By Leon Kamenev, BBC
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I hereby declare Marawi City liberated from the terrorist influence,” President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte said on Oct. 17, signifying the city’s liberation from ISIS-linked terrorist groups. The city’s freedom marks the end of a five-month conflict between an alliance of ISIS-linked militant groups and the Philippine army. The conflict started on May 23 when Philippine military forces attempted to capture Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of the Islamist militant group Abu Sayyaf. Government forces experienced an unexpectedly large amount of resistance from Hapilon’s militants, who were allied with Maute, another Islamist militant group. The firefight escalated, climaxing when the militants occupied the city. In response, Duterte installed martial law on Mindanao, the island where Marawi is located. A brutal five-month conflict between Philippine military forces and Islamist militants followed. The conflict resulted in hundreds of military and civilian casualties, as well as the death of hundreds of militants. Thousands more were displaced by the chaos, creating panic and distress in Mindanao.
Although the conflict in Marawi has ended, the Philippine government will still have to stabilize religious tension in Mindanao. The Philippines has a history of dealing with Islamist militants, especially on the island of Mindanao. In 1972, an Islamist militant group called the Moro National Liberation Front, known as the MLNF was founded with a goal to make Mindanao independent. The MLNF eventually took over the island. To create peace between the Philippine government and the MLNF, the Tripoli Agreement was formed. The agreement created a ceasefire and provided Mindanao with semi-autonomy. Certain groups in the MLNF were not content with semi-autonomy, and a breakaway group called the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, was formed in 1977 to continue the fight for independence.
Islamist extremism in the Philippines and other nations of Southeast Asia has caught the attention of the international community. “We do not condone violence in the name of religious extremism,” a Colombian representative said in an interview on the topic of religious extremism in the region.“We agree that in the future there will be a need for more permanent action,” another Colombian representative said.
The international community agrees that more potent action is needed to inhibit the growth of Islamic extremism in Southeast Asia.