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MAY 2016




PLAY IN 2016
The study of adaptation as a phenomenon among armed groups
within Mindanao has been largely overlooked in the academic literature,
despite occasional references in policy analyses of Southeast Asia

In recent decades, significant portions of the

Mindanao archipelago in the southern Philippines
have endured violence from armed groups with
political and predatory objectives. From the turn
of the twentieth century, these groups have been
broadly defined as representing either ethnonationalist, communist, or Islamic insurgencies,
criminal syndicates, or political/communitarian
rivalries. Despite continuous efforts by the
Government of the Philippines to broker political
bargains with major groups, this constellation of
violent actors remains a grave impediment
to just and sustainable peace.

Given the long-standing nature of Philippine

domestic insecurity, there is substantial literature on
the histories of many of these actors, especially the
Communist Party of the Philippines New Peoples
Army (NPA), the Moro National Liberation Front
(MNLF), and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front
(MILF). Their storied pasts notwithstanding, these
specific organizations and other militant groups such
as the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) have demonstrated
the ability to recast themselves to fit the times.

C 2016 ADRiNSTITUTE for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

Image Credit:

* The views and opinions expressed in this Paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute.



The ASG, in particular, has been the subject of

recent interest. The group pledged loyalty to the
international terrorist network called the Islamic State
(alternatively ISIS) in 2015. Their pledge occurred despite
ASG operations having been curtailed after years of
counter-terror operations carried out by Philippine
armed forces working with the advice of the United
States.1 Such developments challenge researchers,
who must situate fresh reports within the histories
of the groups, while acknowledging these
groups capacity to adapt and change.
The study of adaptation as a phenomenon among
armed groups within Mindanao has been largely
overlooked in the academic literature, despite occasional
references in policy analyses of Southeast Asia. Scholarly
understanding has tended toward historicized views
of Mindanao, with the character and motives of the
violence taken for granted and focus placed on its general
frequency. This understanding, while valuable, has
resulted in a perceived policy dichotomy between all out
war and all out peace, with the former characterized by
armed assaults of rebel strongholds (e.g. the 1998-2001
Estrada administration) and the latter by grand political
bargains with the foremost armed group of the time
(e.g. the 1992-98 Ramos, 2001-10 Arroyo,
and 2010-16 Aquino administrations).
After examining the geographic distribution of
contemporary violence, the armed groups targets,
weapon and attack choices, and what these imply,

C 2016 ADRiNSTITUTE for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

the authors conclude that the incoming Philippine

government should pursue a third path that combines
political, military, and police action.
Ready support for the development of conflict-ridden
areas in Mindanao, as is often suggested, is laudable
and will increase the rewards of peace, but such initiatives
are difficult to implement in turbulent areas and are
inherently long term in their impact. Focusing military
and police action on impeding illicit transfers of and
training in arms, including across country borders, on
the other hand, can increase the barriers to violence.
With regard to one category of violence, namely the
assassination of local political figures, the latter option
will be especially important in curbing the practice
of hired guns on local Filipino politics.
Initiated as a mapping project aimed at visualizing
the frequency and gravity of violence occurring in
Mindanao, this research project transformed into a
systemic data-gathering effort of news reported incidents
from 1 January to 15 May 2016. This effort is modeled
on the open-source Global Terrorism Database (GTD)
of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism
and Responses to Terrorism based in the University of
Maryland2, and inspired by the Bangsamoro Conflict
Monitoring System (BCMS) run by International Alert.3
At the time of writing, both the GTD and the BCMS
have data available only through 2014, making the
partial 2016 database generated by this project a
complementary tool for further analysis.

As a caveat, incident and casualty counts derived

from this database should not be interpreted to fully
represent the violence in the southern Philippines, nor
does it independently validate figures provided by either
the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) or by other
combatants to journalists. Further, the relatively small
sample size and timeframe of this database renders our
work inappropriate for extensive statistical analysis at this
time. Nevertheless, we have counted 176 incidents in
Mindanao during this period, during which between
259 and 265 people were injured and a further
207 to 249 people lost their lives.
The remainder of this paper is divided into four parts.
First, an explanation of the projects data-gathering
process and the scope and limitations of the research.
Second, brief backgrounds of the non-state armed
groups represented in the database. Third, 2016
observations for each armed group and their implications
for the Philippine government. Fourth, and in conclusion,
policy recommendations for the new administration.
Finally, with the election of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo
Roa Duterte to the presidency, the Philippines will have its
first president from Mindanao. Having run on a platform
focused on peace and order, Duterte will presumably pay
more detailed attention to Mindanaoan security
than his predecessors. Such attention would be excellent
if it ushers in effective cross-Mindanao policy and
practice. This research project represents the
authors contribution to the policy process.



Who conducts violent activities?

