Wednesday, December 28, 2016

NPA to expand army on Panay island in 2017, slams war on drugs

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 27): NPA to expand army on Panay island in 2017, slams war on drugs
Members of the Communist Party of the Philippines' Panay Regional Committee meet somewhere on Panay Island to discuss strengthening the New People's Army in the region in 2017. (CONTRIBUTED PHOTO)

Members of the Communist Party of the Philippines’ Panay Regional Committee meet somewhere on Panay Island to discuss strengthening the New People’s Army in the region in 2017. (CONTRIBUTED PHOTO)

Communist rebels on Panay Island plan to double their armed force even as they declared support for the ongoing peace negotiations with the Philippine government.

In a statement marking the 48th founding anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) on December 26 (Monday), the CPP’s Panay Regional Committee said one of its key goals in the coming year would be to boost the New People’s Army (NPA), the CPP’s armed wing on the Panay island.

It urged revolutionary mass organizations to “contribute directly to the massive increase in troop strength.”

The CPP regional committee said the NPA in Panay grew in strength even before the ongoing ceasefire with the government took effect in August.

The rebel group expanded and consolidated its “mass base” in western and northeastern Panay this year, according to the rebel statement.

It said protest actions on the island have also drawn from a few thousands to 13,000 to push for jobs and higher wages, release of assistance to survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda,” condemnation of the burial at the heroes’ cemetery of former president Ferdinand Marcos and massive killings of suspected drug personalities.

The CPP in Panay noted that the Liberal Party (LP) which had considered Panay as its bailiwick, has been “neutralized” with many of its leaders “coopted” by the Duterte administration.

It said the administration has done this by using its anti-drug campaign to “tarnish” and “intimidate” LP-allied politicians, referring among others to mayors in Iloilo and Antique who were named by President Duterte as among those involved in illegal drugs.

The administration is also widening its support at the grassroots by putting up organizations of its political backers and supporters, according to the CPP in Panay.

The rebel group decried the anti-drug campaign, which has resulted in the killing of about 6,000 suspected pushers and users nationwide.

“It is true that the campaign has a drastic effect to neutralize but it did not eliminate the widespread drug proliferation and the addictive drug’s paralyzing effect on society,” the CPP Panay regional committee said.

It noted that those killed were “mainly impoverished drug users.”

Philippines settles 2017 defence budget

From IHS Jane's 360 (Dec 27): Philippines settles 2017 defence budget

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has signed into law a 2017 national defence budget of PHP137.2 billion (USD2.76 billion), it was announced on 23 December.

The new budget comes into effect on 1 January and represents a small increase on the PHP134.2 billion that was initially proposed for defence spending by the government in August.

The 2017 military expenditure is an approximate 18% increase against spending in 2016. It also amounts to about 4% of total government spending in the year and 1% of GDP.

However, the new budget does not include spending for major military procurement, which is covered by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernisation Programme.

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Court orders arrest of ex-PDEA exec Marcelino

From Rappler (Dec 27): Court orders arrest of ex-PDEA exec Marcelino

Marine Lieutenant Colonel Ferdinand Marcelino, who claims to be on a top-secret mission during his arrest, faces a drug case filed by the Department of Justice

Former PDEA official Marine Lt Col Ferdinand Marcelino (center). File photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

Former PDEA official Marine Lt Col Ferdinand Marcelino (center). File photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler
A regional trial court has ordered the arrest of Marine Lieutenant Colonel Ferdinand Marcelino, a former Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) official, over the drug case filed against him by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The DOJ on Tuesday, December 27, received a warrant from the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 17.

The court dismissed Marcelino's motion to dismiss charges against him for violating Section 11 (possession of dangerous drugs) of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002. The charges were filed in January 2016.

The court instead upheld DOJ's finding of probable cause to indict the former PDEA official.

The department in September partially granted the appeal of PDEA and dismissed the conspiracy charges against Marcelino and his co-accused Chinese national Yan Yi Shou.

The DOJ, however, found basis to charge the two with possession of dangerous drugs.

In their motion filed through the Public Attorney's Office, the two questioned their January arrest, when they were apprehended by personnel from the Philippine National Police Anti-Illegal Drugs Group and the PDEA in a drug bust that seized around P320 million worth of methamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu).

Marcelino also insisted that he was only in the shabu laboratory for a top-secret mission sanctioned by the military, and that he was there on orders from the Intelligence Service Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The marine officer even presented a certificate proving that from September to December 2015, he was sharing intelligence on Army personnel involved in illegal drugs.

