TINYg Supporter Falanx Assynt Predictions ( Philippines)

Extension of martial law will help Army prevent militancy in Mindanao throughout 2019, but will lead to jihadist radicalisation over longer term

Predictions

Extension of martial law will help Army prevent militancy in Mindanao throughout 2019, but will lead to jihadist radicalisation over longer term
Continued security measures will contain threat of violence during January-February Bangsamoro autonomy plebiscites and May congressional polls
Army harassment of local population will undermine efforts of new autonomous region to reduce sense of marginalisation in Mindanao

Analysis
Congress voted on 12 December to approve President Duterte’s request to extend martial law in the southern region of Mindanao by a further twelve months. Martial law in Mindanao is now due to run until 31 December 2019. Duterte believes the measures are required to maintain peace and stability, and the Government has said that an extension will help prevent any attempts by the rebel Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) to disrupt the 13 May congressional and municipal elections, citing in particular the north-eastern and eastern areas of Mindanao, where the militants have a strong presence. Separately, the CPP announced on 7 December that it will declare its annual unilateral ceasefire to mark Christmas and the New Year on 24-26 December and 31 December-1 January. This came despite Duterte telling soldiers on 27 November that he wanted to form a ‘death squad’ to target the rebels, pledging to ‘match their talent in assassinating people’. However, police and army officials have urged caution on the plan.

Duterte first imposed martial law across Mindanao for 60 days in May 2017, immediately following the seizure of Marawi City by the pro-Islamic State (IS) Maute Group and its allies, who held the town for five months before being fully defeated by the military. The measure’s repeated extension has allowed the Government to maintain security in Mindanao and prevent the jihadists from regrouping. However, a pro-IS faction of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) has sought to exploit the Maute Group’s weakness in order to recruit jihadist defectors. Most notably, the BIFF conducted two bombings in Sultan Kudarat Province in August and September that killed five civilians, which we noted at the time was aimed at provoking the extension of martial law to fuel resentment with Manila. Meanwhile, Muslim-majority areas of Mindanao are due to vote in plebiscites on 21 January and 6 February on whether to join a new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, which is intended to address underlying local grievances. BIFF fears this will deprive it of recruitment opportunities, and will seek to carry out attacks during the process in order to deter voting and thereby damage the new body’s legitimacy. Extending martial law is therefore partly designed to help the Army contain this threat.

The Government is also seeking to reduce militancy by the CPP, which Duterte fears will attempt to escalate violence ahead of the May midterm elections. Indeed, we said in our 31 October Report that Duterte would exploit a recent shooting of sugar workers to justify extending martial law, even though the attack occurred outside the South. The Communist rebels have been weakened after years of military setbacks, but hope to avoid permanent defeat by engaging in peace talks with Duterte. The President is also eager to reach a deal, which he sees as critical to his legacy. However, he has been frustrated at the pace of negotiations and suspended them last year to intensify military pressure on the CPP and force it to make concessions. His recent threat to form a death squad is intended to intimidate it further. The Army and police may succeed in tacitly persuading Duterte to drop his latest plan, but his rhetoric and the martial law extension indicate he is unwilling to restart talks until at least after the election.

Continued martial law in the South will help maintain security there throughout 2019, and especially over the Bangsamoro plebiscites and midterm polls. Periodic Communist and jihadist violence will nonetheless persist. Moreover, the measure will strengthen Mindanao’s sense of marginalisation from Manila, and the Army’s continued harassment of the local population will encourage jihadist radicalisation over the longer term. This will enable IS-linked groups to gradually regain their strength over the next few years and will ultimately undermine any progress made towards greater stability that comes from the eventual establishment of the Bangsamoro.

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