Small Wars Journal

Moro Separatism in the Philippines: The Strategic Failure of a Promising Counterinsurgency

Share this Post

Moro Separatism in the Philippines: The Strategic Failure of a Promising Counterinsurgency

 

B.K. Schaefer

 

Since the 1970’s, the Philippine government has undertaken various counterinsurgency (COIN) strategies in an attempt to assert control over the Filipino Muslim population, known as the Moro community.[i] From declaring martial law to various attempts to negotiate political concessions for the separatist groups, the Philippines’ COIN strategy has involved a blend of kinetic and non-kinetic means to reduce violence and instability on the nation’s Southern islands where a large portion of the Moro Community is located. This article focuses on that COIN strategy, beginning with a detailed history of the insurgent groups involved and the root causes of discontent among the Moro population. An analysis of the strategy in depth follows, including its most significant point when the United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom – Philippines (OEF-P) to assist and advise Philippine Special Forces in their fight against the insurgents. Overall, COIN strategy in the Philippines has focused on tactical, reactionary successes against insurgent groups, and failed to build the appropriate political and economic capacity to effectively address the grievances of the local population. Without a coordinated, multi-faceted COIN strategy, incidents of violence will continue to occur on Mindanao as the population drifts further away from government control and into the influence of insurgent organizations.
 

A History of Disenfranchisement on Mindanao

 

Mindanao has long existed as a land apart from the Philippine mainland. Geographically, the island sits more than five hundred miles from the country’s capital, Manila, and is separated by numerous smaller islands and population centers. Even so, Mindanao houses a significant portion of the Philippines’ population, and is the second-most populated island after Luzon, where Manila is located.[ii] While the majority of Mindanaoans are Catholic, about 20 percent of the island’s population is Muslim. Many of these Muslims are concentrated on the island’s western border and form a majority of the overall Moro population.[iii]

 

Centuries of political repression against the Moro Community—starting with Spanish imperialism and carried forward through the present day—have isolated Mindanao’s Muslim population and caused it to develop a deep resentment towards the national government.[iv] In turn, this resentment has fueled a violent separatist movement that has raged in waves since the 1970’s, and has often been met with harsh reprisals from the national military, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).[v] These circumstances have created fertile conditions for insurgent groups to capture a foothold in the disenfranchised minority that feels alienated from its government.

 

In 2001, Angel Rabasa and Peter Chalk, two researchers at RAND, identified four root causes of Muslim disenfranchisement; broadly, these factors contribute to popular support for insurgent groups and activities today.[vi] First, the Muslim population has centuries of religious, cultural, and political traditions, and fears that they will be forced to abandon those traditions through a forced assimilation with the Philippines Catholic majority. Second, the population resents the Catholic population’s transmigration from the Philippine mainland. Manila encouraged substantial transmigration as early as 1900, and waves of Catholic settlers have drastically changed Mindanao’s demographics. Third, economic disparity and a lack of infrastructure contribute to endemic poverty, low literacy rates, and a reduced life expectancy on Mindanao in comparison to the rest of the country. Finally, there are long traditions of clan warlordism and banditry, creating a perception that community grievances are better handled by militias than the AFP. 

 

The Roots of Discontent

 

An Islamic community has existed in the Philippines in some form since at least the 1300’s, when Arab traders first brought the religion to Southeast Asia.[vii] Since the 1500’s, when Spain colonized the Philippines, governments based in Manila have attempted to stifle the Islamic political and religious culture on Mindanao.[viii] As early as 1900, Manila supported the transmigration of the northern Catholic population to Mindanao in an effort to dilute sociological differences through a forced culture shift.[ix] In the last century, transmigration altered the composition of Mindanao’s population from a strong majority in the early 1900’s, to less than twenty percent in the early twenty-first century.[x] Such a significant reduction in population inspires fears among the Moro community that Manila is attempting to stifle their cultural, political, and religious traditions, all of which revolve around the Moros’ Islamic identity.[xi]

 

The Moro population’s fears about the government’s motives have been exacerbated through systemic economic deprivation, where the government exploits Mindanao’s vast resources for the benefit of the northern population. Mindanao contains some of the country’s largest natural resource reserves, including metal and mineral deposits, and gold mines.[xii] After the Philippines gained independence in the 1940’s, multinational corporations were invited into Mindanao to set up industries that solely benefited the national export market rather than returning profits back into the local economy.[xiii] This set up displaced subsistence production with export production, and greatly reduced the economic solubility of the local Moros, while simultaneously strengthening the economic situation of the nation’s northern Catholic majority, which comprises most of the businessmen involved in the developments.[xiv] In 2005, the United Nations Development Program determined that Muslim-majority provinces lag behind the rest of the country in nearly every measure of human development.[xv] The production set-up was intentional by the central government, not only to benefit Manila elites, but because the government hoped that by decreasing the economic capacity of the Moro people, they would lose their ethno-nationalist fervor and succumb to the central government’s political will.[xvi]

 

Manila’s attempts at repression were not only economic in nature. In 1957, about ten years after Philippine independence was granted by the United States, a political “control model” was implemented whereby a commission for national integration was created to help assimilate the Moros into the mainstream culture.[xvii] The new system, however, was closed to Muslims on Mindanao, thus denying political and administrative jobs to the Moro community, creating further class conflicts between the political elite and the local population.[xviii]

 

The Rise of Insurgent Groups in the Southern Philippines

 

In the early 1970’s, out of frustration with the political and economic status quo, and after watching Muslim political prospects fail in the 1960’s, the educated Moro youth started the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to challenge both the traditional local elites and the central government in Manila through violent political tactics.[xix] The unfavorable conditions imposed on the Moro people helped the MNLF grow rapidly from an estimated 15,000 fighters in 1973 to around 30,000 fighters in 1976.[xx] These substantial numbers created unparalleled opportunities to contest territory with the AFP, and in the mid-1970’s the MNLF bogged down an estimated 70-80 percent of government troops with internal skirmishes.[xxi] The intense fighting proved detrimental to the group, however, and morale within the MNLF decreased over time while the rate of defections sky-rocketed.[xxii]

 

In the mid-1990’s, the MNLF’s leadership began to seek a negotiated settlement with the Philippines’ then-dictator Ferdinand Marcos. The two sides quickly reached a consensus with the help of the Libyan dictator and long-time MNLF supporter Muammar Ghaddafi.[xxiii] This agreement, known as the 1976 Tripoli Accords, established autonomy for all thirteen provinces and nine cities in the Moro-Philippine region of Mindanao and the Sulu islands.[xxiv] However, the Marcos regime refused to provide the financial and political capital necessary to uphold the agreement, and within a year the Tripoli Accords fell apart.

 

Over the next decade, the MNLF failed to regain its former trajectory and steadily dwindled in effectiveness through the 1980’s. By the early 1990’s the group had lost support from most of its foreign donors, including Libya, and agreed to negotiate a final settlement with the Philippine government.[xxv] In the 1996 Tripoli Agreement, again brokered with Muammar Ghaddafi’s assistance, the MNLF renounced its claim for Moro independence and Manila conceded an autonomous administrative zone, called the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which would include four Muslim majority provinces.[xxvi]

 

While the MNLF remains one of the largest single insurgent movements in the Philippines to date, other groups have waged separatist insurgencies on Mindanao with equal fervor. In the 1970’s, the MNLF’s willingness to work with the Philippine government as well as its concession of full-independence for to the Moro region caused a rift within its ranks. In 1980, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) formed as a splinter group with a stronger religious focus, and deeper dedication to the global jihad movement.[xxvii]

 