6-year-old girl among 4 injured in Cagayan De Oro blast

From Rappler (Dec 28): 6-year-old girl among 4 injured in Cagayan De Oro blast

Military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla cites 'old business grudge' as the motive behind the incident

An explosion in a store in Cagayan De Oro City in northern Mindanao on Tuesday, December 27, injured 4 civilians including a 6-year-old girl, according to a military report.

A grenade was thrown towards the Jul-Zal Store in barangay Lumbia at 8 p.m. on Tuesday by an unidentified person onboard a violet and black STX motorcycle, according to Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Brigadier General Restituto Padilla.

The suspect had 2 companions onboard the motorcycle. They were believed to have come from barangay Lumbia and were going towards the direction of Talakag when they momentarily parked in front of the store and threw the grenade.

Padilla ruled out terrorism, citing "old business grudge"as the motive behind the explosion.

The explosion injured the following civilians:
  • Julius Javier, 30
  • Zaibe Villarin, 29
  • Ronald Fabrea Jr, 14
  • Julbie Jane Javier, 6
Padilla said the victims were brought to a nearby hospital.

Chinese carrier arrives in Hainan - Taiwan

From InterAksyon (Dec 28): Chinese carrier arrives in Hainan - Taiwan

The Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning (Reuters file)

China's sole aircraft carrier the Liaoning has arrived at a naval base on the southern Chinese province of Hainan, a senior Taiwanese military officer said on Wednesday, after drills that took it around the island China claims as its own.

China has given few details of what the Soviet-built Liaoning is up to, save that it is on a routine exercise.

Taiwan has said the aircraft carrier skirted waters outside its air defense identification zone to its east and south and then headed across the top of the South China Sea to Hainan, home to a large Chinese naval base.

"The Liaoning aircraft carrier has reached the Hainan military base. We will continue to monitor its developments," a senior Taiwanese military official told Reuters, on condition of anonymity.

China has been testing the aircraft carrier's systems and coordination with other military equipment, the officer said, and its arrival in Hainan did not mean its mission was over.

"Once you go out, don't you need to go home?" the officer said.

The drill, which included accompanying warships, comes amid renewed tension over Taiwan, which China claims as its own and says is ineligible for state-to-state relations, following US President-elect Donald Trump's telephone call with the island's president that upset Beijing.

China's air force conducted long-range drills this month above the East and South China Seas that rattled Japan and Taiwan. China said those exercises were also routine.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

The Liaoning has taken part in previous exercises, including in the South China Sea, but China is years away from perfecting carrier operations similar to those the United States has practiced for decades.

Last December, the defense ministry confirmed China was building a second aircraft carrier but its launch date is unclear. The aircraft carrier program is a state secret.

Photo: CPP Anniversary

From MindaNews (Dec 27): Photo: CPP Anniversary

A female fighter gives command to a New People’s Army platoon before performing for the crowd at the 48th founding anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines in barangay Mananom-Bago, Medina town, Misamis Oriental on Monday, Dec. 26, 2016. The National Democratic Front is engaged in peace talks with the Duterte administration to end the longest running communist insurgency in Asia. MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo

Photo: Water break

From MindaNews (Dec 27): Photo: Water break

New People’s Army guerrillas wash and fetch drinking water from a reservoir inside their base in the hinterland village of Lumiad in Paquibato District in Davao City, during the 48th founding anniversary celebration of the Communist Party of the Philippines on Monday, 26 December. Mindanews Photo

Photo: Reunited

From MindaNews (Dec 28): Photo: Reunited

REUNITED. A New People’s Army guerrilla belonging Guerilla Front 16 B is reunited with his son (right) who came with friends to visit his father during the 48th anniversary celebration of the Communist Party of the Philippines in Bacuag town in Surigao del Norte on Monday (26 December 2016). MindaNews photo by Roel N. Catoto

Lawless group attacks Basilan village, 5 injured

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 28): Lawless group attacks Basilan village, 5 injured

The police on Wednesday disclosed that “rido” is most likely the motive behind the shooting of five people in a hinterland barangay of Basilan province.

Insp. Mujahid Asmawil, operations officer of Tipo-tipo municipal police station, disclosed the incident occurred around 7 a.m. Tuesday in Barangay Bohelebung, Tipo-tipo, Basilan province.

Asmawil identified the victims as the following: Kadua Ballang, seven; Tima Hassan, 47; Saudi Hassan, 40; Faizal Kallung, 30; and, Adzmar Cuevas, 35 yrs old.

