RLPB 435. Philippines: Battle for Mindanao far from over
PHILIPPINES: BATTLE FOR MINDANAO FAR FROM OVER
— plus, Risk of Advent and Christmas Terror
by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
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 to 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, it maintains 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.
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.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:
* 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.
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
PHILIPPINES: BATTLE FOR MINDANAO FAR FROM OVER
With the battle for Marawi City over, ISIS and its affiliates are recruiting and regrouping across western Mindanao. They target displaced Muslims and Islamist sympathisers who are furious about the destruction of Marawi, which they blame on the Philippine military. Senior intelligence officials warn that cashed-up ‘sleeper-cells are everywhere’ and that Cotabato City ‘could be the next Marawi’. Exploiting the situation for political gain, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is insisting that peace in Mindanao is only possible with the establishment of an autonomous Islamic sub-state. President Duterte agrees and is eager to have the potentially unconstitutional law enacted by March 2018. With continuing Islamic guerrilla war and the prospect of MILF rule, there is much to concern Mindanao’s Christian minority. Please pray for the Philippines and its Christians.
RISK OF ADVENT & CHRISTMAS TERROR
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, Nigerian, Russian or 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, a Mormon Temple in San Diego, 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
Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.
She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).