Violent Jihad

Can the Philippines Duterte Bring Peace to Islamist Mindanao?

The new president has cast off relations with the United States, and says "Allahu Akbar" on the campaign trail, but there are many factions of Islamist militants in the southern Philippines.

BY CounterJihad · @CounterjihadUS | November 9, 2016

Rodrigo Duterte has had a colorful career in his short time as President of the Republic of the Philippines.  He claims “Islamic descent,” and has said “Allahu Akbar” on the campaign trail.  He was born in Mindanao, where the Philippines has an Autonomous Region that is explicitly Muslim in its governance.  He has begun the process of breaking ties with the United States, which until recently hosted a Joint Special Operations Task Force for targeting Islamist militants in the southern Philippines.  Now, Duterte refuses to conduct drills with American forces, and speaks openly of a new alliance with China instead.

On the other hand, he has waged a very fierce campaign against the worst of the Islamist groups in the south, Abu Sayyaf.  The group, which considers itself an ally — or possibly a feudal subordinate — of the Islamic State (ISIS), has continued to plague his country.  Just this week they murdered a German woman and kidnapped her husband, to hold him for ransom.  Captives whose ransoms are not met are typically beheaded.  A Canadian pair were murdered earlier this year following failure to pay their ransoms.  President Duterte responded to those beheadings by sending thousands of soldiers on a search and destroy mission through the regions of Mindanao where Abu Sayyaf has its strongholds.

His orders were straightforward:  “Go out and destroy them. Kill whoever they are.”

So he has local credibility as a son of the region, and the image of ‘the strong horse’ that Osama bin Laden argued would always be effective in the Muslim world.  Can Duterte, though, bring peace to restless Mindanao?  It is a challenge that has defied generations of his predecessors, though there have been near misses.

“We see he means business this time,” says Jainudin Ali, a rebel leader with Islamist insurgent group the Moro National Liberation Front who has been battling the Philippine state for almost 50 years…. Islamist groups behind the long insurgency know the new leader well, feel he understands their grievances — and are looking to him to deliver.

The southern end of the Philippine archipelago is stoking increasing international concern as extremist Islamist organisations spring up with links to militants in the region and beyond….  The danger is “really very imminent”, says General Carlito Galvez Jr, commander of the Philippine Army’s 6th Infantry Division on Mindanao and another veteran of its troubles. “There is already strong indication that some of the clout of Isis is already here,” he warns, stressing that he is speaking in a personal capacity.

The government signed a 2014 peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest rebel group, but a bill that would have enshrined new agreements on sharing wealth and power was derailed after a bloody police anti-terror commando raid on Mindanao in January last year.

120,o00 are thought to have died over the history of this conflict, which continues to spill over into neighboring regions on occasion.  For example, the United States government recently issued a warning against Cebu Island, a popular vacation spot especially with Australian tourists.  Islamist militants are thought to be targeting foreigners there, but those militants shelter in the southern Philippines.

It remains to be seen if Duterte, who is sometimes compared to President Elect Donald Trump, will be able to use his combination of a heavy hand and a local touch to solve this crisis.  If he can, it will be by convincing the less-radical militants to stand down.  This process has nearly worked in the past, as for example when in the 1990s the Moro National Liberation Front largely disbanded for a time following a peace deal with the government.  However, breakaway faction Moro Islamic Liberation Front declared a jihad against the government in 2000, following a disruption of the peace deal.

If such peace talks can work, it could allow the Republic of the Philippines to focus on the truly radical and violent Abu Sayyaf.  However, it might also create a protected class of Islamist militants among which Abu Sayyaf could hide if the reconciliation is not genuine.

For now, Duterte does not seem inclined to rethink his alignment with the United States.  Jihad trouble still festers in the southern Philippines, and America is less capable than ever of doing anything about it.



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