Rodrigo Duterte is in the midst of waging total war against ISIS fighters in southern Philippines. It is a war that must be won and Duterte intends to win it. Here are some things that can and should be done to help hasten the victory and keep the people of Philippines safe.
1. Naval Blockade
The presence of ISIS in Philippines is generally confined to the southern island of Mindanao. It is there that ISIS have largely conquered the city of Marawi although the Philippine army continues to make important gains.
It is crucial for the Philippine navy to instigate a naval blockade of Mindanao in order to be certain that no ISIS reinforcements can arrive from neighbouring countries. This could be done with the cooperation of Indonesia and Malaysia and possibly most importantly China.
Philippines has an advantage of fighting ISIS in an island setting rather than the desert. The arid and mostly flat topography surrounding Syria’s land borders with hostile states have made it easier for these countries and those abroad including the US, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to sneak fighters into Syria.
Syria has the bleak disadvantage of being surrounded by a powerful Turkish adversary to the north, a duplicitous pro-US Jordan to the south, an Iraq whose borders are in many cases non-existent due to ISIS control of Iraq’s frontiers with Syria, a permanently hostile Israel to the south-west and a corruptible Lebanon to the west.
Philippines does not have this problem. ISIS must be totally sealed off from the sea. A naval siege must be enacted in tandem with fighting ISIS on land.
Prior to ISIS’s official war of conquest, President Duterte had engaged in an historical rapprochement with China. He has also indicated that he will cooperate with China over disputed territories and access in the South China Sea.
China is one of the world’s only three superpowers and it is the one closest to Philippines. It is in China’s interest for the region to be both safe from terrorism and prosperous.
By cooperating with China over ISIS, both of these things could be insured.
The Chinese navy which is among the most sophisticated in history could easily help in a naval blockade of ISIS controlled territory and could also assist in patrolling the water routs where terrorists from nearby countries could and have attempted to illegal enter Philippines.
Philippines could offer China further cooperation over the South China Sea issues and even offer to mediate with other interested parties in exchange for cooperation against ISIS.
This would allow China to assert further leadership over a region where it is the most powerful state and insure collective security for all parties involved.
Just as China is something of a quiet supporter of Russia’s role in Syria, so too could Russia help Philippines which is clearly in China’s region of influence. No one can deny this and Duterte never has denied it. He’s admitted it with total transparency.
President Duterte held a positive meeting with Vladimir Putin before having to cut it short to deal with the ISIS onslaught.
Russia could benefit from building a further alliance in South East Asia and bot Manila and Moscow seem to look positively towards the future.
A combination of Chinese naval assistance with the delivery of ultra-modern Russian weapons to Philippines would represent an invaluable contribution to the necessary fight.
4. Build A Broad Coalition
Duterte took a bold move in offering former adversaries an opportunity to be part of a military coalition against ISIS, one based on co-equal pay and status.
Now he must also built a coalition of those in Philippines politics who want to do things the new way, the right way, the Duterte way.
Philippine boxing champion Manny Pacquiao has all ready offered his full backing of Duterte’s heavy weight fight against the world’s most wicked terrorist group and it is high time for others to join the political coalition.
Duterte is a man who represents the law and order of traditional conservatism, the social equality of traditional socialism and he democratic ethos of the 21st century in which old definitions of left and right rarely apply.
When the military war is over, the political war to purify Philippines politics begins. Duterte is the man to lead it but he needs allies and must cultivate them even more than he has all ready done, especially since some have been lukewarm in their support of his necessary war effort.
5. Take No Heed of Western Sentiments
The western powers have done more to destroy Syria than anyone else has. Their allies like Israel, Qatar and Saudi Arabia could not fully get away with their crimes against Syria if not for western assistance and approval. Philippines must use the fight against ISIS to assert the new independent foreign policy that Duterte campaigned on last year.
The US which has a significant military presence in Philippines is doing next to nothing to help a supposed ally in need.
Philippines must assert its sovereignty and develop a positive businesslike relationship with the United States, not one of servitude that gains Philippines nothing.
Donald Trump’s good personal relationship with Duterte could be a spring board for a new fairer relationship with America. If Egypt for example can rely on both Russia and be a friend of America, so too can Philippines.
If these steps are taken, Philippines can not only assert its authority over ISIS but can build a lasting coalition of respectful partners in the wider region and world.