by Antonios J. Bokas
Abstract: The Philippine counterinsurgency has made significant progress towards dismantling ethno-nationalist, Islamist, and communist insurgencies. These insurgencies began after foreign powers colonized the Filipino people and some communities rebelled in order to return government control to the populace. Insurgents born from these rebellions have also targeted civilians in order to accomplish their ideological and financial goals; therefore, people visiting the Philippines should take precautions to protect themselves from exploitation.
The Philippines is a nation roughly the size of Florida that has over 7,000 islands and 109 million inhabitants (New Dimension Media, 2007; CIA, 2020). Much like Florida, which has a potent hurricane season, the Philippines is prone to various types of natural hazards, such as tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanic activity (Grogan, 2011). The Philippines is also a very densely populated nation; many of its inhabitable areas have a population density of more than 500 people per square mile. It has a humid equatorial climate, which means most of the country has only a short dry season or no dry season at all. Overall, the dynamic climate of such a small country as the Philippines seems to match its equally dynamic society.
Services account for approximately 50% to 70% of the Filipino economy (Grogan, 2011). However, about 40% to 59% of the Philippines is in poverty (i.e., living on less than $2.00 per day). This is where a comparison between Florida and the Philippines begins to unravel. Economic and geographic factors alone help explain why the Philippines has been in turmoil over the last 120 years. For example, the eruption of the Taal Volcano in January of 2020, in the northern Philippines island of Luzon, displaced 25,000 people, who were forced to leave their homes, farms, and livestock for safety (NPR, 2020). The President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, also ordered all government offices in Manila (the capital) to close due to the eruption and advised private businesses to do the same. The US has elaborate and expansive systems in place to protect Americans from natural disasters or to at least reduce the effect of such disasters. People in the southeastern US can flee to northern states in the event of a cataclysm, whereas the Philippines, which is a relatively small island nation, does not offer such options.
In the area historically hit the hardest by violent insurgent activity, the southern islands of Mindanao, the population relies on fishing and agriculture, such as coconut harvesting, for survival (Lauer, 2017). There are few schools on each island and education is mandatory, so most children walk to a school located at the center of each island on a daily basis in order to receive an education. If their family has enough money, they may take a taxi. Many communities are also situated near the schools, which eliminate the problem of commuting. Around Mindanao, fisherman report that catches have become increasingly low, which has caused many household earners in those communities to leave for the cities in hopes of making enough money to feed their families. According to Grogan (2011), per capita energy consumption in the Philippines is among the lowest in all of Asia. This is backed by video evidence from multiple sources that show the average Filipino, even in the city, lives in poverty with few benefits provided by modern electricity (New Dimension Media, 2017; McDonnell, 2018).
In urban areas, such as the metropolis comprising Manila and Quezon City—the two largest cities in the nation—conditions for the average person are not much better. In some cases, conditions are even worse. Ironically, the some of the poorest neighborhoods in Manila are located just across from the middle- and high-income neighborhoods (McDonnell, 2018). Impoverished families with no source of income resort to collecting coal with their children, who often miss school to provide for their families.
The jail system is effectively overrun in the Philippines (Shapiro, 2018). For example, the South Cotabato jail, which is also located on the island of Mindanao, has approximately twice its capacity of inmates. Due to the so-called war on drugs being levied by President Duterte, drug dealers, drug users, and criminals get imprisoned while awaiting trial. However, the legal system in the Philippines is so overrun, and has so few lawyers available to handle cases, that many inmates stay in the prison for months or years before their case is even taken up.
In contrast to the poverty, infrastructure problems, and criminality, the Philippines also enjoys a rich culture and physical beauty that is in many ways unparalleled elsewhere (New Dimension Media, 2007). Its islands attract tourists from around the world. The Philippines is known for many religious and secular holidays and festivals that occur throughout the year. These traits unify the Philippines despite its many socioeconomic difficulties.
Dealing with adversity—even cataclysms—and continuing on in life is a primary attribute of the Filipino mindset. Filipinos express this sentiment with the common expression bahala na, which translates to come what may (New Dimension Media, 2007). It is this mindset that defines the nature of the Filipino response to the so-called insurgency that has persisted in the Philippines since its transfer to the US after the Spanish-American War of 1898.
