. Military reported 21 Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) killed in clashes with security forces in Maguindanao 13-16 March, said BIFF were sheltering foreign terrorists; BIFF denied claims. Clashes between military and Abu Sayyaf group continued; military 1 March reportedly killed five believed responsible for late Feb killing of German hostage. Duterte 9 March urged Muslim area mayors to help fight Abu Sayyaf, threatened to impose martial law if they did not. Police 21 March said Islamic State (ISIS)-linked Maute Group were present in capital region Metro Manila, claimed interception of IED intended for terrorist attack in Quezon City; army said it had not detected presence of group in capital.
President Duterte 4 Feb announced govt withdrawal from peace talks with Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) insurgents, resumed since Aug 2016 with Norwegian facilitation. Move came amid increased clashes and as govt refused communist demand to released 400 imprisoned insurgents. Communist insurgents 1 Feb declared end to ceasefire and reportedly killed three unarmed soldiers; govt 3 Feb lifted its unilateral ceasefire. Senior military officer 26 Feb reported at least fourteen rebels killed in clashes following ceasefire collapse; seven govt soldiers also reported killed. Communists called for continuation of talks, 19 Feb offered to free six POWs; presidential palace 20 Feb listed ceasefire conditions communists needed to meet before Duterte would reopen talks, including, inter alia, end to extortion and ambushes on military personnel. Duterte early Feb named expanded 21-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) to draft new enabling law for proposed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, agreed in March 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro; BTC includes eleven MILF figures. Presidential adviser on peace process Jesus Dureza also said Bangsamoro Basic Law drafted under Aquino govt could be basis for new law; BTC, officially launched in Davao City 24 Feb, must submit draft to Congress by July. Defence Minister Delfin Lorenzana 9 Feb said links between IS and Philippines militants “very strong”; senior military office 26 Feb said some 50 IS cells operating in Mindanao. Several Abu Sayyaf fighters reported killed in ongoing operations during month; Abu Sayyaf attacks and bombings also continued. FM Perfecto Yasay said Abu Sayyaf likely behind 19 Feb attack on Vietnamese cargo ship near Baguan island in which one crew member killed. Govt reported Abu Sayyaf beheaded German hostage in Sulu 26 Feb after ransom deadline lapsed.
Security operations continued against militant groups pledging allegiance to Islamic State (IS). Defence minister 26 Jan reported intelligence showing that Isnilon Hapilon, leader of Abu Sayyaf group and reported IS emir for South East Asia, was moving on IS instructions to southern Lanao del Sur province to expand IS presence, unify extremist groups. Military 29 Jan reported fifteen militants killed, Hapilon seriously injured in airstrikes, Lanao del Sur. Security forces early Jan moved against IS-allied Ansar Al-Khilafah Philippines (AKP) in Sarangani province, reportedly killing leader Mohammad Jaafar Maguid 6 Jan. Police arrested Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Faizal Jaafar in Zamboanga City 27 Jan. President Duterte 27 Jan told MILF and MNLF to deny sanctuary to IS-linked militants, or face military incursions into their territory. Three children killed in bomb in Al-Barka, Basilan 29 Jan; officials blamed Abu Sayyaf. Malaysia 23 Jan reported four arrested linked to Mindanao IS cell. Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said speedy peace process in S Philippines needed to avoid IS militants leaving Syria and Iraq regrouping there. Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza 6 Jan said govt considering constitutional amendments to accommodate adjustments to new Bangsamoro autonomy enabling law. Govt, Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front (CPP/NPA/NDF) peace talks continued in Rome. Following Russian weapons offer, Duterte 7 Jan visited Russian anti-submarine vessel docked in Manila, asked Russia to be ally and protector. (See also South China Sea).
President Duterte early Dec signed order creating 25-member panel to propose constitutional amendments setting up federal system of govt, in order to end conflict and open up economy; proposals will be presented to Congress in six months. Addressing Mindanao Peace Conference in Davao City 16 Dec, Presidential peace advisor Jesus Dureza said amending constitution would remove “stumbling block” to peace talks with rebel groups. After meeting with Duterte 2 Dec, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said president wants newly expanded Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BCT), including representatives from Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), to start crafting new Bangsamoro Basic Law. MILF leader Murad Ebrahim 27 Dec said he hoped new law would reach Congress by July 2017. MILF 4 Dec warned that new Islamic State (IS)-affiliated Maute group complicates peace process and feeds on frustrations caused by delay in implementing Bangsamoro agreement. Suspected Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) militants 15 Dec attacked military in Maguindanao province; two suspected rebels and one civilian reported killed. More than a dozen wounded in two explosions outside churches in Mindanao in Dec. Military renewed offensive against Abu Sayyaf group, responsible for recent spate of kidnappings, in Jolo early Dec: six soldiers reported killed in clashes in Sulu’s Patikul town 10 and 12 Dec; around ten Abu Sayyaf also killed. Military 12 Dec reported Abu Sayyaf had released two Indonesian hostages; still holds 23 hostages, reportedly kidnapped four fishermen 20 Dec. Military 10 Dec reported Malaysian security forces had killed Abu Sayyaf commander Abraham Hamid nicknamed “kidnap king”. Indonesian military chief 6 Dec warned IS attempting to create base in Mindanao; Duterte 7 Dec said his next priority after his so-called war on drugs will be crackdown on terrorism. Duterte early Dec rejected communist rebel alliance National Democratic Front (NDFP) request to release over 130 political prisoners as confidence-building measure until bilateral ceasefire agreement is signed; third round of peace talks between govt and NDFP scheduled 18-24 Jan.
