Abu Sayyaf Crime, Ideology, Autonomy Movement? The Complex Evolution of a Militant Islamist Group in the Philippines


Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) is a terrorist organization operating in the southern Philippines.  Founded in Basilan Province, it is mainly located in the Sulu Archipelago in the provinces of Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi.[1]   ASG has been classified as a terrorist organization by the United States since October 1997.[2]  The focus on ASG was intensified following the 9/11 attacks on the United States (US) based on a presumed association with Al Qaeda.[3]   Throughout its existence beginning in the early 1990s, ASG has waffled back and forth between criminality and terrorism. Although ASG has committed terrorist acts, its actions did not always reflect an Islamic ideological basis and appeared to be base on monetary gains. More recently, ASG has returned to its roots embracing its extremist views and aligning itself with known militant organizations.[4]  The history of its resistance and its cultural form of governance is necessary to understand the development of the organization. The ASG continues to go through an evolutionary process as do the factors that support its continuing operations.

Moro History in Southern Philippines

The ASG was originally founded as al-Harakatul al-Islamiyyah (AHAI), also known as the Islamic Movement, in 1989 by Abdurajak Janjalani.[5]  However, the historical events producing an environment supportive of the development of a terrorist organization dates back centuries.

Islam was brought to the Philippines by Muslim traders in the 14th century from Indonesia. Muslim communities were established in southern Philippines in the Sulu Archipelago and into Mindanao.[6]  Conflict in the region began with Ferdinand Magellan and the Spanish conquest leading to Philippine colonization by the Spanish in 1565. The Catholic Spanish converted large portions of the northern Philippines to Catholicism, but met resistance in the Muslim south.[7] Due to the history of war with Muslims in Spain, the Spanish were hostile to the “Moros”, their name for the Muslim people, this animosity towards the Moros transferred to the people of the Catholic north (this sentiment persists into modern day). As the Spanish continued to push south into traditional Muslim lands, the first Moro resistance began.[8]  The Spanish saw this as a modern day “reconquita,” harkening back to the reconquest of Spain from the Muslims in 1492.

After the defeat of the Spanish in the Spanish-American War, the US took control of the Philippines under the 1898 Treaty of Paris. Although there were uprisings in the north and south, the Philippine Insurrection in the north ended in 1902. The Philippine Insurrection would shape future General George Marshall, who served as a lieutenant and gained a healthy respect for the fighting capabilities of the Moros. In the south, the resistance continued through Philippine Independence in 1946.[9]  Although the Philippines were unified as one country, following Japanese occupation and the end of World War II, the divide between the north and south did not close. The Muslim south did not feel represented or supported by their government. Catholics from the north were encouraged to move south and were given titles to their newly claimed land. The Muslim south took this as a threat to their land and communities. Additionally, the Moros did not feel they had the same access to education, the legal system, or medical care. This, coupled with religious differences, led to a renewed resistance against their government and support for a Moro independent state. In 1969, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) began as an organization created to attain the goal of an independent Muslim state in the southern Philippines.[10] The plight of the MNLF gained global attention garnering support from university students in the Middle East as well as government leaders.  Muammar Qaddafi from Libya was reported to have supplied arms and training to the Moro through Malaysia.

The Moro were skilled fighters and adept at warfare tactics in the difficult terrain in the south. When progress was not made in suppressing the MNLF uprising, pressure was put on Ferdinand Marcos to come to a peace agreement.[11] In 1976, a cease-fire was reached establishing an autonomous semi-independent zone in Mindinao, a southern region of the Philippines.[12]  At first, the agreement was perceived as a step in the right direction giving the MNLF global attention and gaining additional foreign support to include Iran. However, the implementation of the agreement was poor, which led to additional turmoil in the region. The military that was left in the region was virtually unsupported leaving them to fend for themselves.  Political overlords hired soldiers to provide protection and criminal activity. Dissatisfaction with the truce ensued which instigated renewed efforts for a completely independent state resulting in a split in the MNLF in 1977.[13]

The new organization that severed ties with the MNLF was formalized and named the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 1983.  The founders of MILF were the more militant members of the MNLF and were well armed. There were disputes as to who was the “true” representative of the Moro people leading to infighting between the groups as well as the Philippine government.[14]

Alliances Shaping the Culture

The cultural makeup of the southern Philippines lends itself well to establishing and maintaining a terrorist network. The government has little control of the region. Most of the area is controlled by a loose feudal system.  The Tausug and the Yakan are the dominant ethnic groups in the region. In the 1960’s Thomas Kiefer did field studies on the Tausug alliances which are the building blocks to societal functions. These alliances help to explain the structure of organizations such as Abu Sayyaf.[15]

Minimal alliance groups are those found in everyday societal life. They are the alliances between family and extended family members to provide protection and economic assistance within a community. These types of alliances are found in more rural areas where government support is lacking. These alliances are stable and enduring. These groups are defined by their leaders, and named as such.[16]

Medial alliance groups are formed when two or more leaders of a minimal alliance come together for a like cause. This type of alliance is temporary. Once the objective of the alliance is obtained or has come to a conclusion, the alliance is dissolved. These alliances are more fragile since the allegiance of the individual still lies with their leader, not to the joined group. Additionally, with the larger size of the group, it is more likely there might be a rivalry among the members of the separate minimal alliances.[17]

Maximal alliances are formed by very strong leaders and can approach the size of 1000 or more individuals. These alliances were formed to battle foreign invaders. [18] Although it is important to know this type of allegiance has existed in the past, it does not factor in to this discussion.

Understanding the alliance system and how it works within the society helps to explain the success of ASG. The literature states that the numbers of members of ASG has fluctuated over the years. Part of this has to do with the organization’s success and failures, but a greater portion has to do with the alliance system. There is a leader of ASG core but there are also temporary alliances with other leaders that support a specific initiative (for example a kidnapping) in which the number of ASG appears to swell. But when the event is over (hostages released), there is no longer a need for as many people (security, hostage handlers, etc) therefore people leave the medial alliance with their leader.

The other benefit of the alliances is that although there is a named leader, the members tend to be anonymous. They can easily blend into society.  They also have relationships with people outside of the ASG which can provide a safe haven, supplies, and information on potential government actions. The familial relationships form tight bonds which can override governmental influence, especially when the ASG tend to be local citizens and the military or other government representatives do not.

