The Peace process and radicalism in Mindanao, Philippines
Angel Calvo cmf
The Philippines usually appears in the international press when some natural disasters like typhoons happen in the country most punished by these calamities, or when some terrorist act happens in Mindanao. However, the conflict on the island of Mindanao in the south of the country has been one of the forgotten conflicts of the last century and continues to be overlooked in this century.
The island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines was dominated by Muslims a century before the presence of the Spaniards who colonized the country and held Sultanates in central Mindanao and the islands near Sabah and Borneo until independence. Initially, it was the Moro National Liberation Front /MNLF/ who articulated the rebellion against the central government of President F. Marcos, claiming self-determination for the “Moro” people, now claiming their Muslim identity within a predominantly Christian country.
The Bangamoro – the Moro Muslim nation – claim their rights to self-determination that recognizes their identity and to be able to manage their social, economic, and political life within the country. The peace process that has been operating in the country for the last 45 years and through the various presidents continues to search for a political formula that satisfies the demands of the Muslim community after the intense conflict it has suffered during the last few years.
First, there was the agreement with the original group of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which signed a deal with the Philippine government in 1996 and managed for several years the government of the Autonomous Region created by the central government as a result of this rebellion. Recently the Islamic Front, with a more Islamist ideology that split from the original MNLF, has also signed a Framework Agreement for Peace (FAB) in 2012 with the government of President Aquino III, which consists in the creation of a political structure to replace the Autonomous Region (ARMM). This formula in principle approved by President Duterte’s administration must be discussed and approved by the Parliament – Bangsamoro Statute- “Bangsamoro Basic Law” to be effective within the proposed reform of the constitution towards a Federal state proposed by the President.
Throughout this period of Muslim rebellion in Mindanao, the radicalization of the Muslim population is a fact. The search for solutions amid violence and rebellion has been dramatically influenced by the Islamic influence of international “Revivalism.” More radical Wahhabist-influenced groups have emerged, with members frustrated with the course of the Bangsamoro rebellion.
The most extremist groups are currently the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Basilan and Sulu, Dawla Islamiyya composed of the Maute brothers in Lanao del Sur and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao. These groups have been able to capitalize on the frustrations of the youth on the dominant Western and secular culture and on the persistent socio-cultural, historical, political, and economic marginalization of the Muslim region of Mindanao. Most Muslim religious leaders see an obvious incongruence between these radical groups’ supposedly noble or lofty goals and their violent ideology and criminal actions.
Other elements include the articulation of violent extremist recruiters, the use of traditional religious venues for their recruitment activities, and the use of religious activities for indoctrination and martial training, as well as the generous provision of cash incentives at the time of recruitment. Another element of recruitment is to seek revenge for murdered family members—the feeling of clan revenge (Rido( in these areas of Mindanao still runs deep.
The Abu Sayyaf movement, which has been instrumental in this area of Basilan and Sulu since the 1990s, was affiliated with the Al-Qaida movement and other Southeast Asian movements such as Jemaah Islamiya al-Harakatul and had recently openly expressed its support for Daesh in its aspiration to establish Islamic states around the world.
During the last 25 years, they have committed atrocities and terrorist attacks in these communities, a multitude of kidnappings, among others of several missionaries, Filipinos, and foreigners, and some killed, as in the case of the bishop of Jolo, Bishop Benjamin de Jesus.
The experience of the military siege suffered in the city of Marawi in central Mindanao – a city historically called the “Islamic city” – which has lasted more than five months with a tragic result of more than 1000 dead between government forces and civilians and more than 600 rebels. The resistance has been a combination of forces from the Abu Sayyaf group – Isnilon Hapilon, leader of the Basilan ASG group who has proclaimed himself “emir” of all Islamic State forces in the Philippines, along with the rebel Maute brothers and politicians involved in the drug trade and some Islamic characters from other countries especially Malaysia and Indonesia.
The threat from the Islamic State in Mindanao remains a constant threat due to radical Islamist groups that are maintained with the support of various radical groups, as well as through continued kidnappings. The Philippines is a particularly tempting target because it has been closely allied with the United States, which has stationed U.S. troops in the Mindanao area since 2001 to thwart Al-Qaida and similar groups such as the Abu Sayyaf. Recently, the Chief of Staff of the military command that controls security operations in Mindanao stated that there are still more than 50 foreign Islamic terrorists recruiting and training to attack cities in the region.
In this regard, the dynamism of interfaith dialogue of rapprochement and harmony, seeking to heal the wounds suffered by all communities due to violence as well as the division caused by historical injustices in both communities, takes on even more vital significance. Interfaith solidarity is gaining ground in this complex situation in Mindanao. Several interfaith dialogue and solidarity groups are emerging, such as our PEACE organization (Peace Advocates Zamboanga) together with the Interfaith Peace Solidarity movement composed of members of the Muslim and Christian community – Protestant, Evangelical, and Catholic – as well as indigenous groups, who continue to work to forge greater religious and civil solidarity between Muslims and Christians.
Angel Calvo cmf