President Duterte 7 Nov signed Executive Order expanding Bangsamoro Transition Council (BTC), but Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founder Nur Misuari said MNLF would not participate with “traitor” Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF); suggested separate MNLF-govt talks. Duterte and Misuari met after 27 Oct court decision temporarily suspended charges against Misuari for role in 2013 Zamboanga City siege. Govt said MNLF-MILF tensions hindered peace process. National Democratic Front (NDFP) communist rebel alliance including Communist Party of Philippines (CPP) expressed scepticism of govt’s commitment to peace negotiations, rebooted in Aug, after missed 27 Oct deadline for “unified bilateral ceasefire agreement”. NDFP negotiator also accused military of ceasefire violations especially in eastern Mindanao; military reiterated commitment to process. Govt pledged quick release of political prisoners following NDFP complaints. Govt-CPP tensions increased after Supreme Court 8 Nov upheld Duterte order to re-inter former dictator Ferdinand Marcos’s remains in Manila’s Cemetery of Heroes; burial occurred 18 Nov amid widespread opposition and protests. Abu Sayyaf kidnappings continued, including tourists and fishermen off Malaysia and Philippines coasts. Duterte and Malaysian PM Najib Razak 10 Nov agreed to increase maritime security cooperation. Indonesian Defence Minister 17 Nov announced Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines anti-Abu Sayyaf taskforce. Armed forces 19 Nov reported ten Abu Sayyaf militants and four soldiers killed in 18 Nov gun battle in Patikul, Sulu province. Military 30 Nov reported 61 members of Islamic State (IS)-affiliated Maute Group killed in five-day operation 25-30 Nov in Lanao del Sur province. Authorities said Maute Group suspected of responsibility for bomb diffused outside U.S. embassy in Manila 28 Nov. (See also South China Sea).
Defence secretary 7 Oct said police had apprehended three members of armed Islamist organisation, Maute Group, over 2 Sept Davao City bomb attack, with seven other suspects reportedly still at large. Abu Sayyaf 2 Oct released three Indonesian hostages as Armed Forces of Philippines (AFP) continued counter-terrorism crackdown in Sulu and Basilan. Media 16 Oct reported 94 Abu Sayyaf militants “neutralised” in counter-terrorism operations since late Sept. Ten suspected Abu Sayyaf militants 21 Oct attacked S Korean ship off coast of southern Philippines, abducting captain and one crew member. 25 Oct report by Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict highlighted increasing use of Mindanao province as training destination for South-East Asian militants. Representatives of govt and communist rebel groups represented by National Democratic Front (NDFP) met in Oslo 6 Oct for second round of peace talks; 9 Oct reached consensus on terms of framework to serve as foundation for final peace deal, including Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER). Draft proclamation calling for release of 434 communist-affiliated political prisoners submitted to President Duterte for approval. Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza 26 Oct said Indigenous Peoples Advisory Council would be formed to ensure that draft agreements with both NDFP and Bangsamoro Transition Council (BTC), all-Moro body formed in Aug 2016 to negotiate peace roadmap and Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), are inclusive of minorities. Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim 19 Oct said MILF supports govt’s pledge for transition to federalism, but passage of BBL “must precede this shift from unitary to federal form of government”. Ebrahim said MILF remains “very hopeful” that BBL will pass in congress under Duterte regime.
Abu Sayyaf claimed responsibility for bomb attack at market in Davao City 2 Sept which killed fifteen people and injured at least 68. President Duterte declared indefinite nationwide “state of lawless violence” following attack; said this was not martial law, but he “may invite uniformed personnel to run the country according to [his] specifications”. Duterte 6 Sept formally upgraded situation to “state of national emergency”. Police 9 Sept released sketches of main suspect in bombing, said alleged bomber suspected of involvement in “narco-terrorism”; 14 Sept filed charges against nine additional suspects. Davao City bombing came just days after Abu Sayyaf vowed to respond to late Aug launch of military operation in Sulu province in which at least 30 Abu Sayyaf militants were killed. Operation against Abu Sayyaf intensified throughout month, reportedly involving deployment of some 7,000 troops since late-Aug. Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Mindanao Command 23 Sept reported that twenty members of Abu Sayyaf had surrendered to security forces 22 Sept, following three weeks of armed forces’ “relentless operation” in Sulu. Four Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and one Abu Sayyaf fighter reportedly killed 2 Sept in Sulu as violence broke out between Abu Sayyaf and MNLF, who were assisting AFP in operations against Abu Sayyaf. Meanwhile, Bangsamoro peace process appeared to maintain positive momentum. Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leader Al-Haj Murad 14 Sept expressed optimism about ongoing peace negotiations with govt, said negotiating panel had been changed into “implementation panel”, as agreed with Duterte administration. MNLF chair Muslimin Sema 16 Sept said MNLF “confident of very promising days soon for the Mindanao peace process”. Historic ceasefire between govt and National Democratic Front (NDFP) communist rebels continued to hold throughout month; ahead of second round of Oslo peace negotiations 6-10 Oct, NDFP 28 Sept said agenda will include general amnesty proclamation on release of all political prisoners, expected to “give a big push for the peace negotiations”; govt and NDFP said they hope to come up with draft of ceasefire document. Duterte 26 Sept said he would seek to open trade alliances with China and Russia during upcoming visits, while maintaining ties with U.S.; 28 Sept said upcoming joint military exercises with U.S. will be last, since China does not want them.