Also of note from Thomas Kiefer’s observations, the Tausig people tended to admire criminals to a certain extent, viewing them as strong and danger seeking and appreciating the money they could bring to the economy. This combined with a feudal type system with familial alliances make the region vulnerable to criminal and terrorist groups, including ASG.  In effect, it could be argued, that ASG is more of an alliance of criminal groups held together by friendships and family relationships rather than a specific ideology, although the Islamist ideology has played a more important role with this group in recent years.[19]           

Soviet-Afghan War Influence 

After the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Muslims from around the world went to Afghanistan to join the mujahideen fighting the Soviets. One of the leaders and founders of the Islamic Union, Professor Abdul Rasul Abu Sayyaf, was heavily influenced by the more radical Wahabi theology. The Islamic Union was financed by like minded Saudi Arabians and supported the Muslim Brotherhood.[20] It is estimated that 300-500 Moro from the Philippines joined this movement.[21]  One of these individuals was a former student of Abdul Sayyaf named Abdurajik Janjalani who had studies under him. In this environment, Janjalani became associated with many of the individuals that eventually became leaders of Al-Qaeda. He also became radicalized in the militant Islamic ideology and took this back to the Philippines with him following the war.

Founding of Abu Sayyaf

After returning to the Philippines following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, Abdurajik Janjalani envisioned an independent Islamic state in southern Philippines. Disillusioned by what he believed was a “sell out” by the MNLF, Janjalani began his own organization, the AHAI which was eventually renamed Abu Sayyaf. It is mentioned in the literature that Abu Sayyaf means “bearer of the sword”[22] but there are also references to it being named in honor of Janjalani’s mentor Abdul Sayyaf.[23]  This is not the only contradiction in information regarding ASG.

Although there is one reference to ASG forming from a split from MILF[24], the majority credit MNLF defectors as the source of the original members of the ASG.[25][26][27][28] There are also conflicting reports of the direct involvement of Osama bin Laden in the development of ASG. There are claims that Osama bin Laden personally contacted and worked with Adburajak Janjalani to establish a Southeast Asia base as they knew each other from Afghanistan and have been reported to be friends. [29][30]  Others claim there was not a direct link with bin Laden, but an indirect one between ASG and bin Laden’s brother in law, Mohammad Jamal Khalifa, who was killed in Madagascar in 2007, lived in the Philippines in the mid 1990’s.[31] Khalifa was involved with the finances of charitable organizations in the Philippines including International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) which has been implicated in funding ASG. In the beginning, these funds were used to expand ASG and buy weapons. [32] Additionally, the charitable work took place in areas friendly to ASG building schools and mosques to facilitate good relations with the populace in those areas.[33]  It was estimated only 10-30 percent of the funds intended to go to charily actually went towards the projects; the rest went to terrorist organizations.[34] This funding (both to the charity and to ASG itself) helped to expand ASG and gain support from the local populations giving the ASG an advantage over the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

When the funds from Al-Qaeda began to dry up after the expulsion of Khalifa from the Philippines in 1995[35], ASG resorted to other means for funding. Kidnapping, extortion, drug trafficking, paid body guards, and counterfeiting became commonplace for the ASG. After the death of its leader Janjalani in 1998, the ASG separated themselves more and more from its Islamist ideology and moved toward the label of criminals or bandits.[36] They became notorious for kidnapping and ransoms. The money they received from ransoms was often times very lucrative and helped to finance its activities as well as recruit new members.[37]

ASG went through many years of split leadership and disorganization. The group was viewed more as criminals or bandits than actual terrorists. ASG appeared to be putting the prospect of financial gains in front of the original premise of a jihadist movement in support of an independent state. In 2007, Khadaffy Janjalani, younger brother of founder, Adburajak Janjalani, took control after the arrest of a rival leader. He discouraged kidnapping and encouraged bombing (a more acceptable form of terrorism) in support of the jihadist movement.[38]  Returning to its roots as an organization in support of an independent Islamic state and pursuing a radical Islamic agenda gave ASG “credibility” within the Islamic Movement terrorist organizations.[39] This opened the door to new partnerships with organizations to include Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and Al-Aqaeda.

Support of Continuing Operations

Funding of the ASG from outside sources remains an issue for the Philippines. The Philippines has a weak banking system with loose regulations. The system of Hawala, an unregulated system for remittance is widely used by terrorist networks and is available in the Philippines. These two financial factors make fund transfers relatively easy in the Philippines which is to the benefit of terrorist organizations. Additionally, the weak oversight and enforcement capabilities make this area a desirable location to be a financial hub for Al-Qaeda or like-minded organizations. [40]  As recently as January 2011, an ASG operative was arrested while on his way to meet bin Laden. Although that meeting did not occur, it is evidence that the two organizations are at least interested in a renewed/continued relationship.[41]

As backward as the financial system appears to be, newer technology such as the internet is making the spread of training and jihadist ideology much easier for ASG and like organizations. In 2010, extremist websites coming from Southeast Asia ranged from 150-200. These sites serve as virtual recruiting centers reaching a larger population than the traditional method. The advances in computer technology also allow for virtual training for recruits saving time and money.[42]

Military engagements with the ASG have been marginally successful. The US has been willing to assist since at least 2001, but due to a ban on foreign combat troops on Philippine soil in the Filipino Constitution, US support has been complicated.[43] The US helped the Philippine government in several operations but others have been canceled due to public perception of a US occupation. Operation Endgame in 2002-03 and Oplan Ultimatum 2006-07 appeared to have limited success in reducing the numbers of ASG. [44]  However, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have experienced an increase in conflicts with ASG including two simultaneous bombings in October 2011.[45] This new activity is disheartening to the AFP that as recently as May 2011 was talking of the demise of the ASG.[46]

In the past, MILF did not support the kidnapping activities of the ASG deeming them “un-Islamic”, in turn the ASG did not see the MILF as a reliable partner in the jihad cause. However, the renewed emphasis on the struggle for national liberation has forged new cooperation between the two organizations.[47] The MILF has money and can provide the ASG some protection in its territory, the ASG keeps the government forces occupied so the MILF can build its network.[48] There is also evidence of cooperation with JI including training recruits at MILF camps in the Philippines by ASG. Since JI is associated with Al-Qaeda, there is added concern that an alliance with JI is an alliance with Al-Qaeda. With the increasing interactions of ASG, JI, and MIL, the defining lines of each organization is becoming blurred as they join together in a coalition type force to carry out acts of terrorism. This is reminiscent of the alliance system which is part of its cultural construct.

A homegrown asset to ASG is the Christian converts from the north. The Balik Islam or new adult converts to Islam have given the ASG new recruits outside of the southern Philippines. These recruits are known to be zealous and militant, features very attractive to the ASG. These converts played crucial roles in carrying out or attempting terrorist acts in 2004-2005. The potential for Balik Islam participation in future attacks and their willingness to become part of a terrorist organization is an asset for ASG.[49]

Additionally, there is a newer organization to contend with in the Philippines. Awliya meaning “Friends of Allah” is made up of MNLF, MILF, and ASG former members. Awliya practice a Sufi influenced “mystical” form of Islam. The members are described as cult-like and do not care if they die.[50]  Although the group is small at this time, they pose a potential threat to the Philippines should the group continue to grow.


