President Duterte is the first ever President of Philippines to hail from the island of Mindanao that has been the centre of the decades long conflict between Manila and Philippine Muslims who are known as Moros.
Duterte campaigned on a pledge to either deliver a federal system to the entire country or else to implement the creation of a Bangsamoro autonomous region in Mindanao.
The framework to establish a Bangsamoro autonomous region has been a longstanding stalled initiative in Manila and Duterte has pledged to at long last make it happen.
Present at Duterte’s address before the Bangsamoro Assembly in Maguindana were representatives of the far-left Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) as well as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILM). Duterte emphasised that these two main rebel groups who are engaged in a ceasefire and accompanying political process with the government must remain vigilant against the threat of terrorism from the jihadist Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the at times conflated ISIS aligned Maute Group. While both of these jihadist groups are thought to be small in numbers, the recent Maute Group/ISIS takeover of the city of Marawi, proved that they nevertheless represent a sustained threat to the peace process in Mindanao and indeed the entire Philippines.
If Duterte is able to implement a peaceful settlement to the long burning Moro conflict, he will have helped to ease a tension that has been a permanent fixture in Philippine politics and security issues. Duterte who himself has Moro relatives, is well placed to bring peace to Mindanao, as he seems genuinely concerned and involved with the people of the region, far more so than any of his predecessors from more elitist backgrounds.
During his speech Duterte rallied support for the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which will see the formal creation of the Bangsamoro autonomous region.
The President stated his wish to correct a “historical injustice” against Moros and moreover affirmed the following in respect of the BBL,
“I will now stake my condition. I will work very hard for it. I will ask Congress to [hold] a special session just to hear you talk about this in Congress.
I said this is sacred. This is important”.
He continued, saying,
“…your children cannot kill my children. We have to have a solution…
… will only work with one thing in mind: There must be one nation for all and one republic for all, a Republic of the Philippines for all of us, Moro and Christians alike”.
Duterte’s commitment to peace in Mindanao looks to set in motion the key stage of a lasting settlement in a long burning issue which may well have already been partly resolved had the Maute Group/ISIS not attacked Marawi in the Spring of 2017.
The tactic on the part of terrorists who refuse to disarm and engage in the peace process remains the biggest stumbling bloc to peace. Another major stumbling bloc is opposition from politicians in Manila who do not share Duterte’s enthusiasm for a proper, just and lasting settlement.
Having established historically warm relationships with both China and Russia and paving the way for future peace and prosperity for Philippines, Duterte’s other challenge remains to bring peace to Mindanao. If any Philippine leader is capable of success in such an endeavour, Duterte who has accomplished a great deal in just over a year since taking office, is certainly such a leader.