Govt and communist rebel group National Democratic Front (NDFP), which includes the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) insurgent group, resumed peace talks in Oslo 22-27 Aug, first meetings since negotiations to resolve 47-year-long conflict were suspended in 2012. Parties 21 Aug agreed ceasefire for duration of talks, 26 Aug extended ceasefire indefinitely and agreed to continue negotiations 8-12 Oct. Govt and MILF negotiators conducting peace talks in Malaysia 13-14 Aug signed joint statement agreeing to increase membership of newly reconstituted Bangsamoro Transition Committee (BTC) from previous fifteen to 21 members, including new representatives from Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and indigenous communities. Meetings reportedly focused on developing more inclusive implementation plan for peace roadmap, including plans to draft new version of Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which President Duterte hopes to implement as part of country’s move toward federalism. In lead-up to talks, presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza 4 Aug said negotiations complete, committee now entering implementation phase of new peace roadmap approved by Duterte 18 July. MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim 13 Aug said MILF has “new solidified relationship” with new administration, hopes to see “final closure” to Mindanao conflict. Duterte announced crackdown on Abu Sayyaf group after it beheaded teenage hostage 24 Aug; over 1,200 military troops reportedly raided several areas of Sulu province 26-29 Aug, killing at least 21 alleged Abu Sayyaf militants including one commander. Abu Sayyaf reportedly kidnapped at least three other hostages in Sulu province during month. Army spokesman 29 Aug reported twelve soldiers killed in clash with Abu Sayyaf in Patikul, Sulu. Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Ronald dela Rosa 23 Aug said over 1,900 people had been killed since 1 July in Duterte’s “War on Drugs” crackdown; police claimed responsibility for approximately 900 deaths. UN 18 Aug condemned crackdown and extrajudicial killings.
Building on President Duterte’s campaign pledge to federalise country, administration 19 July announced it would launch simultaneous push for “enabling law” creating autonomous Bangsamoro region and work on shift to federal form of govt. New comprehensive peace roadmap approved by Duterte 18 July calls for all-Moro body to draft more inclusive law in lieu of Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), to consolidate existing peace agreements including 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and 1996 Final Peace Agreement with Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF); body which drafted BBL to be “reconstituted” with representation from Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), MNLF and other Bangsamoro representatives. Duterte 22 July encouraged quick passage of enabling law, excluding constitutional issues, which he said could be incorporated into constitution under move to federalism. MILF said its Central Committee meeting late July to discuss proposal; presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza and MILF leader Murad Ebrahim 21 July announced govt-MILF Implementing Team meeting early-Aug. Govt and MILF 12 July signed agreement to coordinate in combatting illegal drugs in areas formerly under MILF control. Duterte 25 July announced immediate, unilateral ceasefire with Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), New People’s Army (NPA) and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP); ceasefire lifted 30 July when no immediate reciprocal ceasefire was declared and after 27 July firefight between NPA and military in Davao del Norte in which one “civilian auxiliary force member” died and three wounded, according to Dureza. Govt earlier announced resumption of peace talks with NDFP to take place 20-27 Aug; NDFP requested govt release detained leaders to participate in negotiations. Military 11 July said troops killed 40 Abu Sayyaf fighters in early-July fighting on Jolo and Basilan islands; 17 July announced 33 members of Islamic State (IS)-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters killed in four days of fighting in Maguindanao province. Suspected Abu Sayyaf members 14 July killed three Philippine soldiers. Three Indonesians abducted 10 July, Abu Sayyaf suspected of responsibility; Dureza 19 July confirmed Abu Sayyaf kidnapped five Malaysians.
