« IS in the Philippines and the Battle of Marawi: a new appraisal » by Luke Lichin, 31/07/2018, New Mandala
Nine months since the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) retook the city of Marawi from a coalition of Islamic State (IS) affiliated groups, resulting in the deaths of at least 802 militants, 160 government forces, and 47 civilians, President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).
The legislation grants political and financial autonomy to a new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in the Southern Philippines after decades of insurgency and years of tumultuous peace negotiations. Promisingly, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) voiced its satisfaction with the legislation, and is working towards the next steps of implementation, including the decommissioning of 30,000-40,000 fighters. Nevertheless, the BOL must still overcome a range of challenges, including efforts by IS-affiliates to spoil the prospect of peace in Mindanao and Sulu.
Speaking on behalf of the IS-aligned faction of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Abu Misri Mama derided the BOL as an agreement that will benefit only the MILF, and warned of future attacks in response. Although the AFP dismissed the threat as empty propaganda, continuing clashes with the BIFF in Maguindanao and Cotabato lend credibility to Abu Misri Mama’s announcement. The BIFF, like the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and the Maute Group, reject the notion of autonomy for Muslims in the Southern Philippines, and seek to create an IS Wilayat (province) in Southeast Asia; a casus belli that resonates with and attracts fighters from Mindanao, Sulu, and abroad.
Small and fragmented though they are, the BIFF, the ASG, and the Maute Group are resilient organisations that have defied the AFP’s attempts to stamp them out, and there is no better illustration of that resilience than the AFP’s victory in Marawi.
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