It is a challenge to represent South Madaya Proper, a district in Marawi, the Philippines’ historic “Islamic city”, depopulated two years ago in a battle between government forces and jihadists. To do so, a young council chair says, she acts as both official and activist.
Violence 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”.
The new autonomous Bangsamoro region in Muslim Mindanao promises to address longstanding local grievances and drivers of militancy in the Philippines. But the Bangsamoro leadership faces steep challenges in disarming thousands of former militants, reining in other Islamist groups and transitioning from guerrillas to government.
Hopes are high that one of the world’s longest-running civil conflicts can be resolved in the Philippines. The newly-elected president must act on his commitment to the outgoing administration’s promise of autonomy for the southern Bangsamoro (Muslim Nation) population. Failure to do so risks more lawlessness or reigniting the insurgency.
The Philippines has had some recent success in winding down decades-long negotiations with rebel groups, but achieving peace with the country’s biggest insurgency, in Mindanao, requires both new energy and fresh thinking.
The next round of talks between the Philippines’ largest Muslim insurgent group and the government is a crucial step towards implementing a sweeping peace agreement signed in October.
Politics in the Sulu archipelago could be an unforeseen stumbling block for a negotiated peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the southern Philippines.
The Philippine government and Muslim rebels need to take concrete steps to address the precarious situation of indigenous peoples, known as the Lumad, to secure their support for the peace process on the southern island of Mindanao.
If [President] Duterte can move this [the peace deal] forward during this honeymoon period rapidly, it has a much better chance of going through. I think it's an opportunity that's a tragedy to lose.
The Philippine city of Marawi, on Mindanao island, remains in ruins more than a year after a five-month jihadist takeover. To avoid fuelling militancy, Manila must involve locals in reconstruction, implement a 2014 deal with Mindanao separatists and go beyond efforts to counter jihadist ideology.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has put his weight unequivocally behind efforts to bring a negotiated end to more than four decades of conflict in the south of the country, but uncertainty is bleeding momentum from the process and the clock is ticking.
Originally published in The Interpreter
Cooperating on oil won't work - but fishing might.
Originally published in The National Interest
The southern Philippines is potentially closer to peace than at any time in the four decades since Muslim insurgents started fighting for independence, but the substantial progress over the past six years is also fragile. The new President, Rodrigo Duterte, needs to build quickly on the foundations laid by the last administration or the process risks collapse.