Where do they conduct them?
How do they conduct them?

What are factors that enable or

constrain specific violent activity?

Research Objective and Process

In brief, this research project explores three broad sets of questions. First: Who conducts violent
activities in Mindanao? Where are they conducted? How are they conducted? Second: Is it possible
to identify factors that enable or constrain specific violent activity? Third: Which of these
factors can the government influence or control? How might it do so?
To find answers to these questions, this research project began as a simple, open-source effort to track and
map the violence in Mindanao. The database could then be used to form some basis of seeing patterns in the
violence on the archipelago. Conceived in February 2016, the project represents the researchers response to
an apparent uptick in violence being reported in Mindanao. In reports, the increase in violence was set against
a backdrop of the expected failure of the Bangsamoro Basic Law in the 16th Philippine Congress and, later, the
renewal of a ceasefire agreement between the MILF and the Philippine government in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
After a few weeks, the project expanded to include events reported from 1 January up to 16 May 2016.
Coincidentally, this period of time spans beyond the campaign period for the 2016 elections. Thus,
in total, this compilation of incidents provides an up-to-date source of news-reported
incidents in Mindanao for the first four and a half months of the year.
Where incidents have been reported in multiple news outlets, we have retained in our Source column the
specific article from which we based our casualty counts. Where we have used information from multiple outlets
(e.g. when using lower numbers from one article as minimum counts and higher numbers from another as
maximum), we have kept sources to all articles we considered in the same Source column.
This research project tracks sixteen variables, as enumerated below:
(1) Date of the incident;
(2) Town or Barangay where the incident occurred;
(3) Philippine province where the incident occurred;
(4) Party A and (5) Party B to the incident, where there are two parties;
(6) Party initiating the violent incident;
(7) Primary weapons and (8) Secondary weapons used in the incident;
(9) Attack type;

C 2016 ADRiNSTITUTE for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

Which factors can the

government control or influence?
How might it do so?

(10) Minimum and (11) Maximum estimated injured from Party A;

(12) Minimum and (13) Maximum estimated fatalities from Party A;
(14) Minimum and (15) Maximum estimated injured from Party B;
(16) Minimum and (17) Maximum estimated fatalities from Party B;
(18) Minimum and (19) Maximum estimated injured from civilians; and
(20) Minimum and (21) Maximum estimated fatalities from civilians.
In identifying the locations of the incident, the project collects
township and village (barangay)-level information, where this is available,
and the Philippine province. We note that armed actors areas of
operation are not contained within the boundaries of these political units
as defined by Philippine legislation. As a result, the proximity of
incidents in neighboring provinces is best seen through maps,
examples of which we also provide below.
The remainder of the variables are encoded in line with the definitions and
standards set out by the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) of the National
Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism based
in the University of Maryland. These definitions are especially useful for
two variables: the type of weapon used (either primarily or secondarily)
and the type of attack conducted. The GTD treats the type of weapon
as a categorical variable of thirteen (13) options: biological, radiological,
chemical, nuclear, firearms, explosives/bombs/dynamite, fake weapons,
incendiary, melee, vehicle, sabotage of equipment, and others. In the
Mindanao case, no use of biological, radiological, chemical, or nuclear
weapons has been reported. Firearms, explosives, incendiary, melee,
and sabotage categories are represented in the database. Rocketpropelled grenades (RPGs) are categorized as explosives.
The definition of attack type deserves particular interest, as a
set hierarchy accompanies the categorical options where more than
one attack type may apply. In implementing this system, we have
entered only up to one attack type for each event. For the
definition and hierarchy, please see below:



[Attack Type] captures the general method of attack

and often reflects the broad class of tactics used.
It consists of nine categories, which are defined
below. Up to three attack types can be recorded
for each incident. Typically, only one attack type
is recorded for each incident unless the attack is
comprised of a sequence of events. When multiple
attack types may apply, the most appropriate value
is determined based on the hierarchy below. For
example, if an assassination is carried out through
the use of an explosive, the Attack Type is coded as
Assassination, not Bombing/Explosion.4
Attack Type Hierarchy:




Barricade Incident



Armed Assault

Unarmed Assault

Facility/Infrastructure Attack
Following this process, the dataset includes information
on 176 violent incidents reported that span the whole
of the Mindanao archipelago from 1 January to 15
May 2016. The researchers note that while the use
of open-source reporting on the violence may not
comprehensively capture the frequency of incidents,
the abovementioned figure provides more
than sufficient basis for concern.

C 2016 ADRiNSTITUTE for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

As in all conflict-ridden areas, it is difficult to

independently ascertain the validity of the figures
provided by either the Armed Forces of the Philippines or
by other combatants to journalists. However, with regard
to casualties, exact figures and precise estimates are
often available, allowing us to reflect the magnitude
of the violence. Nonetheless, our tallies of
combatant and civilian casualties should be
treated with particular care.