A Century of War
Ferdinand Magellan sailed to what is now called the Philippines in 1521 (Grossholtz, 1991). Spain then claimed the island as a colony in 1565 and named it after its monarch, King Philip II. From that point forward, Spain ruled the Philippines, divided the land among natives and colonists, and converted most of the nation to Roman Catholicism. As young Filipinos became more educated in the 1800s, they sought social and political freedom from Spain, which dealt with attempts at independence by executing leaders of the movement. As part of a peace treaty between the US and Spain in December 1898, Spain gave the Philippines to the US.
Unlike Spain, the US established a colonial government in the Philippines, but soon began allowing Filipinos to hold positions in government (Grossholtz, 1991). In 1935, the US established the Philippines as a commonwealth and Manuel Quezon was its first President. However, WWII left an indelible blemish on the Philippines, which was occupied by Japan from 1941 to 1944. The Japanese military destroyed the intellectual hub of the Philippines (Manila), burned down its buildings (including beautiful architecture), interned US soldiers, and forced many commercial enterprises to flee the country (Hodge et al., 2013). As explained by Grossholtz (1991), “the war hurt the Philippine economy badly and destroyed most of Manila” (p. 380).
After a brief recovery period, the US began efforts to legitimize the Philippines as a sovereign nation. According to Fowler (2011), the US never wanted to retain the Philippines as a colony; rather, it wanted to offer the Philippines greater autonomy than Spain had and went to great lengths to support the native population. For example, in the years leading up to WWII, the US military provided security, resources, infrastructure, and public health services to Filipinos during its period as a colony. Eventually, the US granted the Philippines complete independence in 1946 (Grossholtz, 1991).
However, communist elements had spread through the Philippines after WWII, such as the Hukbong Magpapalayang Bayan (People’s Liberation Army)—also called the Huks (Grossholtz, 1991). They tried to force the new independent government to redistribute land to poor farmers. In 1954, the Philippine Army defeated the Huks, but took five years to do it. This is a key feature of counterinsurgencies in the Philippines: it takes a long time for the government to subdue them, even when they employ the military.
A few key trends are evident in the insurgent history of the Philippines. These trends shed light on why the insurgencies began and why they persist:
The insurgencies in the Philippines were somewhat like the wars between early American colonists and Native Americans. The colonists were a superior invading force and all the Native Americans wanted was their land back. The difference is that (a) since the US has established its territory, it has maintained absolute control of it and (b) North America is a gigantic land mass compared to the Philippines, which means Native Americans could flee to new areas. In the Philippines, the only option for Filipinos was to submit or to fight. Since they could not succeed with conventional warfare, only insurgent tactics were feasible for victory.
The Three Types of Insurgencies in the Philippines
As Fowler (2011) describes, the three main types of insurgencies in the Philippines have been (a) communist insurgencies, (b) ethno-nationalist insurgencies, and (c) Islamist insurgencies.
In the 21st century, communist groups like the New People’s Army in 1969 wanted to replace the Philippine government with a communist state (Fowler, 2011). The New People’s Army did not receive significant external support at its onset. It was motivated by Maoist ideology and focused on agrarian (land-ownership) reform.
Ethno-nationalist insurgencies include groups like the Moro National Liberation Front (Fowler, 2011). A Moro is a Muslim inhabitant of the southern Philippines (Houghton Mifflin, 2004). In the 9th century, Muslims from as far away as Arabia started travelling to the Philippines to trade spices and jewelry and began settling in the Philippines (New Dimension Media, 2007). Islam was introduced to the Philippines slowly over hundreds of years, whereas Christianity (the current majority religion in the Philippines) was a result of Spanish rule. Most Muslims live on the southern island of Mindanao in distinct communities and approximately 10% of Filipinos are Muslim. The Moro National Liberation Front began around 1968 as an effort to create an independent Muslim state in Mindanao (Fowler, 2011).
In 1976, the Moro National Liberation Front agreed to a ceasefire with the government in exchange for local autonomy (Fowler, 2011). Some members disagreed with the ceasefire and formed the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which wanted to establish an Islamic state, not just receive autonomy. This group became the first Islamist insurgency.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front more closely resembles an ethno-national insurgency than a communist insurgency. In fact, its ideological motives are not much different than those of Filipinos during Spanish, American, and Japanese control. The difference is that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front adheres to a geographic region in the Philippines characterized by Muslim faith. But the goal is still the same: autonomy and self-governance.