Govt peace negotiator Silvestre Bello met mid-June with exiled National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) communist leaders in Oslo, 15 June signed agreement to formally resume peace talks in July to end communist insurgency; previous round stalled 2013 when President Aquino halted negotiations and refused to release political prisoners. President-elect Duterte 17 June met with leaders of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF); reiterated his campaign promise to pass Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). MILF Vice Chair Ghadzali Jaafar said MILF and MNLF working to come up with unified stance on Bangsamoro govt. Army 4 June reported it captured Islamic State (IS)-allied Maute militant group training camp in Lanao del Sur province; four soldiers and dozens of militants reported killed. Army 4 June said it would suspend operations in south during Ramadan out of respect, but remain on standby in Lanao del Sur. Army 17 June said some 5,000 soldiers deployed in Sulu province to track Abu Sayyaf group; at least three Abu Sayyaf killed, ten Abu Sayyaf and sixteen soldiers injured in clash with military in Patikul town 21 June. Four Malaysian hostages held by Abu Sayyaf since April 2016 freed 8 June, Filipina woman held since Sept 2015 freed 24 June; group 13 June executed Canadian hostage held since Sept 2015. Amid growing regional security challenges, Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines 20 June agreed to increase air and sea patrols in common maritime areas to combat hijackings, kidnappings and robbery. One police killed, five police and two civilians injured in grenade attack by unidentified assailants 20 June in Sarangani province; Sarangani among strongholds of communist New People’s Army (NPA). Police 18-19 June killed eleven suspected drug dealers, bringing number of drug suspects killed since Duterte was elected 9 May to over 40.
Controversial longstanding mayor of Mindanao’s Davao City Rodrigo Duterte won 9 May presidential elections with 38.5% of vote. Pantaleon Alvarez, expected to be new house speaker under Duterte, 21 May said next Congress would not pass Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), would focus on federalisation of country which would address provisions of 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB); remarks contradict Duterte’s previous stated commitment to passing BBL. Chief govt negotiator on CAB 23 May urged passage of BBL; Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) 24 May called Alvarez’s statement “non-starter” and said it did not build confidence in Duterte administration’s understanding of Bangsamoro issue. Govt and MILF peace panels met 29-30 May in Malaysia and signed Declaration of Continuity of the Partnership in the peace process. Poll results released 7 May showed 45% of Philippine population said new president should implement CAB. Islamic State (IS) claimed 9 May attack on army outpost in Maluso, said carried out by “IS Philippines”; second IS-claimed attack in Philippines. Seven soldiers wounded 18 May on Jolo Island in suspected Abu Sayyaf group grenade attack. Govt forces 24 May captured Abu Sayyaf camp in effort to rescue hostages; Abu Sayyaf set new ransom deadline for 13 June. Abu Sayyaf 11 May freed four Indonesians without ransom; release reportedly negotiated by Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Govt forces late month reportedly killed 54 militants linked to Islamist terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah in Lanau del Sur. In other attacks: seven killed, one wounded 9 May by unknown attackers south of Manila. Four killed in Maguindanao mid-May in three clashes between Sabal and Buisan political clans with ties to MNLF and MILF.
Month saw heavy fighting on Basilan island as military launched major operation against Abu Sayyaf Group. Eighteen soldiers killed, over 50 injured 9 April after over 100 Abu Sayyaf attacked military in Tipo-Tipo, highest death toll of single military operation since 2011. Islamic State (IS), to which Abu Sayyaf has claimed allegiance, 14 April issued first official communiqué on attacks in Philippines claiming to have blown up seven trucks carrying soldiers during Basilan clashes; Philippine military rejected claim as propaganda. Military 10 April deployed over 2,000 soldiers to pursue Abu Sayyaf leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Furuji Indama. 37 militants reported killed in clashes 9-16 April. Military captured at least three Abu Sayyaf camps throughout month. Military 6 April confirmed foreign nationals held by Abu Sayyaf include fourteen Indonesians, four Malaysians kidnapped from ship 3 April. Abu Sayyaf 8 April freed former Italian missionary after six months; 25 April murdered Canadian hostage held since Sept 2015; 1 May released ten Indonesian sailors held since late March. Govt’s chief peace negotiator 14 April said operations against Abu Sayyaf highlight importance of Mindanao peace process with MILF in curbing terrorist groups. As campaigning got underway for 9 May general elections, candidates debated significance of Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). All presidential contenders have also declared supporting the continuation of peace process.
Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leader Murad Ebrahim 7 March said MILF will uphold Mindanao peace process ahead of May elections, appealed to international supporters of process to influence new govt to implement 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB); warned about growing frustration over Congress’s failure to pass Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) leading to fringe militant groups allying with Islamic State (IS) to establish stronghold on southern islands; said MILF working to dissuade IS-allied militants from launching attacks. Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., author and sponsor of alternative to BBL, 24 March said implementing peace process best deterrent against IS influence in Philippines. Clashes continued between military and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Da- tu Salibo, Maguindanao. Two New People’s Army (NPA) bomb attacks 20 March wounded four soldiers and two civilians in Bicol region. Military confirmed Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) militant Radullan Sahiron, wanted by U.S. for $1 mn, injured in 18 March firefight with govt security forces in Patikul. One ASG reported killed 23 March in MILF ambush. ASG reportedly kidnapped ten Indonesian sailors late month. IS-linked Ansaru’l Khilafah Philippines 17 March released video purporting to show beheading of man working for police.