Profiles of Mindanaoan Insurgency

The current constellation of insurgent groups, terrorist
cells, and their respective political affiliates has deep
roots in Philippine history too extensive to chronicle in
this paper. Even so, the histories of Moro independence
movements and Communist insurgencies provide
a context that informs an assessment of these
organizations in the present. This backgrounder will begin
with profiles on Moro insurgent groups followed
by that of the Communist insurgency.
As many scholars keenly observe, traces of the
contemporary Moro movement for greater autonomy
or outright secession may be found as far back as the
Spanish conquest of the Philippines. At the same time,
historians and anthropologists like Thomas McKenna
warn that Moro political and militant movements should
not be rendered as the byproduct of homogenous
resistance to colonialism. The notion of Morohood, or
a shared sense of consciousness among the various
Muslim ethnic groups of Mindanao convalesced among

the Moro during the early days of the United States

occupation in the early twentieth century.5
More democratic forms of political organization
among the Moro, beyond traditional elite rule, matured
in the post-independence period.6 A variety of factors
spurred the rise of prominent Moro politicians and civil
society organizations, ranging from increased numbers in
the intelligentsia despite underfunded national education
initiatives, to burgeoning international ties with
Institutions, such as the Al-Azhar University of Egypt,
and to successive waves of Christian migrants
to Mindanao that ultimately ended Muslim
demographic majorities in many polities.7

I. Moro Islamic Liberation Front

After 1976, the failure of the Tripoli Agreement between
the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the
Government of the Philippines heralded a schism
within the MNLF. The rift occurred between the leadership
of Nur Misuari on the one hand and Hashim Salamat
on the other, exacerbated by ideological and personal
differences between the two. Salamat ultimately founded
the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 1978, a group
that he led from exile first from Cairo, Egypt, and later
from Lahore, Pakistan. In contrast to the ethno-nationalist
bent of the MNLF, the MILF was an explicitly Islamist
organization that drew upon the theological
leanings of a leadership comprised of many clerics
educated in madrassas throughout the Middle
East, the so-called new ulema.8



The MILF proved more adept at combining

militant operations with local governance
initiatives to generate widespread popular
support. The MILFs less centralized
organization enabled the emergence of
parallel MILF administrations throughout
Mindanao.9 Over the same period, the
MNLF faded further from prominence
following the breakdown of negotiations
with new Corazon C. Aquino government in
1987; the MILF instead assumed a greater
role in ceasefire talks beginning in 1989
with the passage of the Organic Act for the
Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.
However, the implementation plan for
the ARMM was further fleshed out via
two statements of understanding (SOU)
between the Philippine government (GRP)
led by Fidel V. Ramos and the MNLF. These
statements of understanding empowered
the MNLF to run the newly authorized
administrative divisions. Incensed by the
1996 Peace Agreement with the MNLF,
the MILF launched a wave of attacks
against the Philippine government. The
attacks terminated in 1997 with the
signing of a ceasefire.10
In 2000, the Joseph E. Estrada
administration renewed military operations

C 2016 ADRiNSTITUTE for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

against the MILF, precipitating the

formation of breakaway groups. In 2008,
the government of Gloria MacapagalArroyo revived negotiations with the MILF,
which culminated in the Memorandum of
Agreement for Ancestral Domain
(MOA-AD). The MOA-AD would
have replaced the ARMM with a new
autonomous region covering a larger
territory and devolving more powers to
the regional government. The MOA-AD
was junked after the Supreme Court
ruled the deal unconstitutional.11
Internalizing the lessons learned from
the MOA-AD experience, the Benigno S.
Aquino III administration made a significant
peace overture which led the MILF to
drop its separatist aims and embrace
a more robust regional autonomy, as
articulated in the Framework Agreement
on the Bangsamoro (FAB) in 2012 and
the Comprehensive Agreement on the
Bangsamoro (CAB) in 2014.12 The latter
agreement would have been enacted
through the proposed Bangsamoro Basic
Law (BBL), which stagnated in the 16th
Philippine Congress after the tragic death of
44 Philippine National Police (PNP) Special
Action Forces in an armed encounter in
Mamasapano, Maguindanao in 2015.13


II. Abu Sayyaf Group

Among the most significant and infamous
breakaway factions from the MNLF is the
Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), formally known
as Al-Harakatul al-Islamiya. Its founder,
Ustadz Abdurajak Janjalani, was part of
the Saudi-educated new ulema, and was
among the 300 to 500 Moro fighters to
join the Afghan Mujahedeen in the 1980s.
During his time in the Mujahedeen, Janjalani

befriended Osama Bin Laden in Peshawar,

Pakistan and resolved to wage al-Qaedas
brand of Salafi jihad in his home country.14
Drawing upon Moro Mujahedeen
volunteers, significant numbers of MNLF
defectors, and the financial and logistical
support of al-Qaeda, the ASG began
terrorist attacks in the Philippines in
1991. These consisted of kidnappings
and bombings that mostly targeted



