De-constructing IS or ISIS in the Philippines

For the many of us here who have not given a fug about IS (or, ISIS as popularized here), because why should the topic muddle our daily conversations, until the Marawi City incident, IS or Islamic State is none other than the former al-Qaida in Iraq. ISIS is acronym for Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, the self-styled Islamic caliphate that the (former) al-Qaida group “overran huge chunks of Iraqi and Syrian territory” after the demise of bin Laden.

Al-Qaida (now IS), according to several independent studies, such as J.Milligan’s Islamic Identity, Postcoloniality and Educational Policy: Schooling and Ethnoreligious Conflict in the Southern Philippines and Samira Gutoc’s Causes of “Terrorism”: The Philippine Case had “thoroughly penetrated” the country by the late 1990s. Purportedly, in 1980 the MILF “had begun sending mujahideen for training and combat experience in Afghanistan. One result of this effort was the establishment of ties with the al-Qaida network of Osama bin Laden which began…recruiting soldiers for the war in Afghanistan”.

The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), a splinter group from the MNLF and Filipinos who fought in Afghanistan, appearing in the mid-90s, has been linked to the al-Qaida network. However, when this link weakened in the late 90s, the group connected with Indonesia-based Jeemah Islamiyah (JI) that has “ideological origins in the Darul Islam (DI) movement of the 1950s and 1960s” also networked with al-Qaida. JI aims to establish a pan-Islamic State in South East Asia.

Another group affiliated with the al-Qaida network which appeared around the same time, in 1991, is the RSM (Rajah Solaiman Movement). The group is comprised of Christians from Northern Philippines who converted to Islam, supports violence against Filipino Christians and maintains base in Metro Manila. Reportedly, it gets funding from JI and training from ASG. It has been alleged that the group was behind the 2004 Superferry bombing that killed 116 people

Yet another group, AKP (Ansarul Khilafah Philippines) founded by a former MILF member disgruntled by the collapse of the peace talks in 2008. It is reported that the group has direct connections to ISIS fighters and has it’s base in Sarangani and Sultan Kudarat.

Last, but only so far as this post goes, the Maute Group also known as IS-Ranao or IS-Lanao. The IPAC Report writes of the group,

The Maute Group based in Lanao del Sur has the smartest, best-educated and most sophisticated
members of all of the pro-ISIS groups in the Philippines. It is largely ethnic Maranao, and its
stronghold is Mindanao State University (MSU) in Marawi City, where it has been able to attract
students and teachers.

The Maute group reportedly began as a training unit set up by Marwan around 2011 or even earlier, called al-Ghuraba and briefly Jamaah Tawhid wal Jihad – the name used by the late Abu Musa Zarqawi in Iraq and later by the supporters of radical Indonesian cleric Aman Abdurrahman in Indonesia.

By 2012, it had become Khilafah Islamiyah Movement (KIM), initially reported to be led by one Ust. Humam Abdul Najid alias Wai but in fact the Mautes are believed to have been the organisers even then.56 KIM was said to have been responsible for the 26 July 2013 bombing at a Cagayan de Oro bar and bistro that killed six.57 After ISIS’s recognition of Isnilon as amir, the Mautes began using the name “IS-Ranao” to indicate a division of the new as-yet-undeclared province of ISIS – just as BIFF became IS-Maguindanao and Isnilon Hapilon’s territory was IS-Basilan.

Locals call these groups “spoliers of peace”. 

But why all these splinter groups and their more extreme views relative to their more principled former organizations? Synthesizing their histories, we come to see that they have become disenchanted over the inconsistencies in the decades-long peace talks that appear to have no end, like drawn-out criminal cases in corrupt courts and we can site the massacre of journalists in Mindanao, and have taken matters into their own hands, the hard way or no way. Looking deeper, the root of their struggle is continuing injustices to the Moro/Muslim people. When you go to Mindanao, the mass of the Moro/Muslim people remain living on the edges of villages, sa laylayan as VP Robredo calls it. Mawawalan ka talaga ng dignidad living in these places, and the Moro are proud people.

” Attention grabbers” the armed groups are also called. Precisely, in the sense that their violent acts underlie and point toward the real ills in Mindanao society. Remember that once in the lives of these terrorists they believed, trusted and allied themselves with government or the rule of law. But at one point, abandoned that because of not being able to take anymore government’s failures. Pity, because their talents have been misdirected. How does one resolve such a misdirection of people? 

Government, national and especially local government, needs to re-boot it’s style and system of governance in the region. It also needs to undergo healing as what it has been extolling people in the region to do. It can start by making a sincere apology. Recall when the Australian PM offered an apology to the aborigines, “unfinished business of the nation”, for the mistreatment the natives suffered under past governments, in order “to remove a great stain from the nation’s soul”. The Filipino nation is inextricably bound to the decisions and actions of the State as the resources behind State decisions and actions come from the people. The people share in the consequences, good or bad, arising from the decision or action of their elect.

Further, when you go around the villages the common statement locals make is that government’s promises made to the people in the region have remained just promises. Nagkapatong-patong na over the decades. What do villages in the region need? Land (many migrants as well as marginalized Moro/Muslims remain without titles to the lots they occupy), jobs and access to training and capital for the masses to establish and sustain their livelihoods, barangay roads, health centers (many are without staff and equipment), inclusive education (ie. the use of Maranao as mother tongue for Maranao children and not Cebuano/Bisaya), adult education, rules and processes that do not disenfranchise the already poor, upholding the rule of law as well as TA and respect for positive traditional mechanisms eg. council of elders, etc.  Recognition of the unique culture and beliefs of the Moro people and provide for their integration in national policies. Presently, policies regard Filipinos as a homogenous people. The Cordillera is better off in the sense that each tribe has their own land or territory eg. Mountain Province for the Bontoc people, or Kalinga and Apayao for the Kalingas. This the Moro people don’t have. From their perspective, it’s now the non-Moro who’ve occupied much of their land or at least the best or most fertile portions of it. Religion is incidental.

The above , basically the MDGs or the SDGs now  are what more progressive Mindanao areas like Davao enjoy. And, with Davao, it was not national government extending it’s arm to the City that made it a premier city in the South, rather it was local government. In many provinces, however, it is local officials who are obstacles to good governance and therefore contributed to the opening up of a space right under their noses in which extremism has taken over.