From its outset the MILF was a fringe organization riding on the successes of its more successful predecessor. The group formed in an Islamist fighters’ compound in Pakistan just prior to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.[xxviii] It based its operations in the Philippines, but sent its fighters to Pakistan and Afghanistan for education, training, and combat experience through the 1980’s.[xxix] While the MILF never gained the same level of support as the MNLF in the early 1970’s, the signing of the 1996 Tripoli Agreement caused mass defections from the MNLF to the MILF, and by the late 1990’s estimates of the group’s membership ranged between 11,000 and 15,000 with an estimated 18 percent increase in firepower.[xxx] The MILF rejected all peace agreements offered through the 1980’s and 1990’s, and has continued fighting through the present-day with on-again, off-again peace agreements.[xxxi]

 

Throughout this tumultuous period a third major Islamist group formed called the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)—literally translated to “The Bearer of the Sword”—formed as a religious and separatist terrorist organization with strong inclinations towards criminality, and today forms an unofficial arm of the Islamic State in the Philippines.[xxxii] The ASG’s date of origin continues to raise controversy among scholars, but most regional experts agree that the group formed sometime between 1989 and 1992 with a fervent desire to establish an independent state on Mindanao and to eradicate all indications of Christian influence in the Southern Philippines.[xxxiii] Unlike the MNLF and the MILF, the ASG has a stronger predisposition to criminal activities, but maintains similar long-term goals to those espoused by the MNLF and the MILF. Significantly, many of Abu Sayyaf’s original members fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and the organization has been tied to major terrorist activities such as the Bojinka Plot, which was developed by Ramzi Yousef—the mastermind behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing—and aimed to “(1) target US embassies in Manila and Bangkok; (2) assassinate the Pope and President Clinton during separate visits to the Philippines between 1995 and 1996; and (3) destroy 11 US commercial airliners flying trans-Pacific routes from West Coast cities.”[xxxiv] Many of ASG’s members are believed to have trained with Al-Qaida in Afghanistan in the 1990’s, and the organization received funding directly from Osama bin Laden in the pre-9/11 era.[xxxv] The ASG has always maintained a smaller total membership than the MNLF and the MILF, and estimates place the group at having no more than 1,100 militants at the group’s peak in 1999.[xxxvi] The ASG remains a prominent terrorist group through the present day, with greater legitimacy after its former leader, Isnilon Hapilon, declared the group the unofficial arm of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia, and captured the city of Marawi for five months in 2017.[xxxvii]

 

All of these groups maintained slightly different aims in their insurgent campaigns, but each group was largely responding to the same factors: feelings of disenfranchisement from the political elite, resentment at assimilationist policies by the mainly Christian government, as well as historic tribal and regional affiliations. Mindanao has a long history of clan-related feuds within the major ethnic groups: the Maguindanaons, the Maranaos, and the Tausugs.[xxxviii] Clan feuds happen below the ethnic group level, yet, each major ethnic group recognizes the idea of clan feuds, which require invoking vendettas for perceived personal affronts, and can last years, decades, or generations.[xxxix] Moreover, each ethnic group sees themselves as distinct from one another, and these differences play out through insurgent struggles, as certain ethnic groups predominantly back different insurgent groups. The MNLF was primarily composed of Tausugs, while the MILF is comprised mostly of Maguindanaons and Maranaos, and Abu Sayyaf is comprised largely of Maranaos; though Abu Sayyaf has a strong regional focus in Zamboanga, Basilan, and Sulu.[xl] Each of these clans has slightly different long-term goals, and such differences make prospects for collective peace or unity more difficult to achieve.

While the MNLF largely dissipated after 1996, the MILF and Abu Sayyaf both remain active through the present day, along with an array of other small separatist groups. Many of these other groups have failed to gain the same notoriety as the MILF and Abu Sayyaf, but often these groups all work in tandem when their tactical or strategic goals align. In fact, in 2006, Kit Collier highlighted the semi-fluid nature of Mindanaoan insurgent groups, indicating that these organization function more like “bundles of personal associations more than integral corporate bodies,” and that individuals “break away” from groups and “recombine in new associations” as allegiances and ideas shift.[xli] This fundamental organizational pattern means that groups can change loyalties and develop new goals at will, rendering reactive countermeasures by government forces a risky means for defeating Mindanaoan separatist groups. If counterinsurgency forces defeat one group, members from that group can easily and fluidly join a different group to continue to fight out of revenge, despite the ethnic loyalties that may have initially influenced their recruitment.

 

Overall, there are significant reasons for disenfranchisement among the Muslim population on Mindanao. Geographically, historically, politically, and culturally, the Moros have been a people isolated from the rest of the Philippines. Combined with centuries of repressive policies intended to subdue nationalist tendencies through increased economic disparity and forced cultural assimilation, the length and breadth of Moro resistance to the Philippine mainland comes as no surprise. The Moro people have waged armed insurgency since the 1970’s, gaining slight concessions every few decades, yet the resistance continues through the present despite significant government resources and outside help from the United States. The counterinsurgency failure is rooted in an inadequate understanding of the root causes of Moro dissatisfaction, and an inability to proactively address these root causes while maintaining a consistent non-kinetic counterinsurgency presence on Mindanao.

 

Origins of Philippine COIN

 

Efforts to defeat the Moro insurgency can be traced back to the Spanish colonization, where the colonial government made political attempts to subdue nationalist tendencies within the unruly Sulu Sultanate that controlled the Southern Philippines. Spanish missionaries were able to impose Catholicism on the Northern Philippine archipelago; however, they were never able to exert firm control in the Sulu Sultanate, which ruled Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago down to what is now the Malaysian state of Sabah.[xlii] Over time, the Muslim population formed a loosely unified alliance of clans which comprises the contemporary Moro community, and insurgents capitalized on this historic unification to advocate for a “Moro Nation,” called “Bangsamoro.”

Through this history of separation, insurgent groups commonly advocate the idea that because the Spanish never fully colonized the Moro people, they constitute a separate nation than that of the Philippines. The MILF ideologue Nu’ain bin Abdulhaqq stated in 2005 that, “It is a fact established by the course of history that the Bangsamoros were not Filipinos from time immemorial until now.”[xliii] In 1898, when the United States acquired the Philippines, it was equally as unable to impose law and order as the Spaniards had been. Over time, the United States allotted administrative authority to municipal and district-level governments which increased Moro loyalty to the United States’ authority; however, this loyalty was not achieved entirely through appeasement. [xliv] The United States (US) also encouraged transmigration of northern Philippine Catholics to Mindanao, which significantly displaced the Muslim majority, and is highlighted above as a major root cause for insurgent tendencies.[xlv] Besides transmigration, the US strategy focused on leveraging its technological superiority to subdue continued Moro resistance.[xlvi] These tactics planted the seeds of Moro disenfranchisement which resurfaced after Philippine independence through the MNLF, MILF, the ASG, and a host of other Moro insurgent factions.

 

The Philippines gained independence from the United States in 1946, and held a tenuous democracy until 1965 when Ferdinand Marcos, head of the Nationalist party came into power.[xlvii] In light of the growing insurgency from the MNLF, Marcos’ first COIN measure was to impose martial law on the Philippines in 1972, a strategy that produced at least 120,000 military and civilian casualties between 1972 and 1976.[xlviii] The measure also caused about 100,000 residents of the Southern Philippines to flee to nearby Malaysia, and caused a further one million residents to become internally displaced.[xlix] In a region with historic suspicions and fears about the intentions of the central government, the imposition of martial law only caused further rifts between the AFP and the local population.