The victims were rushed to a hospital in Lamitan City, Basilan for treatment.

Asmawil said the victims were in their community when heavily armed lawless group led by a certain Hamid, appeared and opened fire.

He said the suspects fled on foot towards Barangay Cambog, Al-Barka town after the incident.

He disclosed that there is a long-time family feud or “rido” between the attackers and residents of Bohelebung, Tipo-Tipo.

“Rido” is a Maranao term commonly used in Mindanao referring to clan wars.

Army general lauds Davaoeños' high awareness on terror threat

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 28): Army general lauds Davaoeños' high awareness on terror threat

Task Force Davao has responded to clear more than 70 unattended baggage since it tightened the security of the city in the aftermath of the September 2 explosion that ripped through the Roxas night market.

Brig. General Gilbert Gapay, assistant commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command and chief of the Task Force Haribon, said the awareness level among residents is now high considering that they actually report to authorities baggage left unattended to ensure the safety of themselves and their surroundings.

He explained that the primary mission of the TF Haribon is to deter any terror act.

“There must be no repeat of the September 2 explosion in the city,” Gapay said.

He said the security of the city must be enhanced knowing that it hosts several national and international activities.

Gapay said that as one of the proactive measures, the security sector also monitors the movement of terror groups and conducts preemptive strike on terror groups before they can actualize their plans.

“As much as possible, we have to neutralize them in their respective areas,” he said.
Gapay said threat groups must not be allowed to enter the city.

He said intelligence and information gathering is also enhanced to peer on the activities and locations of terror leaders and members no matter how hard it is, knowing that they operate in small numbers.

Gapay also guaranteed the core competence of TF Haribon given its equipment and skills, night flying capability, air and naval components.

Task Force Haribon is composed of the Task Force Davao, 3rd Infantry Battalion, the Philippine Air Force and the Philippine Navy.

Clan wars displace 600 families in North Cotabato

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 28): Clan wars displace 600 families in North Cotabato

The clan war that erupted between leaders of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the upland town of Banisilan, North Cotabato has displaced more than 600 families, officials said today.

Senior Inspector Jojie Barutas, Banisilan town police chief, said the displaced families came from at least six villages where Moro clans figured in a bloody firefight starting December 23.

Provincial and municipal officials are trying to defuse the tension which, according to evacuees, have already claimed the lives of at least 15 persons from both sides.

Board Member Kelly Antao said involved in the “rido” (family feud) are the heavily armed groups of Ali Rajamuda and his relatives Kineg and Bobby and the group of Sultan Medalya Tidong alias “Commanders Tanda,” Naki Laguib alias “Commander Paron,” Palao and Tahir.

Antao said in a radio interview that at least 15 have been killed in the sporadic skirmishes that started on December 23.

Supt. Romeo Galgo Jr, speaking for police in Central Mindanao, said the raging conflict erupted when the group of Ali Rajamuda, Kineg and Boboy and their followers attacked the villages of Tinimbacan, Pantar and Poblacion 1, known to be bailiwick of “Commanders Tanda” and “Paron,” triggering on and off gun battles that lasted until today, December 28.

Galgo said the attack on Friday and the succeeding skirmishes was in retaliation to the ambush on a convoy of vehicles of Panantaon Mantitayan, village chair of Barangay Busaon, last December 8 that left Alenor Mantitayan and two others dead. Alenor is the son of chairperson Mantitayan.

The forces of Mantitayan and Rajamuda have joined in fighting the group of Commander Tanda who they suspect was behind the Dec. 8 ambush.

Since Dec. 23, intermittent clashes between the warring groups, all belonging to Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have been going on, sending about 168 families from six villages of Banisilan.

Evacuees told reporters that seven of the fatalities were from the group of Rajamuda and 10 from the group of Commander Tanda.

But police could not confirm the fatality figure as families on both sides bury the dead immediately. “We are still confirming the report, we have not seen dead bodies,” Galgo said.

Acting North Cotabato Governor Shirlyn Macasarte has asked Board Member Antao, a Muslim lawmaker, to intervene and ask warring families to disengage.

“That December 8 incident of ambush against Chairperson Mantitayan caused this latest armed conflict,” Antao said.

The latest skirmishes flared up at about 4 p.m. Tuesday, police said.

Early today, the municipal peace and order council met to find solutions to the conflict and how to attend to the displaced families, mostly family members of warring Moro rebels.

Barutas said police personnel backed by soldiers have been deployed to protect the affected families. Government forces did not intervene in recognition to an existing ceasefire agreement between the government and the MILF.