The Current Status of Insurgent Groups in the Philippines
With a understanding of the history of the Philippines in mind, the current state of the insurgencies in the Philippines can be properly framed and understood. In present time, drastic political changes have altered the insurgent landscape of the Philippines. Each major force in the historical insurgent conflict will now be discussed in turn.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front
Many things have changed in the Philippines since the post-WWII era. In January of 2019, after decades of armed conflict between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Philippine military, the Philippines held a referendum to determine if the Bangsamoro Organic Law would be ratified by President Duterte (Al Jazeera, 2019). The referendum ultimately passed. It established an autonomous Muslim-centric government in the southern Philippines in exchange for over 30,000 Moro Islamic Liberation Front soldiers giving up their weapons and, in essence, demilitarizing (Al Jazeera, 2019).
Ebrahim Murad, the chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, publicly agreed to honor the results of the democratic vote (Al Jazeera, 2019). Group rebels expressed confidence in President Duterte, stating that his handling of the drug problem shows he is serious about establishing peace and that he will honor his word (DW News, 2019).
With the passage of the Bangsamoro Organic Law, Murad was appointed by official ceremony as the administrator of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, which will be in place through year 2022, and possibly even through 2025, due to delays caused by COVID-19 (Khaliq, 2020a). The Bangsamoro regional parliament has 80 members. Forty-one members are from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and 39 members were assigned by President Duterte. During the transition phase, the regional government receives an annual fiscal budget, which starts at $1.5 billion for 2021. The regional government will receive 5% of national and customs taxes annually from the national government during this phase (Khaliq, 2020b).
In terms of social changes, the Bangsamoro Organic Law allows the regional government to establish and administer Islamic courts of law and manage their surrounding waters jointly with the Philippine government (Khaliq, 2020a). However, foreign policy is still under the purview of the national government. The regional government will also establish its own police force, some members of which may be from Moro Islamic Liberation Front ranks. However, part of the agreement requires 40,000 Moro Islamic Liberation Front soldiers to go through a decommissioning program that includes vocational training. As of June 2020, approximately 12,000 soldiers completed the program.
The Abu Sayyaf Group
After the Moro National Liberation Front agreed to a ceasefire and stopped insurgent operations, another group formed in addition to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front called Abu Sayyaf Group (Jadoon et al., 2020). Abu Sayyaf Group was started by Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani. Janjalani was connected to Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. When Janjalani died in 1998, the group further divided into two factions that were based in the Basilan and Sulu islands located west of Mindanao. The two factions are believed to operate independently of each other.
According to Fowler (2011), Abu Sayyaf Group is the only major insurgent group in the Philippines that operates speed boats between Indonesian bases and islands that are part of the Mindanao archipelago. Unlike other insurgent groups, since their inception they have tended to target civilians and tourists with kidnappings, executions, and bombings. The Abu Sayyaf Group is estimated to have 250 rebel soldiers (Rivai, 2015). In 2016, the Islamic State announced that Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group in Basilan, was the leader of its affiliates in the Philippines (Jadoon et al., 2020). They released a video telling followers who could not travel to Iraq or Syria to travel to the Philippines to fight under Hapilon. Then in May 2017, the Philippine military launched an attack to capture Hapilon. The operation lasted for five months and resulted in Hapilon being killed along with seven brothers who were senior leaders in another Islamic State affiliate. During the engagement, known as the Battle of Marawi, Abu Sayyaf killed 168 and injured more than 1,400 Philippine security forces.
After the US successfully targeted and killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2019, a spokesperson from the Armed Forces of the Philippines said that since he was an inspiration to terrorists, there would be fewer terrorist activities (Romero, 2019). However, the Philippine military still stands ready to secure the nation on its own.
In November 2020, seven members of Abu Sayyaf Group were killed after a high-speed sea-borne chase (ABS-CBN News, 2020a). Members of the group shot at a larger military vessel, which eventually rammed the Abu Sayyaf Group speed boat after an hour-long altercation. One week later, President Duterte publicly and formally honored the Western Mindanao Command for the interdiction operation known as Perfect Storm during a seven-minute speech in Manila (ABS-CBN News, 2020b). Duterte said the Abu Sayyaf Group was planning to execute a kidnapping before it was stopped by the naval military unit.