One could say that ASG is a terror organization inspired by Soviet-Afghanistan war veterans and its extremist views that were radicalized during this time period and that the ASG is a puppet in the global jihad controlled by larger organizations including Al-Qaeda. But that analysis loses centuries of history and culture that facilitated the formation of ASG. This region is repressed, economically depressed, and poorly policed leaving it ripe for criminal and terrorist activity. The ASG has been supported by the local establishment both directly and indirectly. There newer found support by JI and MILF will only strengthen and expand its capabilities.

[1] "Chapter 6. Terrorist Organizations." Country Reports On Terrorism (2008): 282-329.

[2] Abuza, Zachary. "Balik-Terrorism: The Return Of The Abu Sayyaf." Balik Terrorism: The Return Of The Abu Sayyaf (2005): 1-58.

[3] Banlaoi, Rommel C. “The Sources of the Abu Sayyaf’s Resilience in the Southern Philippines.”  Combating Terrorism Center Sentinel 3.2 (2010): 17-19. 

[4] Banlaoi, Rommel C. "THE ABU SAYYAF GROUP: From Mere Banditry To Genuine Terrorism." Southeast Asian Affairs (2006): 247-262.

[5] Banlaoi, Rommel C. “The Sources of the Abu Sayyaf’s Resilience in the Southern Philippines.”  Combating Terrorism Center Sentinel 3.2 (2010): 17-19. 

[6] Turbiville Jr., Graham H. "Bearer Of The Sword." Military Review 82.2 (2002): 38.

[7] “Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)." Background Information Summaries (2005): 1.

[8] Turbiville Jr., Graham H. "Bearer Of The Sword." Military Review 82.2 (2002): 38.

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11] Rogers, Steven. "Beyond The Abu Sayyaf." Foreign Affairs 83.1 (2004): 15-20.

[12] “Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)." Background Information Summaries (2005): 1.

[13] Rogers, Steven. "Beyond The Abu Sayyaf." Foreign Affairs 83.1 (2004): 15-20.

[14] Turbiville Jr., Graham H. "Bearer Of The Sword." Military Review 82.2 (2002): 38.

[15] Ugarte, Eduardo F. "The Alliance System Of The Abu Sayyaf, 1993-2000." Studies In Conflict & Terrorism 31.2 (2008): 125-144.

[16] Ibid

[17] Ugarte, Eduardo F. "The Alliance System Of The Abu Sayyaf, 1993-2000." Studies In Conflict & Terrorism 31.2 (2008): 125-144.

[18] Ibid

[19] Ugarte, Eduardo F. "The “Lost Command” Of Julhani Jillang: An Alliance From The Southwestern Philippines." Studies In Conflict & Terrorism 32.4 (2009): 303-321.

[20] Turbiville Jr., Graham H. "Bearer Of The Sword." Military Review 82.2 (2002): 38.

[21] Abuza, Zachary. "Balik-Terrorism: The Return Of The Abu Sayyaf." Balik Terrorism: The Return Of The Abu Sayyaf (2005): 1-58.

[22] “Abu Sayyaf Group (Philippines, Islamist Separatists).” Council on Foreign Relations (2009). 

[23] Banlaoi, Rommel C. "THE ABU SAYYAF GROUP: From Mere Banditry To Genuine Terrorism." Southeast Asian Affairs (2006): 247-262.

[24] Raymond, Catherine Zara. "Maritime Terrorism In Southeast Asia: A Risk Assessment." Terrorism & Political Violence 18.2 (2006): 239-257.

[25] Banlaoi, Rommel C. "THE ABU SAYYAF GROUP: From Mere Banditry To Genuine Terrorism." Southeast Asian Affairs (2006): 247-262.

[26] Turbiville Jr., Graham H. "Bearer Of The Sword." Military Review 82.2 (2002): 38.

[27] Abuza, Zachary. "Balik-Terrorism: The Return Of The Abu Sayyaf." Balik Terrorism: The Return Of The Abu Sayyaf (2005): 1-58.

[28] “Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)." Background Information Summaries (2005): 1.

[29] Raymond, Catherine Zara. "Maritime Terrorism In Southeast Asia: A Risk Assessment." Terrorism & Political Violence 18.2 (2006): 239-257.

[30] Zenn, Jacob. "Demise of Philippines' Abu Sayyaf Terrorist Group Begins in Abbottabad." Terrorism Monitor 27 May 2011: 4-6.

[31] Kurlantzick, Joshua. "Opening Up A Second Front." U.S. News & World Report 131.26 (2001): 24.

[32] Ibid

[33] Abuza, Zachary. "Funding Terrorism In Southeast Asia: The Financial Network Of Al Qaeda And Jemaah Islamiya." Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal Of International & Strategic Affairs 25.2 (2003): 169-199.

[34] Ibid

[35] Niksch, Larry. "Abu Sayyaf: Target Of Philippine-U.S. Anti-Terrorism Cooperation." Congressional Research Service: Report (2007): 1-16.

[36] Banlaoi, Rommel C. “The Sources of the Abu Sayyaf’s Resilience in the Southern Philippines.”  Combating Terrorism Center Sentinel 3.2 (2010): 17-19.

[37] Niksch, Larry. "Abu Sayyaf: Target Of Philippine-U.S. Anti-Terrorism Cooperation." Congressional Research Service: Report (2007): 1-16.

[38] . “Abu Sayyaf Group (Philippines, Islamist Separatists).” Council on Foreign Relations (2009). 

[39] Banlaoi, Rommel C. "THE ABU SAYYAF GROUP: From Mere Banditry To Genuine Terrorism." Southeast Asian Affairs (2006): 247-262.

[40] Abuza, Zachary. "Funding Terrorism In Southeast Asia: The Financial Network Of Al Qaeda And Jemaah Islamiya." Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal Of International & Strategic Affairs 25.2 (2003): 169-199.

[41] Zenn, Jacob. "Demise of Philippines' Abu Sayyaf Terrorist Group Begins in Abbottabad." Terrorism Monitor 27 May 2011: 4-6.

[42] Smith, Paul J. "Terrorism In Southeast Asia: A Strategic Assessment." Regional Outlook (2010): 12-16.

[43] . Larry A. Niksch, et al. "Terrorism In Southeast Asia: RL34194." Congressional Research Service: Report (2007): 1-33.

