The southernmost Island of the Philippines, Minanao, has felt the presence of IS (Islamic State) groups for more than two years. It has been under the fist of Martial law for weeks and its leaders are looking to extend this martial law’s reach further still. Militant IS fighters, bomb raids and murderous government campaigns have been the cause of thousands of civilian deaths already.
‘isis have now consolidated territory in the philippines and the fighting does not seem to be coming to an end’.
The media coverage of these events gained traction around six weeks ago when a group of Maute militants joined with another IS group, Abu Sayyaf, to stop the Philippine authorities capturing Abu Sayyaf’s leader Isnilon Hapilon. Fighting under the black flag of ISIS the alliance proved lethal. The fighting was concentrated in the city of Marawi that estimated population of 200,000 civilians.
The Maute militants are led by brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute, in their fray are fighters from Malaysia, Chechnya, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, showing the sweep ISIS are making. Abu Sayyaf up to this point were known internationally for kidnapping for ransom and for their leader, Hapilon, who is on the FBI’s most wanted list, sporting a $5million reward for capture. He was made the Emir (commander and chief) in Southeast Asia for ISIS and has proved as dangerous as he is elusive.
Maute militants stormed the city of Marawi in the southern Mindanao province. They succeeded in eluding the government and saving the other IS group’s leader and took the city by force. Fighting between Philippine troops and Islamist militants for control of the city rage on to this day.
Once the fighting broke out between Philippine troops and the militants, shelters were erected for those fleeing the fight. Terrorised, many survivors talked about how the city of Marawi was known for Islamic scholars, not violence! One survivor noted that the militants spared them if they claimed to be Muslim and could recite a verse form the Quran. The same survivor asked ‘What is holy about killing people?’
The Red Cross in Marawi attempted to remove civilians from harm’s way by creating a ‘humanitarian corridor’, a safe passage through the fighting to aid people. The corridor could not cover the whole area and it is expected that many survivors are trapped in their homes, too old or too sick to brave an escape. The government said that approximately 2000 civilians are expected to be trapped and conditions are fast-declining.
President Duterte responded to Maute militants’ pledge to ‘go down upon Marawi to burn the place’ with ‘Go ahead, do it’. Perhaps calling a bluff?
At the height of the battle the Philippine military were hitting Marawi with daily bombing runs, using U.S intelligence assistance and military advice to enhance their attacks. The statistics given by the Philippine government around two weeks ago listed more than 200 people killed, 24 civilians, 58 soldiers and at least 138 militants. Tens of thousands have fled the city, perhaps even the island. Later in the fighting, thirteen Philippine Marines were killed in a fight with the Maute militants.
As a result of the fighting, family members of the Maute brothers have been captured. ISIS have now consolidated territory in the Philippines and the fighting does not seem to be coming to an end. The two sides have shown little to no regard for the people whose homes they are fighting over. The fighting continues, but for what purpose? Who is in charge? Why is this happening? Why are IS groups there in the first place? Well, all good questions. First we must discuss the Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.
Mr Duterte is the current President of the Philippines, known by the American media and described by a previous security advisor to a previous president as having his own brand of bravado and ‘tough guy’ attitude. He has been in power since June of last year. He is most well-known for his war on drugs in the Philippines. As a result of the campaign, between coming to power and December of 2016 around 2,000 people were killed by the police alone, users and dealers alike.
‘they are slaughtering us like animals’, the survivors said.
Bloody murder scenes littered the country; Mr Duterte allegedly played with the idea of enforcing martial law to crack down on drugs. Award winning photojournalist Daniel Berehulak did a report on the rise of the anti-drug campaign. The report describes how Obama criticised the campaign, which caused Mr Duterte to try and distance himself from Washington. The Philippine military resisted the move as they were allied with the U.S and the U.S has had a rotating force of 50-100 troops in the south specifically to combat terrorism. The President elect Donald Trump showed willingness to overlook the mass murder and obvious abuse of power saying that he was doing ‘an unbelievable job on the drug problem’.
The photo journalist making this report spent time with survivors who were too afraid to give their names, ‘they are slaughtering us like animals’, the survivors said. The author, who has worked in war zones and major disaster situations for years, said Duterte’s drug war has been conducted with a level of ruthlessness that he has never seen before.
‘the peace process stopped when duterte came to power’.
The potential cause of this chaos with ISIS in the Philippines? In December-time President Duterte decided to reject a ceasefire from the Maute militants — before any of the fighting had started. He made this decision presumably because they had already infiltrated his home city in the region. Duterte responded to Maute militants’ pledge to ‘go down upon Marawi to burn the place’ with ‘Go ahead, do it’. Perhaps calling a bluff?
Nonetheless that was exactly what they did and they came down in force. President Duterte’s predecessor had started peace talks with the rebels in the south. The peace process stopped when Duterte came to power. Dr. Abuza, from the National War College in Washington, who specialises in Southeast Asian politics, commented, ‘It was not the spread of ISIS in Iraq and Syria that fuelled ISIS cells in the Philippines, but the collapse of the peace process’.
It is believed that even if the fighting in Marawi were to stop, the fighting in the south would only actually come to a halt if the peace talks resumed. If something does not happen to re-initiate the peace process the threat risks spreading beyond the southernmost island and further into the region.