The New People’s Army
The New People’s Army, which is also called the Communist People’s Party, of the Philippines is primarily focused on implementing strategic agrarian, or land-ownership, reforms (Fowler, 2011). They formed in 1969, but never gained popularity among the civilian population despite strong efforts to disseminate national- and local-level propaganda in their favor. The New People’s Army has a subversive strategy of replacing the government of the Philippines. Somewhat as the US military had done before WWII, the New People’s Army undertook civil service projects such as digging wells for local Filipinos. But rumors that senior leaders of the group were corrupt and living lavish lifestyles in Manila cast doubt on the authenticity of the communist movement.
Recently, President Duterte and Senators of the Philippines initiated a red tag policy through which members of the New People’s Army are unmasked, or publicly named (PTV, 2020). The Senate even held hearings in which they publicly questioned known leaders of the group about their recruitment activities. In one instance, a member of the Philippine House of Representatives, Sarah Elago, was accused of engaging in rebellion with the New People’s Army. She refuted involvement with the New People’s Army, yet former rebels presented photographic evidence of her casually meeting with leaders of the communist movement in the Philippines.
Alarmingly, the New People’s Army has seemingly shifted its recruitment strategy towards young children. In video reporting from PTV (2020) and UNTV (2020), New People’s Army members can be seen proselytizing children likely between the ages of 10- and 15-years-old. In the video, New People’s Army members walk with a red hammer-and-sickle flag, reminiscent of the Chinese communist flag, while the children chant and shout. PTV also reports that, along with showing video evidence of child recruitment at Senate hearings, parents who claim their children were recruited by the New People’s Army have begun protesting outside the Senate building with signs and megaphones.
President Duterte has vowed that there will never again be a ceasefire with communist rebels in during his tenure (UNTV, 2020). In a November 2020 COVID-19 briefing to congressional representatives, Duterte told them they are not being targeted, they are being identified as communist (ANC 24/7, 2020). He also accused unspecified representatives of being co-conspirators and told Filipino recruits from the countryside they are being fooled by the New People’s Army and should go home. Military leaders in the Philippines also appear to agree with the red tag policy of Duterte (UNTV, 2020).
The Islamic State in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia
Between 2016 and 2019, the Islamic State expanded its operations in southeast Asia (Jadoon et al., 2020). Islamic State affiliates launched a total of 115 attacks in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia over that time period, with most of the attacks occurring in the Philippines. Islamic State affiliates in the three nations had the most successful attacks in 2017, with the success rate thereafter decreasing through 2019. According to raw data provided by Jadoon et al., a predominant number of attacks that took place between 2016 and 2019 occurred in the month of May.
Despite attacks decreasing from 2016 to 2019, the number of killed and wounded increased in the first half of 2019 to pass all of 2018 totals (Jadoon et al., 2020). This data may coincide with the use of suicide bombings starting in 2018 by Abu Sayyaf Group, which is a departure from their historical tactics. Jadoon et al. noted eight suicide attacks in the Philippines since 2018.
Out of all three nations, the Philippines has the lowest foil rate of attacks (attacks prevented), which Jadoon et al. (2020) attribute to either less effective counterinsurgency efforts or unpublicized interdiction operations that, if documented, would increase the foil rate.
Based on pattern analysis, attacks in the region coincide primarily with the month of May and June. Two events that take place during this time period may be a target of the Islamic State and its affiliates in order to inflict the most damage and fear:
The Counterinsurgency Strategy of the Philippines
The counterinsurgency strategy of President Duterte and the Philippine military has been very successful since he took office in June of 2016. Since then, attacks and deaths caused by Islamic State affiliates like Abu Sayyaf Group spiked, but then dramatically decreased. Internationally, the presence of the Islamic State has also dramatically decreased with the elimination of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Quds Force.
Likewise, the efforts of President Duterte to negotiate with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and bring about a peaceful referendum were vital to bringing about more stability. According to Fowler (2011), an important part of the counterinsurgency strategy of the 1980s in the Philippines was the willingness of the government to negotiate with local insurgents. Moreover, due to a new legitimate Muslim autonomous zone, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has agreed to disarm despite the Philippine military targeting Abu Sayyaf Group and publicly lauding its victories against them. This shows that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front values control of its own territory more than adherence to Islamist ideology. In fact, positive rebel sentiment towards Duterte shows that Filipinos in the southern islands are likely moving away from identifying as just Muslims to identifying as members of the Filipino nation—deserving of their own culture and way of life.