Christian communities and foreigners. The ASG

was significantly empowered by its partnership
with Ramzi Youssef, one of the eventual planners
of the 9/11 attacks and nephew to Khalid Sheik
Mohammed. Youssef orchestrated ties between
al-Qaeda and ASG, delivering finances and supplies
from al-Qaeda in order to maintain ASGs operations
and plan the foiled Bojinka Plot in 1995. Youssef
fled the country shortly thereafter, and ASG fell into
decline without significant support from al-Qaeda.15
The ASG was further weakened by Janjalanis
death in a shootout with PNP in 1998. The
group perpetrated high-profile kidnappings and
racketeering to survive, only resorting once
more to bombings after the introduction of US
counterterrorism advisors in 2002. The US trainand-assist mission undergirded the renewed AFP
offensives against the MILF and ASG. The offensives
spurred cooperation between the armed groups,
who in turn sought the aid of international jihadist
organizations like Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). Alliances
with the most militant factions of the MILF in addition
to JI coincided with the ideologically motivated
Khadaffy Janjalanis (Ustadzs younger brother)
ascension to the helm of the group, which was
previously occupied by commanders who favored
rent-seeking violence (e.g. kidnapping). These new
arrangements resulted in the ASGs execution and
planning of several high-profile bombings throughout
the mid-2000s. US Joint Special Operations
Task Force-Philippines (US JSOTF-P) and AFP
counter-terror operations, however, severely
damaged the ASG which resorted once again
to kidnapping and extortion to survive.16

C 2016 ADRiNSTITUTE for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

III. Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters

The latest major breakaway faction of the MILF is
the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF)
which declared its independence from the group
in 2010. The BIFFs founder, Ustadz Ameril Umbra
Kato, was a Saudi Arabia-trained scholar and
the former leader of the MILFs 105th Command.
Kato repudiated Al Haj Murad Ebrahims pursuit of
autonomy rather than independence as a betrayal
of the Bangsamoro movement. Despite claims to
the contrary, the BIFF began with a small force of an
estimated 300 members in various location within
Maguindanao, sporadically clashing with PNP, AFP,
as well as MILF detachments. After Kato suffered
a stroke in 2011, Ustadz Mohammad Ali Tambako
assumed command over the BIFF.17
Although Tambako rejected the MILF-approved
FAB, he did consent to a murky alliance with the
MILF in 2014.18 Further, the BIFF pledged baya
to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2014,
likely as a ploy to raise its profile.19 On January 25,
2015, a botched Special Action Force operation
to JI bomb-makers Zulkifli Abdhir and Abdul Basit
Usman in the small municipality of Mamasapano
led to a clash between the PNP and the MILF and
BIFF. The SAF succeeded in killing Adbhir, but at
the cost of 44 commandos. The Mamasapano
Massacre significantly enhanced the profile of the
BIFF, and drastically undercut public confidence
in the proposed BBL at the national level, though
Mindanaoans within the ARMM remained hopeful
of the peace process.20 Operating primarily in
Cotabato, the BIFF is currently led by Ismael

Abubaka (alias Bungos) and continues to engage in

small-scale clashes with the AFP.21

IV. The Communist Party of the Philippines

and its New Peoples Army
Jose Maria Sison founded the Communist Party
of the Philippines (CPP) in 1968 not long after the
cessation of official hostilities between the GRP and
the Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon (Hukbalahap/
Huk Rebellion) in 1965. After decades of conflict,
the Huks were ultimately defeated under the
Ramon Magsaysay administration through
successful military operations and the promise of
significant land reform and social welfare policies
that co-opted popular support from the Huks.22
Magsaysays victory over the Huks, however, was
not total, as there remained a corps of Maoist
hardliners within the ranks of the former Huks who
joined the CPP, and later founded the NPA.
The NPA began in earnest as a small group of
academics, labor organizers, farmers, and other
proletariat who were eventually forced by the
declaration of martial law by Ferdinand Marcos in
1972 to organize in rural localities. This strategy
allowed them to avoid being swept up in the
massive arrests taking place in major cities.
Operating from the countryside of several regions,
especially Davao in Mindanao, the NPA gathered
a strength of 30,000 members from 1978 to
1986 thanks to the successful implementation of
decentralized commands and the preoccupation of
the AFP with the MNLF and the MILF. Leveraging