 

After gaining independence in 1946, the Philippines also began a strategy of national political integration, which manifested in the form of a faction-based patronage system whereby local politicians bought into either the “Liberal” or “Nacionalista” segments of an oligarchical democracy.[l] Despite the flaws such a system imposed, the political structure allowed Muslim politicians to represent their electorates in Manila, and conceded a certain level of political engagement from the Moro community.[li] After declaring martial law in 1972, Marcos attempted to consolidate power under the president in Manila by upending local political dominance and centralizing the Philippines’ police force under the AFP; thereby “disbanding the ‘private armies’ of locally appointed police forces and other armed contingents loyal to municipal mayors and provincial governors.”[lii] This political and tactical shift had the added bonus of clamping down on smuggling networks through the Sulu Archipelago that had benefited Moro businessmen and politicians, thus providing increased assistance to the “better-connect Christian settler communities and business interests.”[liii] In effect, in the 1970’s Marcos imposed martial law creating significant casualties and internal displacement among the Moro community, while simultaneously decreasing the Moros’ ability to run successful business or exercise political freedoms.[liv] These policies only served to further disenfranchise the Philippine population through the 1970’s, and continued to fuel the Moro Community’s fears about central government intervention on Mindanao.

 

Despite his flawed approach, Marcos did attempt to give concessions to the Moro community by appeasing the MNLF’s demands for autonomy. The 1976 Tripoli Accords, for example, conceded autonomy to the Muslim provinces of the Southern Philippines. Under this agreement, Mindanao would obtain its own political assembly, have the ability to set up Islamic courts, and was promised a future referendum on autonomy for all thirteen provinces and nine cities.[lv] The agreement was a sham, however, and within a year of signing it the MNLF realized that Marcos had no intention of providing the political or financial ability for the Accords to take effect.[lvi] Moreover, an additional influx of Christian immigrants in 1977 further diluted the demographics of the Moro community, thus effectively creating more distance between the Moros and their goals of secession.[lvii]

 

Despite the failings of the 1976 Tripoli Accords, a relative peace was established that greatly reduced incidents of violence from the late 1970’s through the 1980’s—though the underlying causes of the insurgency remained intact. Marcos was ousted in 1986 in favor of turning towards democratic institutions in the Philippines. While the fledgling democracy remained highly oligarchical, it caused Manila elites to begin courting the MNLF and the MILF with political concessions in order to secure their voting populations.[lviii] In fact, Corazon Aquino, president from 1986-1992, promised in her initial political campaign to provide autonomy to the Muslim population if elected.[lix] When Aquino secured the presidency in 1986, she followed through on her promise and created the ARMM; however, the political arrangement failed to grant autonomy to all of the thirteen provinces and nine cities promised by Marcos in the 1976 Tripoli Accords, and the MNLF was dissatisfied with the concession.[lx]

 

The MNLF continued to harass the AFP and the Philippine government, and by 1996, the government again made overtures towards appeasing the insurgents in the new Tripoli Peace Agreement. This agreement allowed for even greater autonomy for the ARMM provinces, and allowed MNLF chairman Nur Misuari to govern the region.[lxi] Out of disagreement with the concessions, which still failed to provide autonomy to all of the provinces originally promised by the 1976 Tripoli Accords, many MNLF fighters defected to the MILF or the ASG.[lxii] By the end of the century Joseph Estrada—a political figure with significant ties to the Philippines’ Christian community—was elected as president, and began a “total war” against the MILF, replacing Misuari with one of his political allies.[lxiii] These actions fueled further violence by the MILF and the ASG, causing increased military activity and large-scale internal displacement, which served as an excuse for separatist organizations to carry out reprisals against the AFP.[lxiv] Despite the signing of the Tripoli Agreement, the reinvigoration of the ARMM, and the dissipation of the MNLF, the government in Manila continued to repress the political and cultural aspirations of the Moro people and failed to address local economic grievances. The appeasement strategy failed, and most—if not all—of the root causes for instability remained in place at the turn of the century.

 

The United States’ Role in Philippine COIN

 

When Al-Qaida hijackers struck the World Trade Center in 2001, the reverberations were felt around the globe, including on Mindanao. With increased tensions between the Estrada Administration and Moro separatist groups, Al-Qaida’s activities reinvigorated the agitated Moro community.[lxv] At this time the Philippine government began negotiations with Washington to expand the US Global War on Terror to Mindanao.[lxvi] The Philippines posed a major concern for international terrorism due to relative political instability, the country’s long history of confrontation with militants tied to Al-Qaida, and the porous borders that allowed fighters to move unobstructed between the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

 

US presence was not a new security feature in the Philippines. After granting the Philippines independence in 1946, the United States maintained several key military installations on the archipelago. In an effort to avoid confrontations and maintain its strategic outposts, the United States stayed out of internal politics to the greatest degree possible through the 1970’s and 1980’s.[lxvii] While many experts in Washington were uncomfortable with Marcos’ imposition of martial law in 1972, Manila continued to be a major recipient of US foreign aid. From 1972 through 1983, the Philippines received $2.5 billion in military and economic aid, with an additional $5.5 billion from multilateral institutions like the World Bank.[lxviii] As Marcos lost support in the 1980’s, Philippine politicians turned away from the United States—likely because of US support for Marcos—and subsequently, aid to the Philippines was greatly reduced by the end of the decade.[lxix] In 1992, Manila requested that the United States vacate Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base, effectively ending the United States’ military ties with the Philippines.[lxx] The cooling of relations between Manila and Washington caused an erosion of foreign support which probably contributed to a rise in Moro militancy by the end of the 1990’s, as the AFP lacked the adequate resources to confront the insurgency and address local-level grievances.[lxxi]

 

Beginning in 1999, United States Special Forces officer Joseph Felter was deeply troubled by the lack of AFP counterterrorism capability, particularly in light of the growing insurgent threat in the Southern Philippines, and the negative effects such a weakness could have on US interests.[lxxii]  Between 1999 and 2000, Felter spearheaded an effort to create a more effective and elite Philippines counterterrorism military capability, and by 2001, a joint US-Philippine taskforce unveiled a comprehensive training plan to increase the AFP’s counterterrorism capabilities in rural and urban settings.[lxxiii] The initial counterterrorism team that completed the training program in 2001 was deployed to the island of Basilan in Sulu Archipelago for a test-run of its abilities to conduct counterterrorism.[lxxiv] It was immediately engaged as an elite infantry unit, rather than a specialized counterterrorism taskforce, and had little effect on regional terror groups.[lxxv] The military commanders’ ineffective use of this highly trained unit caused fears that US counterterror efforts may have been wasted. After Al-Qaida’s attack, however, US Special Forces activity in the Philippines took on a new urgency, and led to the Philippines becoming a “‘second front’ in the US global war on terrorism.”[lxxvi]

 

COIN Operations after 9/11

 

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the Philippines pledged its support to the United States’ counterterrorism campaign, and in return, by 2002, United States military assistance spending the in Philippines grew by five times the amount given in the previous year, along with increasing foreign aid through USAID and the Millennium Challenge Corporation.[lxxvii] The majority of the increased aid spending went directly to Mindanao to help repair the longstanding economic disparities felt by the Moro population.[lxxviii] The United States also increased the amount of Special Forces troops in the region in a campaign known as Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines (OEF-P). OEF-P’s mission was to help develop a more capable AFP Special Forces capability and contribute a higher tactical success rate against insurgent elements.[lxxix] At its height, the OEF-P stationed about 600 US military personnel in the Philippines.[lxxx] US Special Forces remained embedded with the AFP through 2015, when, in light of a 2011 joint US-Philippine determination that the primary mission of the US Special Forces mission had been met, the United States transitioned out of the Philippines.[lxxxi]

 

The joint US-Philippine strategy focused on three main factors: political inclusivity, military superiority, and building state capacity.[lxxxii] First, political inclusivity has been a major tactic of the Philippine COIN strategy since the 1976 Tripoli Accords. The 1996 Tripoli Agreement again attempted a politically inclusive strategy by conceding greater power to the ARMM. The success of the 1996 agreement was arguably short-lived, and by 1999, US military officials were concerned with the deteriorating situation on Mindanao. Efforts to engage insurgent groups continued through the early 2000’s with major negotiations between the MILF and the Philippine government beginning in 2001, and continuing through the present day.[lxxxiii] In contrast, the ASG, takes the stance of many notable Salafi organizations and refuses to negotiate a settlement to its demands.[lxxxiv] Due to its transnational ties and unwillingness to negotiate, the ASG was a primary target of OEF-P, and by the time the US withdrew in 2015, the ASG had suffered significant erosion as an organization.[lxxxv]