While negotiating with terrorists is not an acceptable tactic of the US, President Duterte has successfully balanced quelling a historical conflict by targeting and eliminating the deadliest faction of the Islamist insurgency, the Abu Sayyaf Group, while promoting the more peaceful faction, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front originally began as an ethno-nationalist movement according to Fowler (2011). It is likely that Duterte understood this fact due to his experience as former Mayor of Davao City. Davao City is in Mindanao—the majority-Muslim island of the Philippines where the Muslim autonomous zone now exists. At age 71, Duterte has lived through the entire post-WWII and Cold War eras. He saw the destruction of the country and the Muslim population evolve from being a member of the nationalist movement to a desperate ally of the Islamic State.
Instead of allowing them to flounder, he isolated ethno-nationalists from the violent Islamists and made definitive steps to securing peace. In one recent appearance before a Muslim crowd, Duterte even said that a part of him is Islam (Valente & The Manila Times, 2020). He is not known to be a practicing Muslim, so his comment was likely perceived by listeners as a signal that he respects all religions and ethnicities.
By holding a referendum wherein the people could vote for or against the autonomous zone and then following through with the results, Duterte quelled a distracting and deadly conflict, which likely allowed him to use his national security resources elsewhere.
In fact, Grossman (2020) points out that the Secretary of Foreign Affairs for the Philippines, Teddy Locsin Jr., recently said the past four years have changed the South China Sea from being a source of uncertainty to being predictable and more stable. He is most likely alluding to the positive effect of US naval assets in the South China Sea that force China to cooperate and limit its reach into neighboring islands. Grossman also notes that in November 2020, Duterte extended the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement between the US and Philippines. This agreement gives US military personnel easier access to the Philippines—an arrangement that benefits both the US and Philippines.
It is possible that US actions in the South China Sea indirectly helped the Philippines execute an counterinsurgency operation focused on Abu Sayyaf Group. As Fowler (2011) explains, the counterinsurgency strategy of former President Ferdinand Marcos was successful partially because of his ability to reduce the number of fronts on which his forces had to fight. This is understandable given the restricted terrain the comprises much of the Philippines. For example, Scout Rangers training for counterinsurgency operations in Mindanao say they can barely see in front of them when they traverse the dense jungles (Rivai, 2015). The Scout Rangers even conduct locational training in which instructors teach them to identify the origin of gunfire sounds in the jungle. The Philippine military would likely become strained if it was forced to address the communist insurgency in the north while simultaneously addressing guerilla tactics in the south and Islamist sea-borne operations.
With the nationalist insurgency largely under control, the Philippine navy can return to patrolling islands and maintaining national boundaries, as Abu Sayyaf Group relies on their ability to travel from Indonesian island bases to the islands of Mindanao. This is comparable to the US Coast Guard making sure smugglers do not ship illegal drugs into the US by circumventing authorized ports. The Philippine counterinsurgency can also focus on the communist insurgency. The communists, which are possibly getting assistance from China, are a longer-term threat than the Islamic State, which has been out of world news since the death of al-Baghdadi.
Various important questions arose during research that should be answered in order to better understand the counterinsurgency operation in the Philippines. Answers to such questions would shed light on what the role of the US should be in diplomatic and military relations with the Philippines.
The rate of successful attacks versus the rate of foiled attacks in the Philippines is alarming. According to Jadoon et al. (2020), the Philippines foiled only two out of 50 attacks in between 2016 and 2019. In comparison, Indonesia and Malaysia foiled 13 and 20 attacks respectively. The US needs to know if additional attacks have been stopped by the Philippine military that are not being reported. Knowing this will help the US understand the true level of danger to Americans or Filipino-Americans traveling to the Philippines for business or personal reasons.
The next question is whether or not the New People’s Army is being funded or supported by the communist party of China. Researchers Jadoon et al. (2020) indicate they do not have a link to China, but that could be a fallacy due to lack of intelligence. The New People’s Army uses communist symbols that resemble those used in previous communist Chinese movements. If China is actively influencing the communist movement in China, the communist insurgency in the Philippines changes from being an intranational threat to a strategic international problem. Although the Philippines is not a major ally of the US, if they were to become sympathetic to communist ideology in the long-term future, that could undermine US efforts to contain Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. Although the Philippines was granted independence in 1946, the US still has strong social ties to the Philippines.