the strength of its numbers, command, and

partnerships with civil society opponents to the
Marcos regime, the NPA waged a campaign against
AFP and PNP forces, as well as Marcos-aligned
politicians and business notables, with casualties
reaching a peak of 1,282 military or police killed and
1,362 civilians dead in 1985.23
To a degree, however, the NPA became a victim of
its own successes as disagreements over how to
approach the balance between political and military
action led to bitter rifts within the leadership. At the
operational level, the NPA was further enervated
by frequent bloody purges of accused double
agents, defectors, and dissenters within their ranks.
Responding to these changes, Sison reaffirmed the
primacy of Maoist guerilla war against the supposed
efficacy of political imperatives touted by other party
leaders and affiliated civil society groups. Ultimately,
Sison spearheaded the reaffirmist movement
within the CPP-NPA in contrast to the rejectionist
cadres that regularized their security forces and
subordinated military activities to political imperatives
and electoral participation. The atomization of
the NPA continued throughout the 1990s and
2000s through waves of contested elections,
abortive peace talks, and sustained,
albeit small-scale militancy.24
Although Sison remains a figurehead of the
movement, the CPP-NPA operations in Mindanao
through the 2000s were ably led by Benito and
Wilma Tiamzon in Cebu until their arrest in 2014 and
Jorge Ka Oris Madlos in Caraga, and Ka Parago in
Davao until his death during a raid in 2015.25 Within

C 2016 ADRiNSTITUTE for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.


these regions, the NPA conducts ambushes

and raids against PNP/AFP outposts, acts of
industrial sabotage, abductions, and occasional
focoist attacks in Davao, though these have been
curbed during Rodrigo Dutertes tenure
as mayor through heavy- handed police
actions of questionable legality.
To sustain itself, the NPA has created extortion
rackets over the resource-rich areas under its
control, most notably collecting revolutionary taxes
from small-scale miners in Compostela Valley. The

NPA has also targeted multinational corporations

operating in the areas to extract protection money
and has reportedly charged local politicians in
the areas they control for licenses to campaign in
elections. They find many recruits among student
activists, but likely draw the bulk of their rank and file
from disaffected urban and rural youth unable to find
meaningful employment. Current estimates of NPA
membership by the AFP say their membership has
declined to around 3,900 members, while the NPA
claims that their organization has expanded in terms
of men, materiel, and territory.26




Philippines 2016: Data and the State of Play

Having provided a context for the major armed groups operating in Mindanao, this paper can now consider the patterns observed
within the data collected. Each major group operates in a relatively distinct geographic area that sees little-to-no overlap with the areas
of other armed groups. Eastern and Western Mindanao see substantially different typologies of violence, and members of the NPA,
for example, do not appear likely to be members of other armed groups. Although there are reports of militants
moonlighting as assassins, in most cases there appears to be an exclusivity of group membership.
C 2016 ADRiNSTITUTE for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.







C 2016 ADRiNSTITUTE for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.




Nevertheless, the majority of attacks (102 incidents or roughly 58% of attacks) recorded were committed by unknown perpetrators on
typically unidentified civilians. There are many possible explanations for the predominance of unknown perpetrators, including: the
clandestine intent of certain violent incidents, specifically those related to political assassination; the fleeting nature of armed
skirmishes where shooters are simply labeled as militants or gunmen in the press; as well as gaps in reporting.
C 2016 ADRiNSTITUTE for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.



I. Abu Sayyaf Group


The Abu Sayyaf Group, despite having pledged

themselves to ISIS, has not taken up the cudgels
against the local Filipino population nor sought to
regulate civilian behavior within a controlled territory.
By and large, the ASG continues to run kidnap-forransom campaigns that target foreigners; without
further signals, it would appear premature to cast
them as a Philippine ISIS affiliate that shares in ISIS
objectives and methods. It is possible that the ASG
seeks to benefit from ISIS prestige as a terrorist
organization, and in doing so raise heftier ransoms
for their hostages. Over the period, there were 26
incidents that involve the ASG, representing
almost 15% of the incidents collected.
Clashes between the AFP and the ASG have
been bloody, however, and during these instances,
civilians have been caught in the crossfire. The
bloodiest incident recorded in our data was the AFP
operation against the ASG on April 9, 2016 in AlBarka, Basilan Province. This AFP offensive, which
is one of many they have undertaken against the
AFP in the Sulu Archipelago this year was reportedly
launched with the objective of killing or capturing
Isnilon Hapilon and culling the ASG. The encounter
began when AFP soldiers were caught by
IED explosions, followed by an ambush of
100 to 150 ASG militants.27
Over the course of the ensuing encounter which
lasted for many hours, 18 AFP soldiers were killed
and 56 were wounded, while 24 ASG militants

