Duterte's Martial Law

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

President of Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte has extended martial law in the southern part of his country until 31 December 2017.

He thinks that the red brigade of communists and the liberals are making conspiracies to oust him. 

Also, to tackle the rise of Islamic State in the southern part of his country, he has made his political intentions even clearer.

Although, several unhappy Filipinos have recently burned several of his effigies in Manila, near the Mendiola Bridge. The protestors likened him to ‘Hitler’, ‘Marcos’ and a ‘lapdog of US imperialism.’

It had been a couple of his close military associates, who had advised him to impose the martial law. In several of his public declarations, he had vowed to end this martial law after the end of fighting in Marawi, located in Mindanao, the second largest island of Philippines.

Marawi is a densely populated city and has become an easy breeding place for the Islamic State rebels to nurture their militant activities. The city belongs from a region with nearly four-hundred-year war history.

Logically, it is always hard to limit causalities when forces are on the prowl for an operation clean up.  It has been five months since the Battle of Marawi had started since May this year.

Foreign countries such as Australia, China and the United States and internal non-state groups such as the Moro National Liberation Front have allied together to counter the militant activities of Islamic State in Mindanao. Militants have burned up a church, a central jail and schools. Over 200,000 people have been displaced.

Although Duterte claims that the Battle of Marawi is in its final phase, many political commentators have claimed that the Armed Forces have been struggling in the battle. A weak rule of law and poverty has heightened political tensions in the territory.

The Muslims of Southern Philippines (Moro) largely belong from the tribe of Tausug (Suluk), who fought the Spanish colonial rule and four decades of American colonialism through Moro Rebellion (1899-1903) until the independence of Philippines in 1946.

Coming back to time, several places like the Bato Ali Mosque and the Jamiatu Marawi Al-Islamia Foundation have now been used by the Muslim gunmen as their command centre.

Throughout history, Muslims in the Philippines have believed that Christian Filipinos have been unjustly using their land with government’s resettlement policy. The conflict between these groups has cost about 120,000 lives since four decades.

The AFP still remains one of the weakest forces in the region. Out of 130,000 army personnel, only a handful are operational. This issue is the government’s new challenge, especially at the time of martial law.

In fact, the country spends only 1 per cent of GDP on its defence. Add to that, the money spent on recent operations has cost them around 2.5- 3 billion pesos.

Several challenges such as rebalancing troops need to be addressed and budgetary allocations for military training, as per inputs are given by government spokespersons. For this, a military modernisation plan from 2017 to 2028 has also been chalked out.

To buy certain military gear like helmets, vests, night vision goggles and bullets, money has been drawn from several long-term ongoing projects.

The inclusion of drones and facial recognition technology has been under Duterte’s plans, but many of his advisors believe that the Philippines needs to improve its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities (ISR in short).

Therefore, how things will improve from the political-legislative side needs to be watched closely.

The aim of Islamic State in the Philippines had been launched with the Maute Group, a Salafi jihadist group that established a stronghold in the province of Lanao Del Saur in Mindanao, since February 2016.

After the 2016 Davao City bombing, the Philippines government and its intelligence services have started to take tough measures to tackle Islamic State insurgency.

Recently, Duterte also made reports of sieging surrounding cities of Marawi in Mindanao, that could come under assault as well.

All these developments testify that Duterte is seriously seeking to neutralise internal threats in the country. That’s why a potent military strategy under Duterte’s regime is coming up. He has already allocated a lucrative amount of budget as a military fund, a plan similar to his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III.

In the past, several groups like Abu Sayyaf have pleaded allegiance to the Islamic State. Several of its members, convicted for attacks in the country, have had links with Maute Group. These developments highly indicate the rising threats the Philippines is facing from an Islamic insurgency.

Going back to history, when the Jabidah massacre had been done by the Philippine Armed Forces in 1968, the Moro Liberation Front launched militant activities to achieve their goals of autonomy in the southern Philippines.

It was Muammar Gaddafi, who brokered a deal between the Philippine government and the erstwhile Moro Liberation Front leaders for autonomy in the Mindanao region. But after an eventual breakup of the party (Moro National Liberation Front & Moro Islamic Liberation Front), Moro Islamic Liberation Front, historically, continued to resist with their armed struggle, until a series of negotiations till 2008 and a significant truce deal in 2012.

In October this month, about forty bodies buried in a mass grave have been retrieved in Marawi. It just gives some of the impressions of this war-torn city in Southern Philippines, where around 300 people are still kept hostage by the Muslim militants.


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