Filipinos in the State of California are likely interested in resolving the insurgencies in their native country due to safety or familial concerns, but also possibly due to economic interests. Constituents that live in the California or the US with business interests in the Philippines should be informed of the recent counterinsurgency successes as well as informed of the impending challenges yet to come. In order for the newly passed Bangsamoro Organic Law to gain a long-term foothold in the southern Philippines and thereby maintain peace, there must be a unified Filipino effort.
The final, and possibly most important, question about the insurgencies in the Philippines is whether or not Abu Sayyaf Group and other Islamic State affiliates in the Philippines are continuing to receive financial, logistical, or moral support from international terrorist networks. The progress made through the disarmament of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front must not be undone by lack of follow-through in dismantling the remaining Islamic State network that motivated and supplied the insurgency in the first place.
Concerns for Filipinos in the US
Abu Sayyaf Group still operates in the Philippines, although it has incurred losses in recent months (ABS-CBN News, 2020a). The biggest threat they pose to Americans is kidnappings for the purpose of collecting ransoms. All Filipinos or Americans traveling from the US to the Philippines should be made aware of their tactics and properly safeguard their persons during travel by avoiding high-risk areas. According to process analysis, the basic sequence of the kidnapping operation employed by Abu Sayyaf Group is (Rivai, 2015)
Americans should be made well aware of this insurgent operation by Islamists in the Philippines. Further, Filipinos living the US with family still back home in the Philippines should inform their family members there of this process and advise them to safeguard themselves from being victimized.
Understanding the current insurgencies in the Philippines and their corresponding counterinsurgencies requires an adequate understanding of the history of the Philippines. At the time of its colonization by Spain the 1565, the Philippines was an agricultural society that gradually assimilated Muslims in the southern islands for hundreds of years (Grossholtz, 1991; New Dimension Media, 2007). Upon its conquest of the Philippines, Spain quickly altered its social, religious, political, and urban landscape (Grossholtz, 1991). After the dust settled from the Spanish-American War, the transfer of the Philippines to US control signaled a hopeful improvement for the future of the Philippines. This hope was partially fulfilled until the onset of WWII, which crushed much of the progress the Philippines had made since its establishment as a commonwealth of the US.
After WWII, the Philippines entered a turbulent time in which communism, extreme nationalism, and radical Islam deeply influenced the minds of Filipinos that had no answer to the foreign powers who controlled their destiny. While a portion of the overall insurgency seems to have been curtailed since 2019, another portion of it remains.
Specifically, the communist insurgency, which may be evolving into a pure extension of Chinese Maoism, is the long-term threat to the political stability of the nation. If China is trying to influence the Philippines, it is most likely doing so to undermine the US presence in the region.
Likewise, while the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has agreed to disarm in exchange for nationally mandated autonomy, both sides must honor the agreement. In fact, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front was created in the same crucible that brought peace to its predecessor, the Moro National Liberation Front. Therefore, peace agreements in the Philippines can be characterized as fragile at best.
The final portion of the Philippine insurgency, the ideological Islamist insurgency, is currently led by the Abu Sayyaf Group. This group has adopted untraditional tactics of warfare that have led to hundreds of deaths over the past years. The group has been badly damaged, but not dismantled. It is in the best interests of the US to assist the Philippines in any way possible to ensure the complete neutralization of this group. Islamist groups in the Philippines demonstrably feed off each other when the nation is in a state of conflict. Maintaining the Muslim autonomous zone in peaceful equilibrium with the remaining majority-Christian nation is possibly the most important step in cutting off other Islamist insurgent groups from gaining a new foothold in the southern Philippines.
Filipinos living or working in America and Americans visiting the Philippines should be apprised of the risks involved with touring the Philippines. Islamist insurgents specifically target civilians and tourists, while communists and ethno-nationalist insurgents do not. The goal of the Islamists is the replacement of the national government with an Islamic State, as in Iraq and Syria. The goal of other insurgents more simply traces back to their desire for self-governance. People visiting the Philippines or conducting business there should avoid high-risk zones. Even if they safely travel to the newly established autonomous zone, they should be aware that the region is now governed under a different set of local laws than the rest of the Philippines (Khaliq, 2020a). Such changes may affect acceptable customs of dress and behavior, although this had not been confirmed.
Most of all, the biggest threat that visitors should be aware of is the threat of kidnapping, which is still a primary tactic used by the Abu Sayyaf Group for accomplishing its short-term insurgent objectives. Americans should consult with the US State Department and the US Embassy in the Philippines for detailed risk information in order to avoid being victimized.
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