 

Second, in terms of military superiority, the Philippines has had no issues deploying troops to quash internal discontent. From its first use of martial law in 1972, the AFP has been a primary arm of Philippine COIN, and AFP Special Forces took a leading role in tactical successes against insurgents with the United States’ help after 2001. Strong critiques have been levied against the AFP, indicating it has used its military superiority to unleash indiscriminate violence, rather than winning the hearts and minds of the Moro population as classic COIN theorists often propose as a more useful strategy. In fact, David Galula, a master of COIN strategy, indicates that success in COIN is not necessarily determined by the size of the force, as in conventional operations, but rather by the counterinsurgent’s ability to become “embodied in a political organization issuing from, and supported by, the population.”[lxxxvi] This essentially indicates that success by conventional means is useless if the population cannot be secured politically. Despite years of US assistance, by 2008, the AFP still lacked the capacity to adequately fix and finish targets with precision munitions, relying instead on heavy artillery barrages against massed enemy forces, causing significant and unavoidable civilian casualties.[lxxxvii] In this sense, the AFP counts its successes by conventional military means, rather than by focusing on a population-centric approach or developing the capabilities to at least use a more nuanced tactical method to attack enemies and avoid collateral damage and deaths.

 

Finally, building state capacity means assisting the government in developing the capability to both administer services to the entirety of its population and enforce the law within its borders. Researchers at RAND propose that two of the major reasons the central government in Manila has trouble competing with insurgent groups on Mindanao are the Philippines’ geography and the concentration of insurgent groups in a small geographic region.[lxxxviii] Geography obstructs state capacity because of the simple challenges posed by attempting to distribute public goods and enforce the law across the thousands of islands that make up the archipelago. Regardless, the researchers involved in the RAND study assert that despite these geographic limitations, Manila does a surprisingly effective job of supplying resources to even the most remote members of its population. Rather, the geography conveys significant advantages to insurgent groups, and limits the operational capability of the AFP in certain areas.[lxxxix] The rugged terrain and thick jungles of the southern islands in the archipelago allow ample sanctuary for insurgent groups, and shield these groups from effective surveillance by government forces.[xc] The terrain can prove to be a double-edged sword, however, and the insurgents’ known island locations sometimes enables the AFP to seek out and attack insurgents in their sanctuaries with ease when the opportunity presents itself.[xci]

 

From 2001 until the end of OEF-P, all three aspects of the Philippines counterinsurgency were a focus of the joint US-Philippine COIN forces. In fact, the overall COIN doctrine applied was a combination of these factors, with a strong emphasis on building military superiority, and subsequently using the military advantage to then administer services to the Moro population. More broadly, US foreign aid was applied to the Philippines in conjunction with military training, which was intended to stifle the root causes of disenfranchisement while building military capacity. Research shows a strong correlation between reduced insurgent activity and an enthusiastic embrace of foreign aid distribution in conjunction with military operations.[xcii] During periods of the OEF-P counterinsurgency where aid was not applied, increases in insurgent violence occurred.[xciii] In a general sense, the counterinsurgency effort in the Philippines, from 2001 through 2015, demonstrated that building military superiority in conjunction with massive increases in foreign aid to an economically disenfranchised population can reduce the proclivity for violence; however, the situational factors that effected Philippine COIN were so circumstantial that the lessons-learned may not be broadly applicable, and after the US withdrawal in 2015, there is substantial reason to doubt to long-term effectiveness of the OEF-P COIN campaign.

 

Foremost, the COIN strategy in the Philippines has proven effective at achieving tactical effectiveness, but generally failed to address the broader operational and strategic considerations that are essential in COIN. This level of tactical success is evident in the AFP’s ability to gain and retain territory, which over the last two decades has been a major highlight of its COIN strategy. Despite tactical effectiveness, operational success would require an integrated fusion of separate tactical mission objectives through higher-level institutional planning. Throughout OEF-P, the AFP failed to develop an effective higher-level integration capability, which led to difficulties in facilitating broad COIN operational successes and established a reactive tactical approach to countering insurgent violence.[xciv]

 

The US’ counterterrorism strategy for OEF-P also contributed to the AFP’s tactical COIN focus. US Special Forces emphasized counterterrorism against groups with transnational terrorist ties, like the ASG.[xcv] This focus misses major Mindanaoan separatist groups like the MILF, and forced Manila to develop a strategy for dealing with those groups apart from the overall COIN, thus causing a rift between tactical operations and overall strategy. This rift became evident in 2015, when a counterterror operation against MILF militants derailed positive negotiations between Manila and MILF leadership.[xcvi] OEF-P counterterrorism only seeks to address the security and public safety challenges imposed by insurgent groups; in some ways, this strategy can help legitimize COIN forces and demonstrate to the population that the AFP has a protective presence in their towns. Yet, a counterterrorism strategy fails to adequately consider the root causes of disenfranchisement, particularly economic, political, and cultural concerns, all of which are at the heart of the reason the Moro community tends to support separatist groups.

 

Finally, US Special Forces trained the AFP to use a range of COIN tactics outside of conventional kinetic operations; however, equipment and budgeting challenges often force either AFP Special Forces to resort to conventional military tactics or force the AFP to utilize actual conventional military units that lack the specialized training to effectively carry out COIN. When the AFP uses conventional tactics the military tends to inflict unnecessary and extreme civilian casualties against the local population.[xcvii] While civilian casualties are an unintentional, collateral effect of military operations which are intended to protect the population overall, such effects push the population further away from the central government’s control and reduce the Moro community’s trust in the AFP. These third order effects feed into separatist groups’ well-established message that Manila does not care about helping the Moro community and wants to assimilate the Moros into mainstream Philippine society. Overtime, the tactical and conventional military focus of the AFP had degraded the COIN strategy’s effectiveness and facilitates the very insurgent activities that the strategy seeks to resolve.

 

Despite its negative aspects, Philippine COIN has achieved some notable effects on Mindanao. These effects have tended toward short-term stability and long-term failure for the overall strategy. Markedly, the AFP’s conventional tactics have long been in play against insurgent forces, and such tactics have the dual effect of disenfranchising the civilian population while reinforcing the insurgent groups’ message; however, conventional tactics can have positive short-term effects as well. For example, killing the insurgents erodes a group’s fighting ability and can deter members of the local population from joining in the separatist struggle.  Yet, over time, such tactics can push members of the Moro community to either support separatist groups through non-kinetic means like charitable donations, providing food and shelter, or voting for political leaders sympathetic to separatist ideologies. In a worst-case scenario, the deterrent may fail and Mindanaoans could pick up arms and join an insurgent group.

 

Moreover, the central government has implemented waves of political flexibility that have tended toward long-term political repression. Starting in the 1970’s, the central government promised the Moro community greater political autonomy; however, without the financial resources or political capital to actually implement autonomy, this promise failed to deliver concessions to insurgents. Again, in the 1990’s, the Moro community was promised autonomy, but without giving the full amount of concessions that separatists had expected. By 1999, the MNLF’s chosen leadership, Nur Misuari, was removed from power and replaced with a politician more favorable to the central government, robbing insurgents of still more political power. Over the course of OEF-P, governance remained largely outside the hands of local leaders, and central-government sponsored negotiations with the MILF have often sputtered and died out as the kinetic aspects of the COIN operations have failed to synch with the negotiations and political activities. Overall, Mindanao remains largely in control of central government politicians, and the Moro community continues to feel that its concerns are unheeded by Manila, even while the ARMM continues to govern much of Moro controlled territory.[xcviii]

 

As a final point, OEF-P implemented a significant amount of foreign aid to help boost the economy of the Southern Philippines, in an effort to address the economic disparities that had long plagued the Moro community. The strategy was two-pronged and sought to build the economic prosperity of the Southern Philippines, while simultaneously combatting terrorism and insurgent military operations that decreased public safety. While this strategy did address immediate economic grievances and help to funnel money into a region with endemic poverty, there was no long-term strategy for ensuring Mindanao could continue to prosper in the absence of foreign aid. As such, the Moro community continues to rely on a destabilizing illicit economy as a major means of obtaining wealth, which drives a further rift between the Moro community and Manila.