[44] “Achieving Security In The Southern Philippines." Strategic Comments 13.1 (2007): 1-2.

[45] Zenn, Jacob. "Islamist Militants of the Philippines Restructure to Intensify the Anti-Government Jihad." Terrorism Monitor 04 Nov. 2011: 5-7.

[46] Zenn, Jacob. "Demise of Philippines' Abu Sayyaf Terrorist Group Begins in Abbottabad." Terrorism Monitor 27 May 2011: 4-6.

[47] Abuza, Zachary. "The Moro Islamic Liberation Front At 20: State Of The Revolution." Studies In Conflict & Terrorism 28.6 (2005): 453-479.

[48] Abuza, Zachary. "Balik-Terrorism: The Return Of The Abu Sayyaf." Balik Terrorism: The Return Of The Abu Sayyaf (2005): 1-58.

[49] Ibid

[50] Zenn, Jacob. "Islamist Militants of the Philippines Restructure to Intensify the Anti-Government Jihad." Terrorism Monitor 04 Nov. 2011: 5-7.


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On the original article... there are flaws, mainly relatively minor factual issues that have limited impact on the overall conclusion. The main problem with the article is superficiality: it's simply too much territory to be covered in such limited space with any impact. I also have to wonder if the author has ever been to Mindanao. It's one of those places where some feet-on-the-ground time really is required to get a clue.

One factual error with ramifications: the Tausug and Yakan are not the dominant ethnic groups in the southern Philippines, they are the dominant ethnic groups in the islands west of Zamboanga. The ramification there is that the article fails to mention that there are in effect two separate but closely related insurgencies in the southern Philippines: the Maranao/Maguindanao insurgency dominated by the MILF and the Tausug/Yakan/Sama insurgency currently expressed through the ASG and the various splinter factions deriving from the MNLF. The two haven't had even nominal joint leadership since the MNLF/MILF schism.

The story of how the original intent to create a jihidi organization was diverted into the emergence of a profit-oriented criminal enterprise is also missing some pieces, but filling them in would require a minor dissertation, for which I haven't time. That also has ramifications, though: any account of the Abu Sayyaf story is incomplete without a review of the collusion with military and local officialdom that has been such a central part of that story.

Could go on, but enough for now...

Would that by chance be Peter Parker in Cagayan de Oro?

I do not at all agree that "those that fail to sustain a long-term interest in the Bangsamoro will surely be left behind in the Great Game of maritime Southeast Asia". I'd say, in fact, that what happens in Mindanao is largely irrelevant the the Asia-Pacific "great game". No critical sea lanes are affected, there are no strategically significant air or sea ports or practical basing locations.

There's been a great deal of effort in the Philippine press to depict foreign involvement in the Mindanao peace process as conspiratorial and self-serving, either by claiming strategic objectives or vast but generally unspecified and hypothetical resource deposits. Neither claim stands up to scrutiny, and in fact foreign involvement really isn't that extensive. Lots of countries are in the picture, but the commitments are not that large. Ultimately of course the issues, impacts, and solutions (not that I see the current "peace process" as a solution, though it's better than the last effort) are local.

I do not believe that the current deal with the MILF will have much impact on the Tausug/Sama/Yakan insurgency in the islands west of Zamboanga, which is the Abu Sayyaf heartland and the primary area of operations for American forces. The Maguindanao/Maranao dominated MILF is not a dominant force in this area, and the structural changes the agreement pursues will not change local power dynamics to any appreciable degree. The key challenge in this area is not only to control the Abu Sayyaf or similar groups, but to bring the corrupt and abusive local politicians within the rule of law, There's been some success at the former task, very little at the latter, and until the latter task is achieved any military success will be transient.

Reforming local politics and bringing agents of the state within the rule of law is of course a job for the Philippine government, not for foreign forces. The military successes enabled by foreign assistance may create a window of opportunity for beginning this process, but they may also create an illusion of long-term progress that distracts from the critical need for governance reform.

Hi Dayuhan,

Thanks for commenting on the posted article on Bangsamoro. The focus of the Great Game in Southeast Asia is the South China Sea where the Chinese want to have hegemony over the sea just like what the US enjoys in the Carribean. The South China Sea has been called the Mediterranean of Southeast Asia. Now if you look at the South China Sea, which is a semi-enclosed sea as a "maritime heartland" what then is its maritime rimland? The most important "maritime rimlands" in relation to the South China Sea are the crescent from the Sulu Sea, the Moro Gulf towards the Sulawesi (Celebes) Sea. Sulu Sea and Moro Gulf are part of the geographic space of the Bangsamoro. The US armed forces cannot have permanent access to the countries in the South China Sea littoral because those Southeast Asian countries don't want to be caught in between China and the US in case of a shooting war for the commons of the South China Sea. So where can the US have some prerogatives to use maritime and air spaces to preposition its forces as well as to use it to patrol the rimlands of the South China Sea? The "ungoverned spaces" of Sulawesi-Mindanao Arch (See RAND paper 2007) including its maritime spaces become the maneuver area of the submarines, warships and aircraft of the US armed forces. Thus, the Bangsamoro territorial space with the latent claim of the US to it as its former colonial possession, which was given to the Philippines in 1946 on the condition that it will be able to govern the Moros, provides the US plausible claims to use that territory for its containment strategies towards China and in particular towards the South China Sea. The JSOTF Operation Enduring Freedom - Philippines is based in Zamboanga City facing the Sulu Archipelago and the Sulu Sea and also in Cotabato in Camp Awang in Central Mindanao, the heart of the Bangsamoro territory in the big island of Mindanao. Without the US presence in Bangsamoro there will be a vacuum that will be filled by China. The Bangsamoro region is a failed region or an ungoverned space in the parlance of RAND. As Jakub Grygiel stated in his article on "vacuum wars":

"Failed states are not only a source of domestic calamities; they are also potentially a source of great power competition that in the past has often led to confrontation, crisis and war. The failure of a state creates a vacuum that, especially in strategically important regions, draws in competitive great-power intervention…..The prevailing view of failed states is, to repeat, not wrong, just incomplete—for it ignores the competitive nature of great power interactions. The traditional understanding of power vacuums is still very relevant. Sudan, Central Asia, Indonesia, parts of Latin America and many other areas are characterized by weak and often collapsing states that are increasingly arenas for great power competition. The interest of these great powers is not to rebuild the state or to engage in “nation-building” for humanitarian purposes but to establish a foothold in the region, to obtain favorable economic deals, especially in the energy sector, and to weaken the presence of other great powers..…As Richard Nixon once said to Mao Zedong, “In international relations there are no good choices. One thing is sure—we can leave no vacuums, because they can be filled.” The power vacuums created by failed states attract the interests of great powers because they are an easy way to expand their spheres of influence while weakening their opponents or forestalling their intervention. A state that decides not to fill a power vacuum is effectively inviting other states to do so, thereby potentially decreasing its own relative power."