C 2016 ADRiNSTITUTE for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

were killed. The bloodshed continued in nearby

Tipo-Tipo the following day, with the AFP killing 13
ASG militants without incurring losses of their own.
Notably, the Moroccan bomb maker Mohammad
Khattab, Puruju Indama, a notorious ASG kidnapper,
and Hapilons son Ubaida Hapilon were among
the ASGs dead when the dust settled in Al-Barka,
though media reports tend not to portray this
operation as a success. Indeed, the operation
suffered from logistical shortcomings from its very
outset; not only was the AFP caught unaware by
the ambush, but the close air support intended for
surveillance and fire support could not be deployed
due to poor weather conditions that did not abate
until the encounter was well under way.28
Of the groups reviewed herein, Abu Sayyaf Group
is best placed to further internationalize its efforts
and is likely to trade for arms with groups outside
the Philippines. According to the Indonesian
press, Santoso, the leader of the East Indonesia
Mujahid, recently attempted to purchase weapons
from the ASG to equip his own besieged outfit in
Indonesia.29 More worryingly, Malaysian authorities
apprehended 14 individuals in connection with
fundraising for ASG as well as ISIS in late May.30
Located in the Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi island
chain, their kidnapping efforts often occur outside
of the Philippines. Despite persistent counter-terror
initiatives by the Philippine government, the Abu
Sayyaf Group continues to operate with the support
of international partners, and has done so with
relatively high visibility.



II. Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and

the Moro Islamic Liberation Front


Despite its location in Central Mindanao,

the BIFF does not appear to have had any difficulties
in securing or creating explosives. About 65% of
their incidents involve grenades, either hand-thrown
or RPGs, launched at military detachments as well
as at some civilian locations; others involve
roadside IEDs; and still others involve
remotely detonated devices.
The AFP has targeted bomb-makers in the past, as
demonstrated by the 2015 Mamasapano Massacre.
That the BIFF continues to access grenades and
materiel with which to fashion improvised explosive
devices suggests that they have an accessible
supply of and/or know-how in the manufacture
of these devices. Unless this capability is
curtailed, the BIFF will likely remain the
major group to monitor in Mindanao.
Insofar as the BIFF provides a credible threat and
remains a source of violent activity, the group has
been indirectly used to justify the passage of the
Bangsamoro Basic Law. More than the MILF,
which in recent times has only engaged the
Philippine government in so-called accidental
encounters, the BIFF is a ready source of
potent imagery over the violent potential of the
Bangsamoro. The MILF itself has argued that the
passage of the BBL is necessary to prevent
further violence from erupting in Mindanao.

C 2016 ADRiNSTITUTE for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

Despite this, the BIFF has not articulated clear

political objectives and it is uncertain precisely what
it is that the organization is fighting for. Its basic
objectives are presumably aligned with those of the
MILF, its progenitor, but on some crucial issues (e.g.
whether it would accept autonomy over secession and,
if so, in what form), the BIFF has not clearly stated its
positions. For the moment, the group is generally
understood as one in the shadow of the MILF.
If the BIFF continues to gain strength, it will become
a headache for both the Philippine government and
the MILF. The MILF have spent the better part of a
decade in political negotiations with the Philippine
government, and are only just short of achieving an
important objective through the Bangsamoro Basic
Law. Their selection as the Philippine governments
primary negotiating partner for the Moro people,
if often criticized, is premised on their strength as
an armed group. Yet, a political deal with the MILF
is only worthwhile for so long as the MILF can
demonstrate that they have a monopoly on force
within their insurgent movement and corresponding
geographic territory. The BIFF, which operates well
within MILF areas, challenges that monopoly directly.
Without clearly articulating its political goals,
however, the BIFF is a problematic negotiating
partner for the Philippine government. The
Supreme Courts decision to judge the MOA-AD
unconstitutional should disincline the executive
branch from pursuing negotiations with a
more demanding armed group that
could lead to nowhere.



To the extent that the MILF has shown a willingness

to moderate its original aims, it has made for a
good negotiating partner and Manila has invested in
building that relationship. As part of that relationship,
the MILF has washed its hands of the BIFF and on
separate occasions has cooperated with the AFP
in operations against them. This move has won
plaudits in Manila, where the Philippine government
and the MILF can boast of the relative lack of
incidents between them. From the outside, however,
we assess that the MILF must also take care not
to marginalize itself as a useful partner to the
Philippine government. The MILF may understand
from its own history with the MNLF that smaller
armed factions may later eclipse their forebears.
For this reason, it cannot turn a blind eye to the
BIFFs activity and both the Philippine government
and the MILF must cooperate where
possible in operations against it.
This triangular dynamic between the Philippine
government, the MILF, and the BIFF is where
the future of violence in Mindanao is most vexingly
political, and thus requires the most careful
treatment. Mistakes in this arena will be both
politically painful in terms of passing legislation
pursuant to the peace process, as well as militarily
costly. Despite these concerns for the future,
the BIFF is a long way away from the MILFs
numbers in popular support.