Congress went on recess 3 Feb without passing Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), meaning that bill, which is required to implement 2013 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) through creation of autonomous Bangsamoro region, will not be passed before May elections. Chief peace negotiator criticised legislators’ “indifference” and “chronic absenteeism” in the 16th Congress. Following talks in Malaysia 10-11 Feb, govt and MILF issued joint statement expressing disappointment but agreeing to extend ceasefire until March 2017. MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal warned of frustration and anxiety within MILF; MILF leader Murad Ebrahim 18 Feb also expressed commitment to peace, urged patience and calm among Bangsamoro communities. Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) 26 Feb said that Jan 2015 Mamasapano incident, in which 44 police commandos and eighteen MILF were killed, not only halted passage of BBL but also may have made extremism more attractive to young Muslims. Military 10 Feb reported arrest of top Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) militant Hassan Indal alias Abu Hazam west of Cotabato City. BIFF suspected of responsibility for roadside bombs in Maguindanao killing four people 17 Feb and one soldier 20 Feb. Six suspected BIFF fighters reported killed in clash with military 16 Feb. MILF 25 Feb announced it was repositioning its fighters in south to avoid “mis-encounters” with army fighting BIFF. Military reported 42 suspected militants claiming links to Islamic State killed during clashes in Lanao del Sur province late month; three soldiers also killed. Military reported clash between Abu Sayyaf Group and Moro National Liberation Front in Sulu 20 Feb, two killed. Six policemen killed in attack by suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in Cagayan 16 Feb. Military reported NPA leader shot dead by soldiers in Bukidnon province 23 Feb.
Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) which tracks implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) 3 Jan urged govt and MILF to promote passage of Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), and manage public expectations in case congress does not pass it; also expressed concerns over whether BBL would be compliant with CAB. Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte 28 Jan conceded BBL will not be passed before May 2016 elections. Tensions heightened 27 Jan with reopening of Senate probe into 25 Jan Mamasapano incident in which 44 police commandos and eighteen MILF were killed. MILF 27 Jan reported it has set up task force following reports of recruitment activities by Islamic State in south Mindanao, expressed concern over rising radicalism among region’s youth. Thousands of civilians reportedly fled areas in southern Philippines early month following attacks by Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). Continued clashes between military and Abu Sayyaf Group.
Congress failed to pass proposed Basic Law on the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR) by 16 Dec when house adjourned, though did complete plenary debates. Despite widespread concerns that law now unlikely to be passed under President Aquino’s administration, speaker of parliament said he was hopeful that BLBAR would be passed when congress resumes session 18 Jan, prior to long recess ahead of May 2016 national elections. Leaders of Moro rebel factions MILF and MNLF gathered in Mindanao mid-Dec to discuss concerns over Bangsamoro peace agreement, attempts to unify movements to increase pressure on govt to pass BLBAR. EU 9 Dec pledged continued support for peace process, alongside EUR5.5mn aid for peacebuilding in Bangsamoro region. Six people reported killed in MILF attack in Tulunan town, North Cotabato 8 Dec, police said clash motivated by longstanding land conflict. Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters reportedly killed nine villagers in south 26 Dec, while govt forces killed at least five rebels in Mindanao clashes. At least fifteen al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) rebels and three soldiers reported killed in clashes in Basilan mid-month; ten ASG and several soldiers reported killed in Jolo island clash 30 Dec.
Senate President Drilon expressed optimism that Basic Law on the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR) will be passed in their chamber before congress adjourns 16 Dec; however, bill’s principal author in lower house Rufus Rodriquez 25 Nov called for “more forceful intervention” from President Aquino to address lack of quorum. BLBAR would set up new Bangsamoro govt, implementing historic Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro which brought end to decades of conflict, but time running out to pass and implement legislation before May 2016 general elections. Business representatives, envoys and local politicians called for congress to pass bill. As militant Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) beheaded Malaysian hostage 17 Nov, Aquino pledged to “further intensify” operations again ASG and other terrorist groups. Clash erupted in Maguindanao after Misuari supporters blocked road project 22 Nov. Security forces reported killing eight Islamist militants in Mindanao 28 Nov.
Senate adjourned 7 Oct and House of Representatives 9 Oct without voting on Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL); session to resume 3 Nov, with new deadline to approve BBL deadline 16 Dec, when congress breaks for Christmas. Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) 13 Oct signed “unified declaration” calling for approval of original BBL and rejecting “diluted BBL”. MILF representative said combatants becoming “restive” over delays in passage of bill. Representatives from two dozen countries 15 Oct issued signed statement of support for peace process and call for safeguards to prevent resumption of Mindanao conflict. Deadly clashes between military and Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and New People’s Army (NPA) continued. ASG 8 Oct seized Italian citizen in Dipolog, 13 Oct released video of one Filipino and three foreign hostages appealing for military to halt bombing ASG hideout in Jolo island. NPA claimed responsibility for abduction and killing of Mayor Dario Otaza of Loreto, Agusan del Sur, and his son, citing “revolutionary justice” for Otaza’s alleged close ties with military.
Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Belmonte 23 Sept said Congress aims to pass Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) by 16 Dec. Recent versions of bill now refer to it as Basic Law on the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR). Govt 7 Sept activated National Task Force for the Disbandment of the Private Armed Groups to dismantle private armies in proposed Bangsamoro region. Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) 11 Sept threatened to stop surrendering firearms if BBL is “watered-down”; 18 Sept rejected changes to BBL proposed by congress, accepted govt’s official version of 25 Jan Mamasapano incident and expressed wish to “bury the issue”. Justice department 22 Sept recommended 90 suspects from MILF, BIFF and private armed groups be criminally charged with direct assault, murder and theft in connection with Mamasapano incident. Basilan Regional Trial Court 10 Sept officially declared Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) a terrorist group. ASG 14 Sept abducted ten civilians. ASG suspected of responsibility for bomb on bus in Zamboanga 18 Sept, killing one and wounding 32. Suspected ASG 21 Sept kidnapped four people including one Norwegian and two Canadian tourists in Samal. Military 21 Sept launched offensive against ASG in Sulu; reported 1,000 marines and army clashed with 30 ASG.
Plenary session in House of Representatives on Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) stalled due to lack of quorum 4 and 5 Aug. Senator Ferdinand Marcos 12 Aug presented alternative BBL draft to Senate with 80% of provisions amended; govt peace panel 17 Aug said substitute BBL may encourage “personalistic” politics and perpetuate political dynasties by balancing representation in favour of district representatives. Meanwhile, MILF panel chair Iqbal has repeatedly said “no BBL is better than a bad BBL”. Senate plenary to debate substitute BBL late Aug. Plenary debate on national budget 28 Sept, Congress goes on recess 10 Oct-2 Nov. Suspected Abu Sayyaf (ASG) set off homemade bomb in Basilan 7 Aug, two soldiers killed; killed in ambush two soldiers in Sulu 10 Aug. Around 40 ASG militants clashes with members of armed civilian group Barangay Peace Action Team 15 Aug in Sulu, two ASG killed. Seven soldiers and 15 ASG killed in firefight in Sulu 20 Aug. Three ASG killed in clash with security forces in Sulu 28 Aug. New People’s Army (NPA) militants and military clashed in Masbate 5 Aug; four NPA and one soldier killed; five NPA killed in clash with military 19 Aug.
House of Representatives Ad Hoc Committee on Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) 12 July announced resumption of BBL talks in Aug. President Aquino 27 July called for passage of BBL in State of the Nation Address. National Bureau of Investigation and National Prosecution Service joint fact-finding mission 16 July recommended investigation of 102 MILF and BIFF militants linked to 25 Jan clash in Mamasapano that killed 44 police commandos and eighteen MILF. Almost daily clashes in south, including: security forces 16 July conducted raid in Sulu, three Abu Sayyaf Group members killed; one soldier killed in BIFF attack in Maguindanao 6 July. New People’s Army (NPA) 11 July also conducted raid in Misamis Oriental, one soldier killed, one captured. NPA 27 July ambushed military convoy in Kalinga, three soldiers killed. Security forces 21 July arrested high-ranking NPA leader Ernesto Lorenzo.
House of Representatives postponed deadline for passing proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) from 11 June, when Congress entered recess, to Sept. Senate 9 June agreed to remove BBL’s contentious opt-in clause, expected to decrease resistance to BBL among lawmakers. Moro Islamic Liberation Front 16 June surrendered 75 assault weapons, retired 145 fighters during decommissioning ceremony; official decommissioning process to begin after BBL is passed. Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) 8 June clashed with military, blew up water pipeline in Basilan; 27,000 residents displaced. Suspected ASG 16 June detonated pipe bomb, followed by brief clash with security forces in Basilan; one soldier killed, eight wounded. Security forces 21 June arrested suspected ASG member in Zamboanga, seized explosives. Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) attacks continued in Maguindanao; four civilians reported killed in ambush 18 June, two soldiers killed 22 June.
House Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) 20 May passed BBL, approving creation of new autonomous political entity; restored “opt-in” clause stating plebiscite for inclusion in Bangsamoro may be held in any local govt unit outside jurisdiction of Bangsamoro, opening up more provinces for inclusion in Bangsamoro. House appropriations committee 26 May approved BBL funding; House of Representatives to debate BBL early June, with target of passing it by 11 June when congress enters recess. MILF 20 May said it is “90% satisfied” with draft BBL. Senate report on BBL 21 May said BBL cannot be approved in its present form, pointing out some of its provisions require constitutional amendment. Govt troops 17 May retook two villages in Basilan from Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) after days of operations, 19 May clashed with ASG retaliating against civilians who killed five of its members in Panguturan island. MILF and military 6 May confirmed Basit Usman, bomb maker sought in botched counter-insurgency operation leading to January 2015 clash, killed by MILF 3 May.