Thus, the countries involved in the Moro peace process can probably justify their intervention among other reasons because of a China-US "vacuum war" for the ungoverned spaces of Bangsamoro in Mindanao and right now it is the US military presence in Bangsamoro and Mindanao that is occupying the vacuum, while their involvement in the peace process allows the conditions in the region to improve to bring about stability and eventually the “failed region” or ungoverned space is strengthened. On the other hand, if there is future instability in the region, then China as it grows economically and militarily might be tempted to fill the vacuum in that region. This is why the Great Game of the South China Sea, which is the front and center of the contest for domination of the approaches to the rich East Asian region, is determined by the domination of the rimland of the Sulu Sea to Moro Gulf to Sulawesi Sea Arch (also known as the Tri-Border Sea Area).

The latest paper from the RAND think tank disputes the assertion that as you say, “in fact, that what happens in Mindanao is largely irrelevant the Asia-Pacific "great game". No critical sea lanes are affected; there are no strategically significant air or sea ports or practical basing locations.”

RAND states in its 2012 paper, “Non-Traditional Threats and Maritime Domain
Awareness in the Tri-Border Area of Southeast Asia, The Coast Watch System of the Philippines”:

“Important shipping lanes pass from the Makassar Strait between Sulawesi and Borneo through the Celebes Sea to East Asia. hese routes include one across the Sulu Sea to the Surigao Strait (between Mindanao and Leyte), used by ships traveling between Southeast Asia and the Paciic; across the Sulu Sea to the Balabac Strait (between Palawan and Sabah) and the Mindoro Strait (west of Mindoro island), used by ships traveling between Australia and southern China; and one east of Mindoro and then across the San Bernardino Strait to the Paciic Ocean.”

I rest my case.

I think there are a number of misconceptions and exaggerations in this argument. They are misconceptions and exaggerations that are very commonly heard in Mindanao, both in the media and in general discourse, and they appear regularly in Manila as well.

The first exaggeration is of the degree of independence the new "Bangsamoro" autonomous entity will have, and on the extent to which it's likely to change any great power equation in the area. This is not going to be an independent country. It's not going to have an army, a navy, an air force, or a foreign policy. It's not going to be cutting deals with foreign governments on defense and military basing. It's not going to be in meaningful control of any peripheral waters. It will be a part of the Philippines and subject to Philippine Constitutional provisions on foreign basing and other issues. Much of the area is and will continue to be largely ungoverned, either by Manila or the supposed autonomous government, but these areas are for the most part marginal interior areas or undeveloped coastal areas of little strategic relevance. They could potentially be a haven for piracy or terrorist activity, but on the level of irritants rather than actual threats to anyone.

The Bangsamoro government can in theory (the details are far from resolved) make resource deals with foreign governments, though Manila will certainly have a role. In practice this isn't likely to amount to much: despite all manner of wild and unsubstantiated rumors, there's little evidence of strategically significant resource reserves in the area. Certainly there are some mineral reserves and some oil and gas potential, but the energy potential is on the lines of potentially reducing Philippine dependence on imports, not a sudden transformation to being an energy exporter. There may be some potential contracts up for bids, but great powers aren't going to be flocking to the Liguasan Marsh to "get the oil". In fact given the uncertain policy and security environment the problem may be more about how to get foreign investors interested.

I do not see the US presence in Mindanao as an attempt to fill an ungoverned space. The minimal presence there isn't even in the ungoverned space or the territory of the Bangsamoro; it's focused in Zamboanga City, without independent access to air or sea port facilities. It's too small to realistically contest any ungoverned space, and is focused mainly on trying to upgrade the skills of the Philippine military to a point that will allow them to dominate the space in question. I don't see any evidence that the Chinese are trying to move in, or any real reason why they would want to.

Another major exaggeration is in the estimate of the importance of the fairly small portion of Mindanao that would be affected. The idea that "the most important "maritime rimlands" in relation to the South China Sea are the crescent from the Sulu Sea, the Moro Gulf towards the Sulawesi (Celebes) Sea" is simply wrong. The most important SCS "maritime rimland", by an enormous margin, is the area around the Straits of Malacca, by far the most important waterway in the area. The status of the Bangsamoro will have exactly zero impact on the ability of the US to maneuver in the sea between Mindanao and Indonesia; they use it freely now and will continue to do so in the future. Who's going to stop them?

The Rand study you cite refers to "the tri-border area of SE Asia", only a very minimal part of which would be in any way affected by the Bangsamoro transition. The only significant sea lane that could possibly be affected is the Sibutu Passage, which skirts the periphery of the Bangsamoro area. This is used primarily by post-Malaccamax ULCCs (very few of which are now in service) bound for Southern China and for ships moving between Australia and southern China. To put it in perspective, the Straits of Malacca carry more traffic in a day than the Sibutu Passage carries in a year. The Sibutu Passage is way outside the MILF zone of influence and the impact of a deal between the Philippine Government and the MILF is not likely to have much impact in the area. The Bangsamoro will not suddenly be in control of the passage or in a position to interdict traffic. If the area collapses completely there may be a threat of piracy, as there has been for years among the Makassar strait to the south (Sibutu Passage traffic also passes the Makassar Strait) but that's an irritant, not a threat. Worth noting that despite the Abu Sayyaf presence pirate attacks on international shipping in the Sibutu Passage have not become an issue.

Much of the Mindanao discourse seems to assume the area has some vast importance, an idea that supports all manner of conspiracy theories. There isn't really much basis for that: in fact the area is pretty peripheral, which is why in the larger scheme of things it really doesn't get much attention. Certainly lots of foreign powers would like to see the area settle down and would like to see the major conflicts resolved, but there's no vast strategic significance there and the commitments are pretty minimal. It's a big deal for people who live there and will be affected (though in all honesty I don't think much is going to change), but in regional or global strategic terms there really isn't much significance. If there was you'd see a whole lot more going on.

This is for the guidance of all in the US armed services regarding US policy in Mindanao and the Philippines which is about the US pivot and not about counterterrorism or "small wars". Lt. Gen. Francis J. Wiercinski, commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC), on a two-hour panel at the Association of the U.S. Army’s conference said “This rebalance to the Pacific is not a military event. This is a whole of government approach.”