13 of 41 missing firearms from armory of Urdaneta City police voluntarily surrendered

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 28): 13 of 41 missing firearms from armory of Urdaneta City police voluntarily surrendered

The jigsaw puzzle concerning the 41 firearms that were missing in the armory of the Urdaneta City Police in Pangasinan is now about to be solved as 13 of these, all hand guns, had already been surrendered.

The 13 firearms were voluntarily surrendered by businessmen who bought these or to whom these were mortgaged by an erring policeman or policemen.

They voluntary surrendered these when they learned that these are under investigation, Supt. Jackie Candelario, deputy police provincial director for operations, reported.

But these businessmen are not yet off the hook as the investigation on this matter is still continuing.

The investigation is being conducted jointly by the Pangasinan Police Provincial Office (PPPO) and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) with the help of the Urdaneta City Police.

Candelario said a witness whom he declined to identify surfaced and helped investigators in tracing the 13 of the 41 missing firearms.

The witness, he said, named one policeman so far as involved in the disappearance of 41 missing firearms from the armory of the Urdaneta City police and probably will name some more.

Candelario earlier said eight policemen and another a non-uniformed personnel were relieved from the Urdaneta City Police and ordered to report to the PPPO in Lingayen where they are now restricted to quarters.

These reportedly include past and present logistics officers of the Urdaneta City Police.

The missing firearms were first discovered by the National Police Commission (Napolcom) Region 1 which conducted inventory in the armory of the Urdaneta City Police.

Napolcom relayed its finding to the Police regional Office 1 (PRO1) which ordered the Pangasinan PPO to conduct the investigation.

US Embassy in Manila denies plot by former Ambassador Goldberg to unseat President Duterte

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 28): US Embassy in Manila denies plot by former Ambassador Goldberg to unseat President Duterte

The United States Embassy in Manila on Wednesday denied an alleged plot by former Ambassador Philip Goldberg to help unseat Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

The U.S. Embassy said it "categorically denies the allegations and the existence of a 'blueprint'."

"As Secretary (John) Kerry said in his meeting with President Duterte in July, the United States respects the sovereignty of the Philippines and the democratic choices made by the Philippine people in selecting their leaders," U.S. Embassy Press Attaché Molly Koscina said in a statement.

Their reaction is based in an article published by the Manila Times saying that former U.S. Ambassador Goldberg had left behind a "blueprint to undermine Duterte" that is meant to eventually help remove him from office. The article was written by Dr. Dante Ang, the owner of the paper citing a reliable source.

Koscina also said that the relationship between the two countries is "broad" and its alliance is one of their "most enduring and important relationships in the Asia Pacific region."

"It has been a cornerstone of stability for over 70 years. It is built on shared sacrifices for democracy and human rights and strong people-to-people and societal ties. We continue to focus on our broad relationship with the Philippines, and will work together in the many areas of mutual interest to improve the livelihoods of the Philippine people and uphold our shared democratic values," she pointed out.

NPA won't disband, says NDF official

From the Sun Star-Davao (Dec 27): NPA won't disband, says NDF official
THE National Democratic Front (NDF) has no plans of disarming nor disbanding the New People's Army (NPA). Rather, it seeks to strengthen it further, said NDF senior advisor Luis Jalandoni in Monday's 48th anniversary celebration of the New People's Army (NPA) held at Barangay Lumiad in Paquibato District in the hinterlands of Davao City.

 This, despite the ongoing peace negotiation with government.

 “Palakasin pa para i-defend yung mga nakamit ng masa,” Jalandoni said in a press conference during the anniversary celebration.

 Jalandoni added that the armed group must defend what the people have achieved in terms of land reform, national industrialization, and likewise defend the country from the outside forces.

 He added that the armed wing of the communist party is necessary in the community they serve.

 He also stressed that talks for the third and last agreement on the end of hostilities and the disposition of armed forces will only be on the table only if the Comprehensive Agreement on the Socio Economic Reforms (Caser) and the Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms are already agreed on by the panels.

 On third round of talks in Rome this third week of January, they intend to make sure that the Caser would entail advancements of human rights, health, education, and housing.

 “Maraming pag-uusapan sa Caser,” Jalandoni said.

He also added that for the next agreement on the constitutional reforms they intend to scrap Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca), and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

On the unilateral ceasefire Connie Ledesma, NDFP member who was also among the guests, also said that there are demands to lift the ceasefire in the communities claiming there have been violations committed by the government's armed forces.