 

The counterinsurgency strategy implemented in the Philippines relied largely on kinetic tactics to quell the demands of Moro separatist organizations. Starting with the imposition of martial law in the 1970’s and continuing through the counterterror years of the OEF-P, politics played a secondary role to capturing territory and using decapitation tactics against insurgent leadership. While Manila did attempt to concede some of its authority through the ARMM, the measures failed to quell the majority of discontent among the Moro community. In order to implement a more lasting and effective peace, the COIN strategy should have implemented a more localized political autonomy that allowed Moro leaders to control their historic territory, or that allowed each separate community to send a predetermined number of elected representatives to Manila. While this strategy might have increased divisions between the majority population and the Moro community, it would have helped to build Filipino Muslims’ confidence that they were being properly represented in the government and that Manila was not trying to force their political assimilation.

 

Another point of improvement for the COIN strategy would have been to build community-level self-defense forces on Mindanao, comprised of local tribes but supplied and trained through the AFP. In 1972 the AFP expanded its mission and took over the defense role that had been traditionally held by community-level tribal militias. Many members of the Moro community felt that the government did not trust them to handle their own defense, and that Manila was using its security forces to threaten the local community into complying with its demands.[xcix] Had the central government instead allowed the local militias to continue to operate, trained and supplied these groups, it could have built effective partnerships while ensuring the population continued to have security forces they trusted more than the AFP.

 

Overall, the COIN strategy implemented in the Philippines focused on kinetic operations to produce reactive tactical outcomes. The strategy funneled foreign aid into on Mindanao’s population without bolstering local institutions to build the foundation for long-lasting financial gains. Further, few political concessions were granted to help ease the Moro community’s frustrations, and a feeling of political and cultural alienation continued past the termination of OEF-P and the US withdrawal. In the US’ absence, the AFP continued to struggle with implementing an effective COIN strategy, and the population remained skeptical of Manila’s motivations. In the years since OEF-P ended, Mindanao’s security has continued to erode, and further troubling security incidents call into question the long-term effectiveness of COIN operations in the Philippines.

 

The Islamic State and the Future of the Moro Insurgency

 

Since the US withdrawal in 2015, a new wave insurgent activity has dramatically affected the Moro community in the Southern Philippines. As early as 2014, a number of insurgent groups expressed their admiration for the Islamic State (IS), which at the time had gained and held territory in Iraq and Syria.[c] Over the course of IS’ existence, many fighters from Moro insurgent groups are believed to have traveled to the Middle East to obtain training and combat experience with IS, experience which these fighters likely brought home to the sanctuaries and safe havens where groups like the ASG have long existed.[ci] These fighters help spread IS’ ideology, which grows unfettered among the separatist groups spread across the Sulu archipelago. 

 

In 2017, after Isnilon Hapilon committed the ASG to IS’ cause, AFP forces launched an operation to capture Hapilon while he was rumored to be hiding in the ARMM city of Marawi.[cii] The operation caused the ASG and the Maute Group, another Moro separatist organization, to take control of Marawi and hold the city for five months.[ciii] In response to the hostile activity, the nationalist government of Rodrigo Duterte—which had already enflamed the  population’s suspicions through his controversial drug war that has allowed extrajudicial killings against drug dealers—implemented martial law on Mindanao, which continues indefinitely to the present day.[civ] While the AFP eventually defeated the insurgents in Marawi, killing hundreds of fighters in the process, thousands of ARMM citizens remain displaced and many fighters still remain in the Sulu archipelago, defeated but invigorated by the ASG’s success.[cv] These factors continue to contribute to the disenfranchisement of the Moro population which indicates extreme difficulties for Manila if it hopes to heal any rifts with the population.

 

While the outlook is bleak, there are indications of increasingly successful COIN efforts on the horizon. Foremost, the Philippine government indicated during the effort to reclaim Marawi, all of the fighters that had captured the city were defeated, which if true would significantly decrease the number of operational fighters left for the ASG and the Maute Group. Additionally, the MILF, which remains the largest insurgent group in the Southern Philippines, very recently rekindled negotiations to help ease tensions between the population and the government, and reached a settled agreement on new political concessions for the Moro population on August 1, 2018, called the Bangsamoro Organic Law.[cvi] This new agreement purports to give self-rule to the Moro community, hence the name “Bangsamoro,” however, cause for concern remains. The law is the product of negotiations between only the MILF and Manila, leaving many other more extreme separatist groups to continue their fight for full independence. Importantly, the ASG and the Maute group, the perpetrators of the Marawi hostilities, were not a part of the Bangsamoro Organic Law negotiations and are unlikely to concede to its restrictions.

 

Regardless, the situation on Mindanao and throughout the Sulu archipelago remains complex. Insurgent recruitment continues to be an endemic issue, and the US State Department recently designated the Islamic State in the Philippines as a foreign terrorist organization.[cvii] Meanwhile, IS’ defeat in the Middle East means that more foreign fighters are set to return to Southeast Asia at a time when persecution against Muslims is at an all-time high.[cviii] This confluence of circumstances, coupled with the already lax security apparatus throughout the Southern Philippines and surrounding archipelago, could be the perfect volatile mix to ensure insurgent activity continues through new groups with historical grievances for many years to come.

 

Bibliography

 

Abuza, Zachary. “Where Did the US Go Wrong in the Philippines? A Hard Look at a ‘Success’ Story.” War on the Rocks. June 14, 2018. https://warontherocks.com/2018/06/where-did-the-u-s-go-wrong-in-the-philippines-a-hard-look-at-a-success-story/.

 

Abuza, Zachary. Forging Peace in Southeast Asia: Insurgencies, Peace Processes, and Reconciliation. London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.

 

Bacani, Benedicto R. “The Mindanao Peace Talks: Another Opportunity to Resolve the Moro Conflict in the Philippines.” The United States Institute of Peace, Special Report 131. Washington: USIP, January 2005.

 

Barron, Laignee. “One Year After the Deadly Siege, Thousands of Filipinos Remain Displaced From Marawi.” Time, May 23, 2018. http://time.com/5288210/one-year-marawi-siege-displacement/.

 

Betteridge-Moes, Maxine. “What happened in Marawi?” Al Jazeera, October 29, 2017. https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/10/happened-marawi-171029085314348.html.

 

Cabalza, Chester. “How Clan Feuds and Ethnic Tensions Breed Terrorism in the Philippines.” The Diplomat, July 6, 2017. https://thediplomat.com/2017/07/how-clan-feuds-and-ethnic-tensions-breed-terrorism-in-the-philippines/.

 

Chalk, Peter. “The Islamic State in the Philippines: A Looming Shadow in Southeast Asia?” CTC Sentinel, Vol. 9, No. 3 (March 2016): 1-24.

 

Chandran, Nyshka. “Family Terrorism is Southeast Asia's Newest Threat, Defense Officials Warn.” CNBC, June 3, 2018. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/03/family-terrorism-is-southeast-asias-newest-threat-defense-officials-warn.html.

 

Chao, Steve. “Gaining ground: The battle for Marawi.” Al Jazeera, October 30, 2017. https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/2017/10/gaining-ground-battle-marawi-171025081025610.html.