By Ishak V. Mastura
October 21, 2012
Ruurdje Laarhoven, a Dutch-American scholar, wrote in her book, "Triumph of Moro Diplomacy: The Maguindanao Sultanate in the 17th Century" (New Day, 1989) the story of how the Maguindanao Sultanate preserved its independence by playing off colonial powers, Spain and the Dutch Netherlands, against each other. According to one reviewer, the book was perhaps the first attempt to depict Mindanao within its natural zone of activity, which in the 17th century included the Southern Philippines, North Maluku and Sulawesi (the last two of which are part of modern Indonesia). Now we are in the 21st century in the year 2012, and we are witness again to another triumph in diplomacy. But this time it is a triumph of Western diplomacy regarding the same territorial space that the Maguindanao Sultanate occupied in southern Philippines.
On October 15, the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro in a formal ceremony at the presidential palace in Manila witnessed by Philippine President Aquino and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretary-General Exmeleddin Ihsanoglu. The signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro followed 15 years of peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the MILF with Malaysia acting as facilitator cum mediator of the peace talks regularly held in Kuala Lumpur. It is not yet a completed peace agreement but merely a framework with annexes on power-sharing, wealth-sharing, normalization and modalities still to be negotiated and finalized by the end of the year. The OIC imprimatur to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro is important because it has been involved in trying to resolve the Moro conflict peacefully since 1974 when it brokered an autonomy formula for the Bangsamoro under the Tripoli Peace Agreement of 1976 which was never satisfactorily implemented leading to renewed cycles of armed conflict. But now the OIC is an observer in the GPH-MILF peace talks since a number of its member countries are part of the peace process with Malaysia as the facilitator, Turkey and Saudi Arabia as members of the International Contact Group, and Brunei and Indonesia as members of the International Monitoring Team that monitors the ceasefire on the ground.
In President Aquino's speech on October 8 announcing that the two negotiating parties have come to an agreement he said and I quote: "The ARMM (referring to the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) is a failed experiment. Many of the people continue to feel alienated by the system, and those who feel that there is no way out will continue to articulate their grievances through the barrel of a gun. We cannot change this without structural reform. This is the context that informed our negotiations throughout the peace process. And now, we have forged an agreement that seeks to correct these problems. It defines our parameters and our objectives, while upholding the integrity and sovereignty of our nation. This agreement creates a new political entity, and it deserves a name that symbolizes and honors the struggles of our forebears in Mindanao, and celebrates the history and character of that part of our nation. That name will be Bangsamoro." In one stroke, Bangsamoro has been acknowledged by the Philippine government's highest official and its head of state.
The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro itself provides: "The Parties agree that the status quo is unacceptable and that the Bangsamoro shall be established to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The Bangsamoro is the new autonomous political entity….The Parties recognize Bangsamoro identity. Those who at the time of conquest and colonization were considered natives or original inhabitants of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago and its adjacent islands including Palawan, and their descendants whether of mixed or of full blood shall have the right to identify themselves as Bangsamoro by ascription or self-ascription." The recognition of Bangsamoro identity and homeland is in accordance with international standard practice on the recognition of indigenous people's right to self-determination as contained in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
This diplomatic triumph wherein the negotiating parties arrived at a peace agreement is due in large part to Western legal advances in international relations, peace processes, mediation and conflict resolution and to the diplomatic tools designed and applied by Western powers in other conflict-affected areas around the world. The ideas of shared sovereignty, earned sovereignty, devolution process and engaging with armed non-state actors emanated from think tanks, the academe and diplomatic policy experts of Western institutions and Western governments. The creation of Bangsamoro is not unlike the creation of Kosovo and the establishment of Bosnia as forms of conflict resolution through Western intervention. In the case of the Bangsamoro it was soft Western intervention through the mechanism of the International Contact Group composed of Britain, Japan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and international non-governmental organizations namely, the Asia Foundation, Conciliation Resources, Muhammadiyah and Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue. The negotiating parties took lessons from the Northern Ireland peace process, Aceh peace process, South Sudan peace process, devolution in Scotland, power-sharing in Catalonia and Basque Country and dealt with experts and lessons on conflict zones from other parts of the world from Colombia to Myanmar. On the ground best practices at peacekeeping and ceasefire monitoring such as a Civilian Protection Component (similar to the US-led Civilian Protection Monitoring Team in South Sudan) were adopted by the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team with contingents coming from the European Union (EU), Japan, Norway, Brunei, Indonesia and Libya. The World Bank engaged with the MILF through grassroots projects in Mindanao; probably the first time that the World Bank partnered with an armed non-state actor. By 2008-2009, the United Nations agencies were already present in Mindanao after large scale displacements reaching up to 700,000 people were caused by fighting between the MILF and the Philippine military that arose out of an aborted attempt to sign in 2008 a preliminary peace agreement, the so-called Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain.
What triggered all this Western support to resolve a half-forgotten conflict in a far corner of the world was the letter of Salamat Hashim, the late founder of the MILF, in 2003 to then US President George Bush wherein he stated in his letter:
"Your project to grant Philippine independence obliged the leaders of the Moro Nation to petition the US Congress to give us an option through a referendum either by remaining as a territory to be administered by the US Government or granted separate independence fifty years from the grant of Philippine independence. Were it not for the outbreak of the Pacific War, the Moro Nation would have been granted trust territory status like any of the Pacific island states who are now independent or in free association with the United States of America.
On account of such circumstances, the Moro Nation was deprived of their inalienable right to self-determination, without waiving their plebiscitary consent. Prior to the grant of Philippine independence on July 4, 1946, American Congressional leaders foresaw that the inclusion of the Moro Nation within the Philippine Commonwealth would result in serious conflicts in Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan, arising from the inability of the Filipino leaders to govern the Moro people. This condition or states of affairs have continued to prevail to the present day.
In view of current global developments and regional security concerns in Southeast Asia, it is our desire to accelerate the just and peaceful negotiated settlement of the Mindanao conflict, particularly the present colonial situation in which the Bangsamoro people find themselves.
We are therefore appealing to the basic principle of American fairness and sense of justice to use your good offices in rectifying the error that (sic) continuous to negate and derogate the Bangsamoro People’s fundamental right to seek decolonization under the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) of 1960. For this purpose, we are amenable to inviting and giving you the opportunity to assist in resolving this predicament of the Bangsamoro People."