Deliberations on Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in House of Representatives resumed 20 April; lawmakers debating who will exercise operational control over local police in future Bangsamoro region. Resumption of BBL hearings overshadowed by Department of Justice (DOJ)’s 22 April announcement of murder and theft charges against 90 MILF implicated in 25 Jan botched counter-insurgency operation in which 44 police commandos, seventeen MILF and five civilians killed. DOJ also released report same day stating MILF, MILF splinter group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and private armed groups continued to fire on police after they surrendered; MILF said report “very doubtful”, MILF acted in self-defence. International Monitoring Team, responsible for monitoring and upholding ceasefire, 6 April published report concluding both govt forces and MILF at fault for deadly clash, both violated ceasefire. MILF 17 April reiterated it would not surrender fighters implicated in clash to govt. BIFF leader Ameril Umra Kato reportedly died of heart attack 14 April; BIFF 19 April attacked army and police positions in Shariff Aguak, Datu Hofer and Datu Salibo, said attack was to show group still “alive and kicking”. MILF training facility in Iligan City dismantled 18 April by joint team of govt, MILF, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and CSO representatives.
President Aquino facing political crisis as 13 March police investigative report stated that he bypassed chain of command of “defective” anti-terrorist operation in Mamasapano 25 Jan that saw 44 commandos, seventeen MILF and at least five killed in clash; also allowed former police chief friend to participate in mission despite being under suspension over graft allegations; and involvement of U.S. officials in intelligence sharing, medical evacuation. Report called for investigation to determine criminal liability, prompted calls for Aquino’s resignation. Aquino 9 March said he had been misled about details of Mamasapano operation. MILF 24 March submitted its report on Mamasapano incident to Senate, said police commando unit opened fire first and broke terms of ceasefire by not notifying MILF of operation in advance. After receiving report, Ferdinand Marcos, chairman of Senate Committee on Local Govt which will decide on Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), scheduled resumption of BBL hearing for 13 April. MILF denied allegations that it had opened new training camp in Iligan City. Govt continued offensive against Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao, said it would not affect peace process with MILF. UNHCR 20 March reported over 120,000 displaced in fighting in southern Philippines since late Jan. Dozens of rebels and several govt soldiers killed in fighting. Military captured leader of BIFF breakaway rebel group Justice Islamic Movement mid-March, 30 March ended offensive, said over 100 insurgents killed. One year since signing of Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro, Aquino 27 March announced creation of citizens peace council led by national luminaries to make independent review of BBL.
House of Representatives ad hoc committee on Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) 9 Feb said it would suspend hearings on BBL “indefinitely” pending House probe into 25 Jan deadly clash between police commandos and rebels; means BBL will not pass by previous March 2015 deadline, ahead of congress break in May. Committee chair joined calls for MILF to surrender its members who participated in attack on police; MILF says it disciplines its own fighters in line with 2014 ceasefire agreement, 18 Feb turned over sixteen firearms taken from police commandos. MILF chief negotiator 10 Feb said suspension “bad sign” but respected decision, would not resort to violence. Thousands of people in Mindanao took part in rallies 10 Feb calling on Congress to reconsider suspension of hearings on BBL, calling for BBL to be passed without further delay. MILF 16 Feb asked Congress to pass proposed BBL “with no changes”; 18 Feb said it could accept a diluted BBL, but that this would not address problems in Mindanao. MILF launched operation against breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in North Cotabato province 5 Feb; thousands of civilians fled in subsequent clashes in N Cotabato and Maguindanao; BIFF 18 Feb threatened to target provincial capital. BIFF 20 Feb reiterated call for establishment of Islamic state, rejection of BBL. Military 20 Feb launched operation against BIFF in N Cotabato; also engaged in operation against Abu Sayyaf group late month, with 24 militants, two soldiers reported killed.
44 police commandos killed in clash with MILF militants in Tukanalipao village, Maguindanao province 25 Jan, at least seven civilians also killed; clash followed police operation to capture internationally wanted Malaysian terrorist suspect Zulkifli bin Hir aka Marwan. Govt said it believed Marwan to have been killed in operation. MILF blamed police for failing to notify them of presence in area in accordance with March 2014 ceasefire. Interior Minister said clash a “misencounter”, both govt and MILF expressed hope it would not derail peace talks. Incident prompted lawmakers to suspend parliamentary hearings related to passage of proposed Bangasamoro Basic Law (BBL); two senators withdrew support for bill. Amid public outrage and calls for retribution against militants, President Aquino in televised national address 28 Jan urged legislators and public not to abandon peace process. During national day of mourning 30 Jan Aquino pledged justice for those killed. Govt and MILF peace negotiators 30 Jan signed protocol for decommissioning of rebels. At least two killed, dozens wounded in explosion in Zamboanga City, Mindanao 24 Jan; authorities said Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) responsible. Followed killings of several ASG militants by army in earlier incidents.