 

Collier, Kit. “Terrorism: Evolving Regional Alliances and State Failure in Mindanao.” Southeast Asian Affairs, (2006): 26-38.

 

Cragin, Kim, Peter Chalk, Sara A. Daly and Brian A. Jackson. “Mindanao: A Mecca for Transnational Terrorism in Southeast Asia,” in Sharing the Dragon’s Teeth: Terrorist Groups and the Exchange of New Technologies, (Santa Monica: RAND, 2007).

 

          . “Declaring a State of Martial Law and Suspending the Writ of Habeus Corpus in the Whole of Mindanao,” effective May 23, 2017, The President of the Philippines Proclamation No. 216.

 

Fonbuena, Carmela. “Marawi One Year after the Battle: A Ghost Town Still Haunted by Threat of  ISIS.” The Guardian, May 21, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/global/2018/may/22/marawi-one-year-siege-philippines-ghost-town-still-haunted-threat-isis.

 

Galula, David. Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, (Westport: Praeger Security International, 1964, 2006).

 

Gavilan, Jodesz. “2015 Census: PH population at 100.98 million.” Rappler, May 25, 2016. https://www.rappler.com/nation/134240-philippines-census-population-2015-psa.

 

Gotinga, JC. “Stalled peace deal crucial in Philippines ISIL fight.” Al Jazeera, October 24, 2017. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/stalled-peace-deal-crucial-philippines-isil-fight-171024143318897.html.

 

Hedman, Eva-Lotta E. “The Philippines: Conflict and Internal Displacement in Mindanao and The Sulu Archipelago.” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Emergency and Technical Support Service, March 2009.

 

Heydarian, Richard Javad. “Bangsamoro Organic Law can be Duterte's Greatest Legacy.” Al Jazeera, August 1, 2018. https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/bangsamoro-organic-law-duterte-greatest-legacy-180730144900126.html.

 

Islam, Syed Serajul. “The Islamic Independence Movements in Patani of Thailand and Mindanao of the Philippines.” Asian Survey, Vol. 38, No. 5 (May, 1998).

 

Jennings, Ralph. “Why the Philippine Fight Against ISIS-Backed Rebels Can't End Even After Victory.” Forbes, October 17, 2017. https://www.forbes.com/sites/ralphjennings/2017/10/17/why-the-philippine-fight-against-isis-backed-rebels-cant-end-even-after-victory/#1fccd8b47d5d.

 

LaGrone, Sam. “US Officially Ends Special Operations Task Force in the Philippines, Some Advisors May Remain.” US Naval Institute News, February 27, 2015. https://news.usni.org/2015/02/27/u-s-officially-ends-special-operations-task-force-in-the-philippines-some-advisors-may-remain.

 

          . “Mindanao.” Institute of Island Studies, Prince Edward Island University, last modified 2007. https://www.islandstudies.ca/sites/islandstudies.ca/files/jurisdiction/Mindanao.html.

 

Pace, Eric. “The Fall of Marcos: Two Decades as Philippine Chief; The Marcos Years: From Vow to 'Make Country Great' to the Public Revolt.” The New York Times, 1986. https://www.nytimes.com/1986/02/26/world/fall-marcos-two-decades-philippine-chief-marcos-years-vow-make-country-great.html.

 

          . “Philippines, International Religious Freedom Report 2004.” United States Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. https://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/2004/35425.htm.

 

Rabasa, Angela and Pater Chalk. Indonesia’s Transformation and the Stability of Southeast Asia. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2001.

 

Ressa, Maria A. “Senior Abu Sayyaf leader swears oath to ISIS.” Rappler, August 4, 2014. https://www.rappler.com/nation/65199-abu-sayyaf-leader-oath-isis.

 

Robinson, Lina, Patrick B. Johnston, and Gillian S. Oak. US Special Operations Forces in the Philippines, 2001–2014. Santa Monica: RAND, 2016.

 

Santos, Soloman M. Jr., and Paz Verdades M. Santos, Primed and Purposeful: Armed Groups and Human Security Efforts in the Philippines, ed. Diana Rodriguez. . Geneva: Small Arms Survey, 2010.

 

          . “State Department Terrorist Designations of ISIS Affiliates and Senior Leaders.” United

States Department of State, Office of the Spokesperson, February 27, 2018.  https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2018/02/278883.htm.

 

          . “Treaty of general relations and Protocol, signed at Manila, on 4 July 1946, and Exchange of Notes constituting an interim Agreement, Manila, 10 and 12 July 1946.” Effective as of July 4, 1946, United Nations Treaty Series No. 88.

 

Trofimov, Yaroslav. “Islamic State’s Attacks Raise Threat of Southeast Asia Hub.” The Wall Street Journal, June 27, 2018. https://www.wsj.com/articles/islamic-state-attacks-raise-threat-of-southeast-asia-hub-1528363801.

 

Unson, John. “Army, MILF Verifying Reports of Foreign Terrorists' Presence in Mindanao.” Philstar, August 28, 2013. https://www.philstar.com/nation/2013/08/28/1144401/army-milf-verifying-reports-foreign-terrorists-presence-mindanao.

 

Villamor, Felipe. “As Mattis Arrives in Philippines, Mop-Up in Marawi Is Declared Over.” The New York Times, October 23, 2017 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/23/world/asia/philippines-mattis-marawi-isis.html.

 

Villamor, Felipe. “Philippines Extends Martial Law in South for Another Year.” The New York Times, December 13, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/13/world/asia/philippines-martial-law-duterte.html.

 

Watts, Stephen, Jason H. Campbell, Patrick B. Johnston, Sameer Lalwani, and Sarah H. Bana. Countering Others’ Insurgencies: Understanding US Small-Footprint Interventions in Local Context. Santa Monica: RAND, 2014.

 

Whaley, Floyd. “Official Report Describes Blunders in Deadly Police Raid in Philippines.” The New York Times, March 13, 2015. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/14/world/asia/philippines-police-raid-official-report.html.

 

Xu, Michelle (Interviewer) and John Gersham (Interviewee). “Human Rights and Duterte’s War on Drugs.” Council on Foreign Relations, December 16, 2016. https://www.cfr.org/interview/human-rights-and-dutertes-war-drugs.

 

End Notes

[i] The word “Moro,” which describes the Muslim community on Mindanao and throughout the Sulu Archipeligo, was coined by Spanish colonists when they first captured territory in the Philippines in the late 1400’s. The name is derived from the name of the Muslim conquerors who ruled Spain for eight centuries, the “Moors.” Soliman M. Santos, Jr. and Paz Verdades M. Santos, Primed and Purposeful: Armed Groups and Human Security Efforts in the Philippines, ed. Diana Rodriguez (Geneva: Small Arms Survey, 2010), 60.

[ii] Jodesz Gavilan, “2015 Census: PH population at 100.98 million,” Rappler, May 25, 2016, https://www.rappler.com/nation/134240-philippines-census-population-2015-psa.

[iii] “Philippines, International Religious Freedom Report 2004,” United States Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, https://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/2004/35425.htm.

[iv] Ralph Jennings, “Why The Philippine Fight Against ISIS-Backed Rebels Can't End Even After Victory,” Forbes, October 17, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/ralphjennings/2017/10/17/why-the-philippine-fight-against-isis-backed-rebels-cant-end-even-after-victory/#1fccd8b47d5d.

[v] Angel Rabasa and Pater Chalk, Indonesia’s Transformation and the Stability of Southeast Asia, (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2001), 86.

[vi] Ibid. 85.

[vii] Zachary Abuza, Forging Peace in Southeast Asia: Insurgencies, Peace Processes, and Reconciliation, (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), 65.

[viii] Syed Serajul Islam, “The Islamic Independence Movements in Patani of Thailand and Mindanao of the Philippines,”

 Asian Survey, Vol. 38, No. 5 (May, 1998): 452.