Assistant Secretary of State James A. Kelley wrote back to Salamat Hashim enunciating US policy regarding the conflict in June of the same year - that the United States government is committed to the territorial integrity of the Philippines; the United States recognizes that the Muslims of the southern Philippines have serious, legitimate grievances that must be addressed; the United States wishes to see an end to the violence in the southern Philipines and is working to assist the Republic of the Philippines in addressing the root causes of that violence; the United States stands ready to support, both politically and financially, a bona fide peace process between the Republic of the Philippines and the MILF; and lastly that the United States appreciates the notable work that the Government of Malaysia has performed in this connection and would not seek to supplant Kuala Lumpur; in fact, it wanted to work with the Malaysians for a successful peace settlement.
Indeed, after the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the White House issued an official statement wherein it commended Malaysia for facilitating the framework agreement between the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). "We commend the Philippines Government and the MILF leadership for their hard work and unwavering commitment to a better future, as well as Malaysia for its longstanding role as facilitator of the negotiations," the statement from the press secretary's office of the White House read.
For the longest time the conflict in Mindanao has bedeviled the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Despite two interventions through OIC mediation and facilitation that led to the signing of the Tripoli Peace Agreement of 1976 and 1996 GRP-MNLF Peace Agreement in Jakarta, the OIC failed to resolve the conflict because it depended too much on the recognition of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) as the "sole representative of the Bangsamoro people" wherein the OIC even granted observer status to the MNLF. The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro is more inclusive because it gave the rest of the Bangsamoro people including MNLF representatives the chance to be part of the Transition Commission that will draft the Basic Law or charter of the Bangsamoro. The MILF was also consistent in sending out the message that it was negotiating on behalf of the Bangsamoro people and not for the MILF organization alone so that practically all the members of its negotiating peace panel are not organic members of the MILF. Turkey and Saudi Arabia, who are part of the International Contact Group and influential members of the OIC can join with the OIC's Southeast Asian members, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, the latter two of which have contingents in the International Monitoring Team, in redeeming the record of the OIC in Mindanao by assisting in the implementation of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro.
The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro is an opportunity for collaboration between the OIC and the West. In fact, Britain had already signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with the OIC recently that could very well be a platform for joint initiatives in the Bangsamoro. Similarly, the US government engaged with the OIC as co-partner to advance Track 1.5 Diplomacy for Peace and Prosperity at the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September this year. Such cooperation by the OIC with leading Western powers like Britain and the US can be enhanced by doing collaborative programs and projects in the Bangsamoro.
The key to all these collaborations happening on the ground is, of course, engaging with the Armed Non-State Actor, the MILF, that is the signatory to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and their various interlocutors. The Philippine government itself recognizes that it needs to partner with the MILF and only by making it a strong partner for security and peace can there be a successful implementation of a peace agreement. In fact, the MILF was already astute enough with the cooperation of the Philippine peace panel to establish the Bangsamoro Development Agency and the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute, the latter even getting seed money of five million pesos from the government.
The maritime Southeast Asian countries, which are Muslim countries and members of the OIC namely, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia are all part in one way or another of the success of the GPH-MILF peace process up to this point. Their collaboration in securing the peace on the ground and in monitoring the ceasefire in Mindanao in their own maritime backyard is something that must be encouraged and nurtured. It is a unique collaboration in that these maritime Southeast Asian states worked with the foremost maritime state in Asia, Japan and with the European Union and Norway, also a maritime state with a long seafaring tradition. Malaysian diplomatic perseverance in trying to resolve the Mindanao Conflict for 15 long years must surely be commended and lauded but Indonesia itself, the growing regional power in Southeast Asia, showed its diplomatic maturity and flexibility in relying on the 30-million strong moderate Islamist social movement of Muhammadiyah to be its representative in the International Contact Group.
On the other hand, the United States was represented in the International Contact Group albeit not officially by the Asia Foundation, which began in 1951 as the Committee for Free Asia, which, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), was “an ostensibly private body . . . sanctioned by the National Security Council and, with the knowledge of congressional oversight committees, supported with covert indirect Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) funding” (CRS 1983). The Asia Foundation is no longer funded by the CIA but it retains its mystique as a former CIA conduit for funding covert American activities. So it would not be surprising if later on the conspiracy-minded Philippine press will publish accusations that the Bangsamoro is a CIA creation just like the ill-fated Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain in 2008 was viewed as the brainchild of the United States Institute of Peace since it was involved in the peace process at that time on the issue of ancestral domain of the Moros. Over all the impact of such hair-brained conspiracy theories still make Western diplomacy, particularly that of the United States, seem invincible and triumphant, as well as, bolstering the prestige of Western intelligence agencies.
There may arise emerging competing blocks of Western powers with regard to the Bangsamoro. The first block would pertain to the Anglosphere or the British Commonwealth countries. Of the countries, that issued official statements with regard to the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, all the Anglosphere Commonwealth countries, namely Australia, New Zealand and Canada issued their own official statements. Australia is one of the biggest donors in Muslim Mindanao funding mostly basic education. New Zealand was the main funder of the UNDP Philippine Development Report of 2005 that highlighted the conflict in Mindanao and Canada for 18 years funded a local good governance program in the ARMM that ended in 2009. President Aquino is set to go on a State Visit to Australia and New Zealand in the coming weeks and it has been reported in the news that he will bring the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro as part of his agenda with the two countries. Australia is the only major donor country in the Philippine that has strategic interests in Mindanao but is not officially involved in any of the organs of the peace architecture of the GPH-MILF peace process; although it has the advantage of having signed a Status of Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines allowing its military personnel to train in the country. However, it was the Sydney-based Lowy Institute for International Policy that published in 2006 a research paper that became the blueprint for Western engagement in the Mindanao conflict entitled, "Mindanao: A Gamble Worth Taking" (Cook and Collier). It is worth noting also that Brunei and Malaysia are Commonwealth countries with Malaysia having a defense treaty under the Five Powers Defense Arrangement with Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore so it would seem natural that the Commonwealth countries would support Malaysia in its facilitation role in the GPH-MILF peace talks.