 She said that when she raised this issue during the peace negotiations, the Royal Norwegian Government (RWG) expressed surprise that violations are being committed.

A guerilla who only identified himself as Ka Joaquin insisted that the violations are real.

“Nagtitimpi ang NPA na hindi parusahan ang mga miyembro ng mga kaaway. Sa oras na may atas na mawala ang ceasefire, parurusahan namin ang hindi nagrerespeto sa mga agreement,” Ka Joaquin said.

 Ka Joaquin said that because they respect the negotiations, they are doing their best to avoid armed encounters with soldiers and that they are now busy with basic fundamental military training while the ceasefire is in effect.

 “They train in military skills basic principles in the revolutionary movements,” Joaquin said.

He added that the soldiers also conduct trainings and education sessions in the community.

A total of 155 NPA soldiers belonging to the First Pulang Bagani Command battalion participated in a tactical inspection conducted Monday headed by the Ka Jinggoy.

  During the ceremony NDF Consultant Porferio Tuna, hailed the existence of the NPA saying that its continued support and service to the masses should not waver.

He also recalled how Leoncio “Ka Parago” Pitao lived up to the ideals of a rebel leader.

Among the audience of about 2,000 people gathered from different areas of Southern Tagalog, Ilocos Cordillera Region, National Capital Region, Bicol Region, Eastern Visayas, Panay Region, North Eastern Mindanao Region, Far South Mindanao Region, Western Mindanao Region, and visitors from other countries, Pitao's widow Evangeline, stood and heard the adulations about her husband.

In a separate interview Evangeline said that she is still in pain from the death of her husband, but the support of the people alleviated this.

“I did not expect that many people will attend, and my pain from my husband’s passing away was somehow relieved,” she told SunStar Davao at the sidelines of the program.

Pitao said that what she wishes for right now is peace and that she hopes the peace talks will be successful.

Until now, she said, her family cannot be complacent about security concerns. Government officials were among the guests.

These include the chair of the Government of the Philippines Panel negotiating with the NDFP and Labor Secretary, Silvestre Bello III, Interior and Local Government Secretary Mike Sueno, Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, Bayan Muna Representative Karlos Zarate, Anak Pawis Representative Ariel Casilao, lead convenor of the National Anti-Poverty Commission Liza Maza, Undersecretary Department of Social Welfare and Development Lisa Masa, Undersecretary of Department of Labor and Employment Joel Maglungsod, and former Gabriela Representative Luz Ilagan.

 From the NDFP, aside from Jalandoni and Tuna were Ariel Arbitrario, Concha Araneta, and Ka Lando.

NDFP: NPA achieves steady growth in PHL

Posted to the often pro-CPP online publication the Davao Today (Dec 28): NDFP: NPA achieves steady growth in PHL

Six platoons of the 1st Pulang Bagani Company performs a tactical inspection during the 48th anniversary celebration of the Communist Party of the Philippines in Barangay Lumiad, Paquibato district in Davao City on Monday morning, Dec. 26, 2016. (Zea Io Ming C. Capistrano/

Six platoons of the 1st Pulang Bagani Company performs a tactical inspection during the 48th anniversary celebration of the Communist Party of the Philippines in Paquibato district in Davao City on Monday morning, Dec. 26, 2016. (Zea Io Ming C. Capistrano/
The National Democratic Front of the Philippines claimed that the New People’s Army, the armed-wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has achieved a steady growth of its members across the country.
According to NDF, as of 2016, the NPA has more than 110 platoon-sized units operating in 71 provinces all over the country.

The CPP, in a statement on its 48th founding anniversary on December 26, has vowed that it would “further strengthen its leadership of the people’s war by firmly directing the New People’s Army in waging revolutionary armed struggle.”

“The Party draws lessons, both positive and negative, from the successful advance of the revolutionary armed struggle in Mindanao, in order to address the stark imbalance between the development of the people’s war in Mindanao, on the one hand, and the stagnation in Luzon and Visayas,” the CPP added.

During the CPP’s anniversary celebration at Barangay Lumiad in Paquibato District, this cityNDF consultant Eduardo Genelsa said “Mindanao continues to be resilient and to advance despite escalating enemy attacks because communists, cadres, NPA combatants, and revolutionary forces have vigorously waged the armed struggle and raised the people’s war to greater heights.”

Genelsa and other NDF leaders asserted that there can be no peace until the roots of armed struggle are addressed decisively, noting that NPAs are now “stronger more than ever to wage armed revolution, gain concrete benefits for the people, and ultimately attain justice and true peace.”