C 2016 ADRiNSTITUTE for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

While we warn about the BIFF for the reasons

above, it is not the only game in town. A large AFP

operation undertaken against a long-disavowed

MILF splinter group in Butig, Lanao del Sur from
February 20 to the 29th (all coded as one incident
due to the authors inability to disaggregate the
operation) had a better outcome for the GRP. The
encounter was initiated by the Maute Group, a
small breakaway contingent of the MILF led by the
brothers Omar Maute and Abdullah Maute that
has been active since 2013 and recently, like the
ASG, declared allegiance to ISIS.31 Conducted with
the apparent cooperation of the MILF and its local
Lanao del Sur Commander Abdurahman Macapaar,
the 10-day AFP offensive was a highly coordinated
military operation involving the deployment of
gunships for close air support, artillery fire,
and armored personnel carriers
for the infantry-led effort.
Media reports regarding the ultimate number of
casualties for the Butig encounter vary widely, with
the Maute Group sustaining fatalities ranging
from 20 to 56 individuals, which included the
Indonesian former JI member Mohammad Muktar
as well as Omar Maute. AFP casualties were
minimal despite Maute small arms and sniper fire,
with 3 fatalities and 11 injuries reported. Although
these numbers alone are encouraging, it should be
noted that the fighting displaced 5,000 local families.
Moreover, Butig is not yet free of violence, given the
recent operation launched on May 24, 2016 that
killed 34 Maute militants and destroyed their base,
and reports that MILF soldiers may be
working with the Maute group.32



III. New Peoples Army


The New Peoples Army is regularly underestimated as simply another rentextracting group that terrorizes local businesses. Yet, of the 15 attacks they
initiated, 3 involved the destruction of farm equipment and 3 others involved
violence against local notables, specifically several town councilors, a barangay
chief, and a vice mayor. The remaining incidents involved abductions and
clashes with local police and militia members. While acts of sabotage are not
particularly sophisticated or worrisome on their own, in the context of other
attacks on persons conducted by the NPA that notably only lead to 5 fatalities,
these acts are indicative of an organization that uses violence selectively.

To wit, when the NPA abducted 2 AFP soldiers and 3 cops at several
checkpoints in Northern Mindanao on April 3, one retired officer was released
to the public because he was in poor health. On April 17, the NPA captured 5
cops in a raid in Davao City, who were released on April 25 with the negotiating
assistance of Rodrigo Duterte.33 Although the details of the negotiation were not
disclosed to the press, NPA propaganda benefits from showing clemency to the
enemy after successfully executing the abduction of armed officers in a major
city. Using this classic propaganda by the deed in conjunction with a
relatively active media arm, the NPA has succeeded at garnering
national attention and perhaps radicalizing new groups.


To the NPAs advantage is the lack of a unified voice from the business
community estimating how much is lost by taxation to their activities. Their
racketeering, though well known in the abstract, is seldom publicized with
any specificity, which allows them to remain a semi-legitimized arm of
the CPP. Severing the CPP-NPA connection by fully discrediting
NPA behavior would be a further good step at getting the
CPP to come to the table on governments terms.

C 2016 ADRiNSTITUTE for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.



Analysis, insights and Recommendations

After reviewing the data, crafting a discrete
and effective response to such a multivariate conflict presents
policymakers with an unenviable challenge. Stability operations are
a necessity, but political solutions remain the primary pathway to
peace. The primacy of political solutions over military operations
is practically a truism in the peacebuilding and counter-insurgency
literature, but it is nonetheless worth reiterating. Indeed, with the
apparent rejuvenation of the ASG after a decade of lauded kinetic
efforts to attrite their capabilities, it is all the more apparent
that success on the battlefield can be undone if they are not
followed up with political measures that tire militancy.
Despite numerous setbacks, however, the AFP and the PNP
will have major roles to play in peace building in Mindanao.
Yet, stability cannot be attained through the rote emulation of
the American-advised and supported COIN efforts of the past
decade, informally referred to as the Basilan Model. Given the
predominance of unknown actors in our data, attempting to
launch an intensive military campaign against a highly
atomized panoply of actors is unlikely to succeed.
More critical than military efforts is the redrafting and enactment
of successor legislation to the BBL. Much has already been
written about the BBL, its flaws and discontents, and the advice
of governance experts such as Soliman M. Santos, Jr should be
heeded. To summarize Santos argument, the BBL in its current
construction is unlikely to pass through the 17th session of
Congress due to the political baggage it has gathered over time.
The BBL contained many valid and essential provisions for Moro
regional governance, but it was never a perfect solution. Popular
perceptions of the BBL within and beyond Moro circles cast the