The other emerging block are the EU countries but it is still inchoate or uncertain whether or not they are really major geopolitical players in the Bangsamoro because the EU has an incoherent foreign policy as can be expected from a multilateral agency. The foreign minister of the EU, Catherine Ashton, a British national, made an official statement regarding the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro. Britain sits in the International Contact Group and it is an EU member while the EU itself is a member of the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team and they have sent two monitors for human rights and international humanitarian law. The monitors from the EU in the International Monitoring Team have been British nationals ever since they started sending monitors but it is unknown how closely they coordinate with the British government. Superficially at least, the EU in the Bangsamoro is dominated by the British and it is more than likely Britain will be one of the biggest funders of EU initiatives in the Bangsamoro. The EU will probably continue contributing funds to peace-building in Mindanao but it will not be a driver of diplomatic engagements on the ground due to its bureaucratic, hide-bound and protocol-oriented nature. It is not clear if the EU even has a policy on how to engage with Armed Non-State Actors as it has been inconsistent in meeting and engaging the MILF wherein one former ambassador of the EU was instrumental in getting a kidnapped Irish priest released using MILF fighters to run after the kidnappers while the current EU ambassador has not even set foot in the headquarters of the MILF even as his predecessor has trooped to it a number of times. For the rest of the international players and the Bangsamoro constituents dealing with the EU consumes much of their time so that EU has been left to fund NGOs and multi-donor agencies of the UN. The EU is still evolving an institutional capacity for donor intervention on its own account but they have to be managed well since the EU is like an ungainly giant that lacks fine motor control and liable to crush the toes and feet of those it dances with even if it is unintentional.
Japan is supreme in the Bangsamoro and can be considered first among equals in terms of how it has handled its intervention in the Bangsamoro. It enjoys the unique advantage of being a member of both the International Contact Group and the International Monitoring Team. It is a testament to Japan's skillful diplomacy that both negotiating parties were eager to have Japan play a role in the peace process in as many capacities as it is capable of handling. Japan is the largest source of Official Development Assistance in the Philippines and it has been working in the country on development issues for many years. But it is also one of the largest sources of Foreign Direct Investments in the country dominating the car and electronic industries of the Philippines with investments from power generation to mining and agricultural ventures. Japan from the beginning was very conscious in branding its development interventions so that people in the Bangsamoro can directly identify with their projects earning them legitimacy. One example of this is that even before the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, Japan put all its projects relating to the peace process under the rubric Japan-Bangsamoro Initiatives for Reconstruction and Development (J-BIRD) and this bit of branding was inspired genius leaving other donor interventions in the dust from the start of its soft-launching. Japan will continue to be a trend-setter in the Bangsamoro because it can bank on its tremendous relationship and social capital after earning the trust of both parties and the Bangsamoro constituency.
The transformation of the MILF into a political partner in the peace process will be handled best by the maritime and Muslim Southeast Asian states of Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. Indonesia in particular with its vibrant democracy and through Muhammadiyah can help MILF transform into a peaceful and progressive social movement for the benefit of the downtrodden Moro masses. Malaysia with its advanced means of social control can provide lessons in living in a multi-ethnic society balancing the needs of each distinct community. Brunei with its emphasis on an Islamic way of life can contribute in the Bangsamoro on how it integrates an Islamic way of life in nation-building to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The Western countries with their resources can work through these Muslim Southeast Asian states but at the same time it can work through the OIC since Turkey and Saudi Arabia are members of the International Contact Group. The current Secretary-General is a Turk while the OIC headquarters is in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. So both Turkey and Saudi Arabia can guide OIC interventions in the Bangsamoro since they have been part of the International Contact Group from the beginning and they have observed first hand how the peace process and the peace talks were forged between the negotiating parties including the nuances and the inevitable compromises that the negotiating parties had to take.
The overall global and regional geopolitical context of this triumph of Western diplomacy in the Bangsamoro is the US pivot to Asia. While the rest of the West including Japan does soft intervention to keep the lid on the troubles in Mindanao, over the horizon is the looming and menacing shadow of the Great White Fleet of the US armed forces. In fact, this month US and Philippine officials have announced that Subic Bay in Northern Luzon island, once home to the 7th Fleet and the site of the United States' largest overseas naval base, will begin to host US personnel on a semi-permanent basis. Subic Bay is facing Scarborough Shoal which has continued to be Chinese-occupied after China and the Philippines engaged in a fishing row regarding the shoal early this year. A US submarine once collided with a Chinese vessel in the waters off Subic Bay. Coinciding with the return of the US Navy to Subic Bay is the beginning of closer security cooperation between Australia and the Philippines after the ratification of the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement with Australia by the Philippine Senate this year. Australia and the Philippines are conducting Naval exercises this week dubbed “Lumbas 2012,” the 12th annual Maritime Training Activity between the Philippines and Australia. It is aimed at enhancing the capabilities of the naval forces of both countries in disaster response and fighting cross-border crimes such as terrorism, human trafficking and drug smuggling. Due to the ongoing peace process, the Philippine military can look forward to winding down its counterinsurgency and internal security operations in Mindanao so that it can focus more on external defense.
Malaysia which already has a border patrol agreement with the Philippines is discussing with the Philippines the possibility of having its own formal Status of Visiting Forces Agreement in the wake of the successful signing of the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro. This is the next logical step for Malaysia because it has been leading since 2003 the deployment of unarmed multi-national troops in Mindanao headed by a Malaysian General together with a contingent of Malaysian soldiers, the biggest contingent in the International Monitoring Team. The significant on the ground interaction and cooperation between Malaysian military officers and Philippine military officers brought about by the deployment of Malaysian troops in the International Monitoring Team can be sustained with a Status of Visiting Forces Agreement. Both Malaysia and the Philippines are locked in maritime disputes with China regarding the South China Sea. Japan for its part has contributed patrol ships to the Philippine Coast Guard and is a premier security partner of both Malaysia and the Philippines but it only has a civilian peace monitor in the International Monitoring Team.
Indonesia is not left behind because it has its own border patrol and maritime interdiction agreements with both the Philippines and Malaysia. However, Indonesia is wary of any developing Malaysian and Philippine defense cooperation because of the history of British-Malaysian military actions towards Indonesia during the Konfrontasi period and the Philippine's own intervention through the CIA in Sulawesi during the Colonel's revolt in Sulawesi and Sumatra of which President Aquino's father the late Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino was a part of. Hopefully, with the deployment of Indonesian troops under the International Monitoring Team, a lot of socialization and habits of cooperation can happen and develop among Indonesian, Malaysian and Philippine troops and officers.
But at the end of the day the successful coordination of this complicated diplomatic and security dance between and among countries and block of countries depends on a successful peace process in Mindanao. The Bangsamoro project has begun in earnest and those that fail to sustain a long-term interest in the Bangsamoro will surely be left behind in the Great Game of maritime Southeast Asia. (END)

Mindanao and the Philippines is not about counter-terrorism as this article shows

"Across PACOM, the three-star general said, the Army is the service prepositioning equipment and training the massive land forces of foreign governments that are keeping terrorism relatively muted. Counterterrorism was barely mentioned in a two hour talk about the region by Army and State Department officials. His argument: what the Army does is a cheap way to fulfill the mission of rebalancing, pivoting, or whatever else one wants to call it."

Army: The Asia pivot is about us too
Posted By Kevin Baron Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - 1:32 PM