Asked why Mindanao stayed resilient, Genelsa said during the open forum at the National Peace assembly: “Maybe it is the principle.”

“Cadres and Party members in  Mindanao pursued armed struggle vigorously,” Genelsa said.

A bit of history

Genelsa said that the rising number of NPA troops in Mindanao started during the Martial law, where people started to fight against the dictatorship.

“In 1980s onwards, the number of guerilla bases rose. It was the time when the people were amazed when they saw the NPA,” Genelsa said.”The people called them Nice People Around.”

Meanwhile, NDF consultant Concha Araneta-Bocala, who hailed from Panay, was invited to attend Monday’s CPP anniversary celebration in Davao City.

“When I was invited, I said I would go because it would be held here in Mindanao where the people’s war is very advanced,” Araneta said. “I am so honored to be here.”

The government is now engaged in a peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the political arm of the CPP. The third round of talks will be held on January 18 to January 25 next year in Rome, Italy.

Duterte, the Philippines, and the prospect of peace

From Global Risks Assessment (Dec 28): Trends of 2016: Duterte, the Philippines, and the prospect of peace (By Rohini Sengupta)

Trends of 2016: Duterte, the Philippines, and the prospect of peace

President Duterte’s compromise with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) is crucial to stopping the growth of ISIS-linked terrorist organizations in Southeastern Asia.


Conflict in Mindanao

For centuries in the central islands of Mindanao, the Muslim Moro minority have been fighting central governments for greater autonomy and independence. Since the 1960s, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has conducted an armed insurgency committed to establishing an independent state centered in Mindanao. Over time, the MNLF splintered into several disparate groups.

The other main insurgent group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), seeks to establish an Islamic state within the Philippines. The most recent attempt at providing formal legal autonomy, the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, failed.

Extremism takes hold in vacuum

Several other Moro rebel groups have emerged amidst the power vacuum in Mindanao. A few groups have pledged allegiance to ISIS, most notably the Abu Sayyaf militia, whose leader Isnilon Hapilon, was appointed ISIS’s leader in the Philippines. The group mostly operates in the Zamboanga, Basilan, and Jolo regions of Mindanao.

Abu Sayyaf and other ISIS-pledged affiliates generally operate through kidnapping and ransom, and have over time escalated their aggression. In the spring, Abu Sayyaf decapitated two Canadian hostages and carried out bombings in Davao. These moves have observers worried, in that these Southern/Central islands could re-emerge as a hub for terrorist activity, as was the case for al-Qaeda in the 1990s.

According to some estimates, up to 1,200 Southeast Asians have joined ISIS in the Middle East. A terrorist haven in the Philippines could act as a regional lure for Islamic extremists, with reports on Indonesians and Malaysians travelling to Mindanao for training purposes. Moreover, a successful entrenchment of ISIS groups would undoubtedly bolster ISIS’s goal of a far-reaching caliphate.

Duterte and the prospect of peace

A sustainable peace deal between the MILF and MNLF and the government will prevent local frustration over the Moro question from being used as tool for ISIS’s recruitment. President Duterte has vowed to wipe out Abu Sayyaf and has authorized robust military action to stop Abu Sayyaf’s kidnapping activities.

More importantly, Duterte has turned to leaders of the MNLF and MILF to establish a peace deal that can bring stability to the region. Failure to deliver a peace deal between the government and MNLF/MILF could discredit the moderate Moro leadership and lead support to more extremist splinters.

Throughout the year, both the MILF and the MNLF have reiterated their commitment to a southern peace process. Duterte’s background as a Mindanao native bolsters his credibility with the local population and their commitment to peace.

Importantly, MILF has formed a task force to counter ISIS recruitment activities and spokesmen for MILF have called ISIS’s actions un-Islamic.

Duterte’s penchant for aggressive military and police activity grabbed international headlines, but sustainable peace will likely be more achievable through a solution to the Moro secessionist issue.  In 2017, it will be key to see whether Manila addresses the discontent many local Moros feel through a commitment to an agreement with the MNLF/MILF. This is paramount to diminishing ISIS’s appeal in the Philippines.

[Rohini Sengupta currently works as a terrorism and political risk analyst for Willis Towers Watson, a leading global risk management and advisory firm. Her interests are mostly in comparative politics of postcolonial regions, specifically focusing on South Asia and Latin America. She holds a BA in political science and economics from Barnard College of Columbia University and a certificate in political economy from the London School of Economics.]