Why There's No End In Sight To Violence By Multiple Terrorist Groups In The Philippines
This photo taken on August 23, 2016 shows Philippine soldiers guarding members of the Maute extremist group aboard a military vehicle in Marawi City in the southern island of Mindanao, a day after they were arrested at a military checkpoint and who were later on August 27 freed by their comrades in a daring jailbreak. (RICHELE UMEL/AFP/Getty Images)
Deadly violence has gripped the southwestern Philippines since the 1960s and left around 120,000 people dead in what’s widely known as the Mindanao conflict. Then in 2014 one major Mindanao rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, signed a peace deal with the government. Last year newly-elected Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he would pursue a stronger deal with liberation front and wipe out the Abu Sayyaf, a separate rebel group and one known for kidnapping foreigners.
But this month has proven the conflict western Mindanao and along the Sulu Sea is hardly over. And it won’t end anytime soon. Until the rebels get money and land, the strife will go on.
On May 23 government troops suddenly attacked the Maute Group, a relatively obscure militant organization that pledges allegiance to the deadly, well-funded Middle Eastern terrorist group ISIS. Their battles in the 200,000-person city of Marawi over the past week led Duterte to call for martial law all across all of surrounding Mindanao for at least 60 days. Nearly 100 people have died in the Marawi fights, including about 20 civilians, according to the Philippine media.
A closer look at the Maute Group
The Maute Group, the militant front based in Marawi, is described as being ideological, driven by a hatred of non-Muslims. They may be planning violent attacks in order to catch the attention of ISIS. The 4-year-old group may also want funding from the notorious terrorist outfit, says Antonio Contreras, political scientist at De La Salle University in the Philippines.
Contreras also thinks the Maute Group has connections with another terrorist group, Abu Sayyaf.
“There is some kind of partnership with the Abu Sayyaf,” Contreras says. “I don’t know whether it’s the Abu Sayyaf that leads the Maute group. Surely they would require funds. They have to have arms. Whether it’s direct funding from ISIS, or whether they’re just trying to impress ISIS…those things are still speculations.”
Abu Sayyaf is the most infamous of all the jihadist groups in the region and known for decapitating some tourists who can’t pay ransom. For Abu Sayyaf, the struggle is about money rather than the spread of Islam in a majority Catholic country or some other social, religious or political cause, say observers such as Rhona Canoy, president of an international school and part of a political family in Mindanao. Filipinos often call the elusive group of some 400 people “bandits.”
Abu Sayyaf will keep fighting to protect what officials call their “lairs” on the Sulu Sea islands where locals support the kidnapping enterprise to get a cut of the money, which is prized in a Philippine region known for poverty.
Duterte’s police and armed forces have hit Abu Sayyaf hard over the past year, but groups of its type have a way of resurfacing.
More rebel groups
Abu Sayyaf and Maute are just two rebel groups around Mindanao. The more established Moro Islamic Liberation Front stepped up its work in February toward an autonomy-sharing law after it joined the government in forming a 21-member commission to work on the issues. They have not decided how to share power, an obvious sticking point to any related law.
The 17-year peace process before 2014 also left out the Moro National Liberation Front, another group looking for Muslim self-rule along the Sulu Sea coast. That group’s leader, Nur Misuari, is suspected of staging an attack on the Mindanao hub city Zamboanga, killing 140, in 2013. “Nur Misuari wants to carve his own kingdom, and so he is pushing Duterte to give some more concessions,” said Eduardo Araral, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s public policy school. “I think Duterte is getting frustrated with that.”
Learn From The Leader
American Military University (AMU) is proud to be the #1 provider of higher education to the U.S. military, based on FY 2018 DoD tuition assistance data, as reported by Military Times, 2019. At AMU, you’ll find instructors who are former leaders in the military, national security, and the public sector who bring their field-tested skills and strategies into the online classroom. And we work to keep our curriculum and content relevant to help you stay ahead of industry trends. Join the 64,000 U.S. military men and women earning degrees at American Military University.