Philippines: Battle for Mindanao Far From Over


Date:  December 6, 2017

Plus - Risk of Advent and Christmas Terror 

by Elizabeth Kendal

In a military offensive on 16 October the Armed Forces of the Philippines 
(AFP) killed Isnilon Hapilon (former leader of Abu Sayyaf and Islamic State's 
'emir' for Southeast Asia) and Omarkhayam Maute, leader of the pro-ISIS Maute 
group and the last of the Maute brothers to be killed. Commenting on the 
killings, Singapore-based terrorism expert Kumar Ramakrishna warned (16 
October): 'Just because the Marawi siege is coming to an end does not mean 
the threat is over. ISIS-linked militants there will regroup ... and lay low 
for a while, while rebuilding their strength.' Recent reports from Mindanao 
indicate that this is precisely what is happening. 

Whilst the Battle for Marawi is now over, the conflict has left Marawi City 
uninhabitable. The city is mostly rubble, all the banks have been emptied and 
every house and business has been looted and destroyed. Eager to exploit the 
situation, Islamic State recruiters target displaced Muslims and Islamist 
sympathisers who are furious about the destruction of Marawi, which they 
blame on the AFP (rather than on the jihadists whose plot to seize Marawi for 
their Caliphate started the conflict). Sources report that ISIS is actively 
recruiting across Mindanao, including in Western Mindanao State University 
(WMSU) in Zamboanga. Recruits receive a 'sign-up purse' (one-off payment) 
with the promise of further payments and benefits if they join a battlefront. 
Rommel Banlaoi from the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and 
Terrorism Research warns that cashed-up 'sleeper cells are everywhere'.   

Ominously, Banlaoi also warns that Islamic State is encouraging the 
Philippines' four main pro-Islamic State groups - the Bangsamoro -Islamic 
Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the Abu Sayyaf Group, Khilafah Islamiyah Mindanao 
and Ansarul Khilafah Philippines - to unify. Lt-General Carlito Galvez Jr, 
commander of the Western Mindanao Command, warns that Cotabato City (around 
60 percent Muslim and 35 percent Christian) in Mindanao's Maguindanao 
Province 'could be the next Marawi'.  

Furthermore, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is exploiting the 
situation for political gain. During the conflict, MILF (which seeks to rule 
an autonomous Islamic sub-state Mindanao) took up arms against IS-linked 
BIFF, which split from MILF in 2010. Though it was doubtless little more than 
a power struggle, it afforded MILF the opportunity to present itself to 
Mindanao's Muslims and to the Philippine government as a rescuing 
counterforce compared with the ultra-hardline transnational ISIS, and the 
best hope for peace. MILF maintains that peace on Mindanao can be secured 
only through the creation of an autonomous Islamic sub-state, with local 
Muslim (MILF) rulers and Islamic Sharia Law. Not only would MILF defend this 
Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, itmaintains that Muslims living there would no 
longer have any reason to sympathise with transnational groups like ISIS 
which threaten the central government. President Duterte (a 'Catholic') does 
not need convincing - he is eager to see the potentially unconstitutional 
Bangsamoro Basic Law passed and  enacted by March 2018.  Pressure is mounting 
and Christians in western Mindanao are exceedingly anxious about the future. 
While the predominantly Christian cities of Zamboanga and Davao would not be 
forced to join the Bangsamoro political entity, thousands of Christian 
villages throughout western Mindanao will be offered a plebiscite, which (I 
fear) could trigger ethnic-religious cleansing. [An analysis of the proposed 
Bangsamoro Basic Law will be posted to Religious Liberty Monitoring in the 
coming days.]  

On 9 November vandals broke into a Catholic chapel in a village in Shariff 
Aguak town in Maguindanao Province. The intruders gathered the Catholic icons 
onto the central table, dowsed them in gasoline and burnt them. No group has 
claimed responsibility and residents suspect that jihadists (possibly from 
BIFF) are attempting to generate religious conflict between the town's 
Muslims and minority Christians.  Late on Sunday 3 December some 30 BIFF 
fighters attacked a village in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, killing two and 
wounding seven (including four pre-schoolers) in homes adjacent to a military 
base. The Battle for Marawi is over, but the Battle for Mindanao most 
certainly is not.  


* the Lord to protect, bless, fortify and sanctify Mindanao's Christian 
minority; may the Church grow in prayerfulness, faith and grace, that God 
will be glorified in Mindanao.  

* the Holy Spirit to energise, empower, sustain and bless all those who 
minister to Mindanao's multitudes of harassed and helpless Muslims and 
displaced persons; may the Lord provide all their needs and send out more 
workers into that harvest field. (Matthew 9:35-38)  

* the Almighty Creator God - for whom 'nothing will be impossible' (Luke 
1:37) - to intervene in the political process so that conditions in the south 
will be improved as constitutional freedoms are retained.  



Islamic State (IS) and its affiliates are taking a battering from the 
Philippine military in Mindanao, the Egyptian military in Sinai, the Nigerian 
military in northeast Nigeria and from Russia and the West in Syria. 
Consequently, we should assume that IS will seek to inflict pain and send a 
symbolic message to these governments by bombing a  Philippine, Egyptian, 
Russian and Western Cathedral over Christmas. Failing that (should security 
prove too tight) IS will doubtless seek out softer targets, such as Christmas 
or New Year festivities. May the Lord be powerfully present, working in and 
through his Church. May the Lord watch over and protect his precious children 
(Psalm 121:7) and 'frustrate the ways of the wicked' (Psalm 146:9 ESV).  

THREATS TO THE WEST:  Using posters and videos, IS has issued Christmas 
threats against London, New York, the Vatican and Europe's Christmas markets. 
Melbourne, Australia, is on alert, after a major terror plot targeting St 
Paul's Cathedral was averted last Christmas and one plot for a New Year's Eve 
massacre has been foiled so far this season. May the message of Christmas 
ring out loud and clear: 'The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness 
has not overcome it.' John 1:5 ESV  

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