Chair of House of Representatives ad hoc committee on Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) 28 Dec said chamber will pass it by March 2015, following removal of provisions that go against constitution and completion of public hearings. Senate president also said he expects approval of BBL in first semester of 2015. MILF peace panel chair said group will begin decommissioning arms and fighters in Jan. Further attacks by splinter rebel groups opposed to peace agreement; bombing of bus in Mindanao 9 Dec that killed ten blamed on Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF); BIFF also denied involvement in 26 Dec ambush in Maguindanao in which three civilians killed. Eleven militants reported killed in clash between military and Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Basilan 4 Dec. Two soldiers and paramilitary killed in suspected New People’s Army attack in Compostela Valley 29 Dec. Two people killed, over 30 injured in bomb blast in Mlang, North Cotabato 31 Dec.
Consultations on Bangsamoro Basic Law, required for creation of new Bangsamoro region, continued. Addressing Philippine Development Forum early month, senior govt official said $5bn needed for development of Bangsamoro until 2016. MILF early month reported to be finalising organisation of political party for 2016 national elections, United Bangsamoro Justice Party. Attacks blamed on breakaway group opposing MILF-govt peace deal continued: two killed by Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) mortar shell in Pikit 14 Nov. BIFF also suspected in other attacks including bomb in M’lang, North Cotabato 23 Nov, killing three. Three soldiers killed by BIFF in Maguindanao 17 Nov. Five govt soldiers, ten Abu Sayyaf group (ASG) killed in clashes in Sulu, southern Philippines 14 Nov. At least five suspected ASG rebels reported killed by govt soldiers in offensive in Basilan 23 Nov. One soldier wounded in clash with ASG 22 Nov. BIFF also suspected after bomb exploded in Kabacan, North Cotabato 16 Nov killing one.
Month saw signs of progress toward passing Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL): National Security Council 21 Oct proposed accelerating passage through Congress, said autonomy for Bangsamoro people would help calm radical ideology in Mindanao. Suspect in 2003 Awang, Maguindanao airport bombing and Feb 2005 Manila bombing, Ricardo Ayeras, arrested 7 Oct; officials alleged arrest foiled plot to bomb Manila metro. Militant attacks continued throughout month: Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) 2 Oct killed one police, two soldiers in separate attacks in Datu Piang; two New People’s Army militants killed 14 Oct in clash with army in Davao Occidental. Suspected Abu Sayyaf militants detonated two bombs in Basilan’s Isabella City 17 Oct, no causalities; Abu Sayyaf 17 Oct released two Germans after six months captivity, reportedly in exchange for ransom; thirteen other hostages remain. Seventeen police officers, among 196 accused of Nov 2009 massacre in Maguindanao, allowed to post bail 15 Oct. National Democratic Front-Philippines Negotiating Panel Chairperson Luis Jalandoni 20 Oct said high-level govt delegation set to discuss possible resumption of peace negotiations after collapse of talks in Feb 2013.
Govt and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) panels continued ironing out details of Bangsamoro Basic Law. First draft delivered to Congress 10 Sept, certified as urgent by President Aquino; relevant committees in Senate, House of Representatives began deliberations week of 22 Sept; MILF chief negotiator Mohager Iqbal appealed for acceptance. Justice department rejected suspending arrest warrants against Nur Misuari of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction and Umbra Kato of MILF splinter group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). Several clashes involving insurgents including two soldiers killed 11 Sept by BIFF; military also blamed group for two bomb explosions 16 Sept in General Santos city injuring six civilians. Three suspected communist guerrillas killed, three govt militiamen wounded 15 Sept in two separate clashes in Davao del Norte province. Army 19 Sept killed two suspected New People’s Army militants in Surigao del Sur.
Govt and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace process continued following July’s disagreements over revision to Bangsamoro Basic Law; govt- MILF 15 Aug met to review amendments; revised edition submitted to President Aquino 20 Aug. Multiple clashes, insurgent attacks through month: 2 suspected New People’s Army rebels killed 15 Aug in clash with govt forces in Agusan del Sur; 1 killed, 1 kidnapped 16 Aug by Abu Sayyaf militants in Zamboanga City; MILF commander Batuh Mohammed and son killed 20 Aug in Sultan sa Barongis, reportedly by gunmen led by another MILF commander.
Opposition parties and left-wing groups 24 July filed complaint with House of Representatives calling for impeachment of President Aquino after he 28 April signed Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement with the U.S. without approval of Congress. Aquino also came under fire for Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), portions of which Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional 1 July. Chief of the Philippines Armed Forces Lieutenant General Gregorio Catapang 24 July denied possibility of military involvement or coup. Conflict continued in Mindanao: 17 Bangasmoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), 1 soldier killed 21 July during fight in Cotabato City. 4 police captured 10 July by communist New People’s Army (NPA) in Alegria town; 11 day ceasefire implemented 22 July by NPA, release of prisoners held by NPA set for 25 July cancelled. 5 killed 25 July in clash between govt troops and members of Islamic militant group Abu Sayyaf on Basilan Island; further 19 killed 28 July in ambush on Jolo Island. President Aquino late July met with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chief Murad Ebrahim, dis- cussed peace process including MILF opposition to reported alterations to proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, submission to congress due 28 July delayed, new round of govt-MILF negotiations continued 1 Aug; Law would replace Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindano with new political entity.