[ix] Rabasa and Chalk, Indonesia’s Transformation and the Stability of Southeast Asia, 86.

[x] “Philippines, International Religious Freedom Report 2004,” United States Department of State.

[xi] Rabasa and Chalk, Indonesia’s Transformation and the Stability of Southeast Asia, 86.

[xii] “Mindanao,” Institute of Island Studies, Prince Edward Island University, last modified 2007, https://www.islandstudies.ca/sites/islandstudies.ca/files/jurisdiction/Mindanao.html.

[xiii] Islam, “The Islamic Independence Movements in Patani of Thailand and Mindanao of the Philippines,” 452.

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] Abuza, Forging Peace in Southeast Asia, 69.

[xvi] Islam, “The Islamic Independence Movements in Patani of Thailand and Mindanao of the Philippines,” 452.

[xvii] Ibid. 452-453.

[xviii] Ibid. 453.

[xix] Ibid. 454; Rabasa and Chalk, Indonesia’s Transformation and the Stability of Southeast Asia, 87.

[xx] Abuza, Forging Peace in Southeast Asia, 70.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Ibid. 71.

[xxiii] Ibid. 70.

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] Ibid. 72.

[xxvi] The ARMM was established in the late 1980’s by Corazon Aquino, but failed to provide concessions that the MNLF considered acceptable, and had little effect on the overall insurgent activity, Islam, “The Islamic Independence Movements in Patani of Thailand and Mindanao of the Philippines,” 450; Ibid.

[xxvii] JC Gotinga, “Stalled peace deal crucial in Philippines ISIL fight,” Al Jazeera, October 24, 2017, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/stalled-peace-deal-crucial-philippines-isil-fight-171024143318897.html; Rabasa and Chalk, Indonesia’s Transformation and the Stability of Southeast Asia, 87.

[xxviii] Abuza, Forging Peace in Southeast Asia, 71.

[xxix] Ibid.

[xxx] Rabasa and Chalk, Indonesia’s Transformation and the Stability of Southeast Asia, 87-88; Abuza, Forging Peace in Southeast Asia, 73.

[xxxi] John Unson, “Army, MILF Verifying Reports of Foreign Terrorists' Presence in Mindanao,” Philstar, August 28, 2013, https://www.philstar.com/nation/2013/08/28/1144401/army-milf-verifying-reports-foreign-terrorists-presence-mindanao.

[xxxii] Ibid.; Peter Chalk, “The Islamic State in the Philippines: A Looming Shadow in Southeast Asia?” CTC Sentinel, Vol. 9, No. 3 (March 2016): 12.

[xxxiii] Kim Cragin, Peter Chalk, Sara A. Daly and Brian A. Jackson, “Mindanao: A Mecca for Transnational Terrorism in Southeast Asia,” in Sharing the Dragon’s Teeth: Terrorist Groups and the Exchange of New Technologies, (Santa Monica: RAND, 2007), 30.

[xxxiv] Ibid.

[xxxv] Linda Robinson, Patrick B. Johnston, and Gillian S. Oak, US Special Operations Forces in the Philippines, 2001–2014, (Santa Monica: RAND, 2016), 11.

[xxxvi] Cragin, Chalk, Daly, and Jackson, “Mindanao,” in Sharing the Dragon’s Teeth, 31.

[xxxvii] Chalk, “The Islamic State in the Philippines,” 12; Steve Chao, “Gaining ground: The battle for Marawi,” Al Jazeera, October 30, 2017, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/2017/10/gaining-ground-battle-marawi-171025081025610.html.

[xxxviii] Chester Cabalza, “How Clan Feuds and Ethnic Tensions Breed Terrorism in the Philippines,” The Diplomat, July 6, 2017, https://thediplomat.com/2017/07/how-clan-feuds-and-ethnic-tensions-breed-terrorism-in-the-philippines/.

[xxxix] Ibid.

[xl] Ibid.; Rabasa and Chalk, Indonesia’s Transformation and the Stability of Southeast Asia, 90.

[xli] Kit Collier, “Terrorism: Evolving Regional Alliances and State Failure in Mindanao,” Southeast Asian Affairs, (2006): 34.

[xlii] Abuza, Forging Peace in Southeast Asia, 65.

[xliii] Ibid. 66-67.

[xliv] Ibid. 67.

[xlv] Benedicto R. Bacani, “The Mindanao Peace Talks: Another Opportunity to Resolve the Moro Conflict in the Philippines,” The United States Institute of Peace, Special Report 131 (Washington: USIP, January 2005): 3.

[xlvi] Ibid.

[xlvii] “Treaty of general relations and Protocol, signed at Manila, on 4 July 1946, and Exchange of Notes constituting an interim Agreement, Manila, 10 and 12 July 1946,” effective as of July 4, 1946, United Nations Treaty Series No. 88; Eric Pace, “The Fall of Marcos: Two Decades as Philippine Chief; The Marcos Years: From Vow to 'Make Country Great' to the Public Revolt,” The New York Times, 1986, https://www.nytimes.com/1986/02/26/world/fall-marcos-two-decades-philippine-chief-marcos-years-vow-make-country-great.html.

[xlviii] Bacani, “The Mindanao Peace Talks,” 4.

[xlix] Ibid.

[l] Eva-Lotta E. Hedman, “The Philippines: Conflict and Internal Displacement in Mindanao and The Sulu Archipelago,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Emergency and Technical Support Service, March 2009, 2.

[li] Ibid.

[lii] Ibid. 2-3.

[liii] Ibid. 3.

[liv] Stephen Watts, Jason H. Campbell, Patrick B. Johnston, Sameer Lalwani, and Sarah H. Bana, Countering Others’

Insurgencies: Understanding US Small-Footprint Interventions in Local Context, (Santa Monica: RAND, 2014), 69.

[lv] Abuza, Forging Peace in Southeast Asia, 70.

[lvi] Ibid.

[lvii] Ibid.

[lviii] Hedman, “Conflict and Internal Displacement in Mindanao and The Sulu Archipelago,” 3.

[lix] Islam, “The Islamic Independence Movements in Patani of Thailand and Mindanao of the Philippines,” 450.

[lx] Ibid.

[lxi] Hedman, “Conflict and Internal Displacement in Mindanao and The Sulu Archipelago,” 4.

[lxii] Abuza, Forging Peace in Southeast Asia, 73.

[lxiii] Hedman, “Conflict and Internal Displacement in Mindanao and The Sulu Archipelago,” 4.

[lxiv] Ibid.

[lxv] Ibid.

[lxvi] Robinson, Johnston, and Oak, US Special Operations Forces in the Philippines, 17.

[lxvii] Watts, Campbell, Johnston, Lalwani, and Bana, Countering Others’ Insurgencies, 75.

[lxviii] Ibid.

[lxix] Ibid. 76.

[lxx] Robinson, Johnston, and Oak, US Special Operations Forces in the Philippines, 10.

[lxxi] Watts, Campbell, Johnston, Lalwani, and Bana, Countering Others’ Insurgencies, 76.

[lxxii] Robinson, Johnston, and Oak, US Special Operations Forces in the Philippines, 13. 

[lxxiii] Ibid. 14.

[lxxiv] Ibid. 15.

[lxxv] Ibid.

[lxxvi] Ibid. 16.

[lxxvii] Ibid. 18.

[lxxviii] Ibid.

[lxxix] Ibid. 118.

[lxxx] Sam LaGrone, “US Officially Ends Special Operations Task Force in the Philippines, Some Advisors May Remain,” US Naval Institute News, February 27, 2015, https://news.usni.org/2015/02/27/u-s-officially-ends-special-operations-task-force-in-the-philippines-some-advisors-may-remain.

[lxxxi] Robinson, Johnston, and Oak, US Special Operations Forces in the Philippines, xvi.

[lxxxii] Watts, Campbell, Johnston, Lalwani, and Bana, Countering Others’ Insurgencies, 77.

