Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to put his home island of Mindanao in southern Philippines under Martial Law has paid off in respect of a consolidated military victory against ISIS fighters.
Beginning in May of 2017, local fighters, augmented by some foreign terrorists laid siege to the Muslim majority city of Marawi on Mindanao.
Since then, Philippine troops have battled heavily armed ISIS fighters in the city while attempting to free as many hostages as possible.
“The military estimates it has rescued over 1,700 people that were either taken hostage or trapped by the fighting”.
According to Philippine Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez Jr, ISIS linked terrorists in Marawi are now limited to an area of between 400 and 600 square meters with as few as 40 militants left.
Galvez has expressed that he is “confident the end is already near”.
Parts of Mindanao have witnessed various Islamic insurgencies dating back to the initial Moro Rebellion against American imperial rule in 1899.
Since gaining independence from the United States 1946, Islamic rebels, called Moros in Philippines, have waged a series of insurgencies fighting for autonomy and in some cases succession.
In 1976, Philippines invited Libyan revolutionary leader Muammar Gaddafi to broker the Tripoli Agreement between Manila and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). The agreement resulted in a deal for increased autonomy for Moro regions of southern Philippines.
Moro insurgents who felt that the Tripoli Agreement was unsatisfactory formed the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 1978.
In October of 2012, Manila reached a peace deal with MILF which called for the establishment of new autonomous zones in the Bangsamoro region of Mindanao.
In spite of this peace deal, a new Salafist group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) remained active, although BIFF’s numbers remain as low as 140 members.
It was only in 2017 that members of various groups including BIFF and some members of MILF declared their loyalty to ISIS, in spite of MILF’s condemnation of ISIS. It is widely believed that such fighters have been augmented by foreign terrorists as intercepted communications between fighters have revealed the terrorists to communicate with one another in Arabic and occasionally in Turkish.
While the wider international community has done next to nothing to aid Philippines in its fight against ISIS, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has spoken to the leaders of Indonesia and Malaysia about the need to collectively fight regional terrorism. Duterte has also committed to buying further weapons from Russia in order to strengthen the defences of his country.
ISIS launched their attack against Marawi during Duterte’s visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, in a clearly symbolic move designed to weaken the resolve of Duterte. Observers have remarked that many of ISIS’ international backers coordinated the attack in a calculated attempt to disrupt Duterte’s good relations with Moscow.
President Duterte was elected on a platform calling for Federalisation of the country, a move which was widely seen as potentially solving the Moro crisis once and for all. Duterte further pledged expanded autonomy for Moro regions even if the rest of the country rejected a Federal model.
While the military phase of the conflict in Marawi is winding down at the same time as ISIS in Syria and Iraq face military annihilation, all countries face similar tasks for rebuilding and re-education of those brainwashed by perverse ideologies.
It is thought that 360,000 Moro civilians have been displaced by the conflict and estimates for rebuilding Marawi and re-housing internal refugees is expected to cost $1.1 billion.
The primary task for Philippines above and beyond putting a penultimate end to the insurgency, is bringing all remaining moderate groups to the pace table while integrating an autonomous Moro region with the rest of the country in order to preserve a mutually respectful and lasting piece.
As President Duterte has traditionally had good relations with the moderate Moro community, he is better placed than most of his predecessors to bring about such a peace process.