[lxxxiii] Ibid. 90.

[lxxxiv] Ibid.

[lxxxv] Robinson, Johnston, and Oak, US Special Operations Forces in the Philippines, 114-115.

[lxxxvi] David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, (Westport: Praeger Security International, 1964, 2006), 55.

[lxxxvii] Robinson, Johnston, and Oak, US Special Operations Forces in the Philippines, 71.

[lxxxviii] Watts, Campbell, Johnston, Lalwani, and Bana, Countering Others’ Insurgencies, 97-98.

[lxxxix] Ibid.

[xc] Ibid. 97.

[xci] Ibid. 97-98.

[xcii] Ibid. 100.

[xciii] Ibid.

[xciv] Robinson, Johnston, and Oak, US Special Operations Forces in the Philippines, 117.

[xcv] Robinson, Johnston, and Oak, US Special Operations Forces in the Philippines, 40.

[xcvi] Floyd Whaley, “Official Report Describes Blunders in Deadly Police Raid in Philippines,” The New York Times, March 13, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/14/world/asia/philippines-police-raid-official-report.html.

[xcvii] Zachary Abuza, “Where Did the US Go Wrong in the Philippines? A Hard Look at a ‘Success’ Story,” War On the Rocks, June 14, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/06/where-did-the-u-s-go-wrong-in-the-philippines-a-hard-look-at-a-success-story/.

[xcviii] Carmela Fonbuena, “Marawi One Year after the Battle: A Ghost Town Still Haunted by Threat of ISIS,” The Guardian, May 21, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/global/2018/may/22/marawi-one-year-siege-philippines-ghost-town-still-haunted-threat-isis.

[xcix] Hedman, “Conflict and Internal Displacement in Mindanao and The Sulu Archipelago,” 3.

[c] Maria A. Ressa, “Senior Abu Sayyaf leader swears oath to ISIS,” Rappler, August 4, 2014, https://www.rappler.com/nation/65199-abu-sayyaf-leader-oath-isis.

[ci] Yaroslav Trofimov, “Islamic State’s Attacks Raise Threat of Southeast Asia Hub,” The Wall Street Journal, June 27, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/islamic-state-attacks-raise-threat-of-southeast-asia-hub-1528363801.

[cii] Maxine Betteridge-Moes, “What happened in Marawi?” Al Jazeera, October 29, 2017, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/10/happened-marawi-171029085314348.html.

[ciii] Felipe Villamor, “As Mattis Arrives in Philippines, Mop-Up in Marawi Is Declared Over,” The New York Times, October 23, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/23/world/asia/philippines-mattis-marawi-isis.html.

[civ] Michelle Xu (Interviewer) and John Gersham (Interviewee), “Human Rights and Duterte’s War on Drugs,” Council on Foreign Relations, December 16, 2016, https://www.cfr.org/interview/human-rights-and-dutertes-war-drugs; “Declaring a State of Martial Law and Suspending the Writ of Habeus Corpus in the Whole of Mindanao,” effective May 23 2017, The President of the Philippines Proclamation No. 216; Felipe Villamor, “Philippines Extends Martial Law in South for Another Year,” The New York Times, December 13, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/13/world/asia/philippines-martial-law-duterte.html.

[cv] Laignee Barron, “One Year After the Deadly Siege, Thousands of Filipinos Remain Displaced from Marawi,” Time, May 23, 2018, http://time.com/5288210/one-year-marawi-siege-displacement/.

[cvi] Richard Javad Heydarian, “Bangsamoro Organic Law can be Duterte's Greatest Legacy,” Al Jazeera, August 1, 2018,

 https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/bangsamoro-organic-law-duterte-greatest-legacy-180730144900126.html.

[cvii] Nyshka Chandran, “Family Terrorism is Southeast Asia's Newest Threat, Defense Officials Warn,” CNBC, June 3, 2018, https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/03/family-terrorism-is-southeast-asias-newest-threat-defense-officials-warn.html.; “State Department Terrorist Designations of ISIS Affiliates and Senior Leaders,” United States Department of State, Office of the Spokesperson, February 27, 2018,  https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2018/02/278883.htm.

[cviii] Trofimov, “Islamic State’s Attacks Raise Threat of Southeast Asia Hub.”

About the Author(s)

B.K. Schaefer currently works for the Department of Defense and serves in the Army Reserve. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history and is a master’s candidate in the Security Studies program at Georgetown University. The opinions and positions stated are his alone and do not represent the views or policies of the Government of the United States or any of its agencies.

Comments

Addendum:

From our article above:

"Overall, COIN strategy in the Philippines has focused on tactical, reactionary successes against insurgent groups, and failed to build the appropriate political and economic capacity to effectively address the grievances of the local population."

Question:

Given the overall problem that I have identified below, to wit: Islamic fears of forced assimilation; which are seemingly confirmed by:

a.  In the Philippines, Manila's encouragement of substantial transmigration and waves of Catholic settlers, which have drastically changed Mindanao’s demographics. And by:

b.  In the Greater Middle East, recent U.S./the Western forceful efforts to transform this region more along modern western political, economic, social and value lines.  

Given this such dynamic (and the clear resistance -- in both such locales -- thereto); given this such dynamic, how exactly will our:

a.  "Build(ing) the appropriate political and economic capacity" (to wit: poring even more, alien and profane, modern western "secular" fuel on the Islamic fire? -- in the Philippines and/or elsewhere) -- how exactly will this, somehow, 

b. "Effectively address the grievances of the local populations" (who, indeed, feel threatened -- by exactly this such "westernizing"/"secularizing" activity)?

From our article above and re: the RAND study addressed therein:

"In 2001, Angel Rabasa and Peter Chalk, two researchers at RAND, identified four root causes of Muslim disenfranchisement; broadly, these factors contribute to popular support for insurgent groups and activities today.[vi]First, the Muslim population has centuries of religious, cultural, and political traditions, and fears that they will be forced to abandon those traditions through a forced assimilation with the Philippines Catholic majority. Second, the population resents the Catholic population’s transmigration from the Philippine mainland. ... "

As to these such observations to ask:  

a.  Is not the first identified "root cause of disenfranchisement" -- noted in the RAND study referenced in our article above (see "fear of forced assimilation with the Philippines Catholic majority") -- is this such first "root cause of disenfranchisement," in fact, not proved/validated/confirmed -- as being both proper and correct; this by:

b.  The second identified "root cause of disenfranchisement" -- noted in this self-same RAND study -- to wit: the observation that "Manila encouraged substantial transmigration as early as 1900, and waves of Catholic settlers have drastically changed Mindanao’s demographics?"  ("Fear of forced assimilation," thus, seeming to be confirmed?)

Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above

Thus to note, and now in more general terms, the problem that Islam ROUTINELY presents to those who seek to "transform," "incorporate, and/or "assimilate" the followers thereof; these, as identified in the example below  and, in this case, re: (a) the failure of Soviet/communist's such "transform and assimilate" attempts; these, (b) in Central Asia:

"The role of Islam as a source of resistance to Soviet rule attracted even more scholarly attention. In short, it was commonly viewed as the dominant social force in Central Asia and, more importantly, as purely an oppositional one. More specifically, because modernization is equated with secularization, Islam was depicted as the primary weapon "against the forces of Soviet modernity." Thus, Islam was considered a crowning symbol of both Central Asia's ability to resist Soviet rule and the Soviet Union's failure to achieve modernization in this region."

https://www.amazon.com/Transformation-Central-Asia-Societies-Independen… (See Page 9 of the Introduction.)

Thus, and again in more general terms, to likewise see Islam today as -- once again -- being the "crowning symbol;" this, of the Islamic World's ability to resist; in this case, (a) U. S./Western rule and (b) U.S./Western attempts at "modernization"/"secularization" of the Rest of the World?