C 2016 ADRiNSTITUTE for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

legislation as highly parochial, favoring the interests of the MILF

and its ethnic Maguindanaoan base. To reiterate, while the term
Moro is convenient shorthand for the indigenous Muslim citizens
of Mindanao, it must not be forgotten that the Moros are a multiethnic nation represented by a variety of social, political, and
military organizations. Although no legislation is likely to please
everyone, attempts at revising the BBL must include a broader
swathe of Moro society beyond the leadership of the
MILF or it will risk failure once again.34
Part and parcel to political efforts intended to reach out to
broader segments of the population is the issue of electoral
violence and elite politics in Mindanao-which is one of the biggest
manifestations and likely propellants of the violence we recorded.
As indicated by our data, many of the incidents reported with
unknown perpetrators are suspected to be motivated by electoral
competition and elite rivalries. Considered as part and parcel
to the dynastic politics of the Philippines as a whole, or as a
uniquely Mindanaoan brand of patrimonial politics, i.e. datu-ism,
clan control of local and regional government is well accounted
for in the Southern Philippines. Research into the perpetuation
of dynastic politics across the whole of the Philippines suggests
that elite families win elections not because their family name is
significant to voters or because voters vie for families that they are
related to. Rather, vote buying (through the dispensation of public
goods/services or the actual exchange of cash) is the dominant
variable contributing to electoral success.35 The most immediate,
pervasive, and dire consequence of this arrangement is the
exploitation of public goods and services by corrupt
public officials to the detriment of their constituents. Even so,
the violence wrought by local political competition cannot be
written off due to the human costs it extracts, and the
larger patterns of insurgency that it propels.36

The immediate toll of electoral violence is somewhat easily

captured in terms of the total number of casualties and fatalities
produced by the phenomenon. Beyond this immediate effect,
however, electoral violence exacerbates the conditions that
sustain insurgency by turning political participation into a
contest of arms. The correlation of elections with violence
has been thoroughly recorded by many scholars and
organizations, notably International Alert.37
Applying descriptive statistics to unpack these findings, the
relationship between government security forces and militants was
further explored by Nikki Philline C. de la Rosa using data from
the Bangsamoro Conflict Monitoring System. Testing the dictum
that violence begets violence, de la Rosa reported that politics,
as opposed to issues related to the shadow economy or ethnoreligious identity tended to be the primary root of conflict strings,
and that government security forces, rebel groups, and threat
groups were the most deeply and violently embroiled in conflict.
This conflict spills over to impact civilians as well immediately
before, during, and after elections as the interests of violent and
non-violent actors align to secure the benefits of public office.38
Even if public services and local livelihoods improve due to
better local governance, one cannot expect economic and human
development to stabilize Mindanao in the near-term. Over the
past several months, several analysts, peace-builders, and aid
organizations have rightly observed that much of the violence
in Mindanao occurs within its most impoverished areas, which
are themselves the most impoverished localities in the whole
of the Philippines. Exacerbating epidemic poverty are
declining standards of living owing to the failure of national/
municipal governance to cope with food and energy
insecurity due to drought caused by El Nino.39



Although these socioeconomic conditions are likely drivers of the

current conflicts, it is unreasonable to expect that policies targeted
at improving human security and rejuvenating local economies
will succeed in tamping down violence. Empirically, large-N
studies of the relationship between macroeconomic performance,
the provisioning of social goods (e.g. health care and education),
and forms of political violence from terrorism to civil war
have presented ambiguous conclusions at their most
positive.40 While economic disparities are often shown to
have some modest impact on driving civil wars, the
relationship is not necessarily causal, and in the case of
terrorism, there may not be a relationship at all.41
Further, violent organizations that are known to engage in
rent-seeking behavior like the ASG and the NPA do not appear
likely to lay down their arms as economic conditions improve. In
fact, they may seek to exploit the situation to enrich themselves
further, much as the NPA has done in response to the increase
of foreign companies and nascent industries operating within their
territory. To be clear, the improvement of Mindanaos economy,
health, environment, and public services should continue to be
a policy imperative at all levels of governance. However, these
policies must be pursued because they represent a crucial
public good, and not because they promise to reduce
violence in the short term. Economic interventions
must be tailored to the security situation.

C 2016 ADRiNSTITUTE for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

The medias coverage of Philippine attacks has become routine: Mindanao fatigue
is often complained about by academics and journalists alike, who wonder why there has become
disinterest in following stories about Mindanao despite the gravity of the violence that ensues.
Small-scale incidents are frequent, and where they do not exist, it is difficult to tell whether it is
because they are underreported either by the victims or the media owing to lack of broad interest;
or because families and businesses have capitulated to paying revolutionary taxes or other
forms of protection money. In this way, even Filipino audiences in the capital
have become inured to the notion of Mindanao violence.
Although there is no understating insurgency and sub-state violence as a perennial
feature of the Philippine domestic security landscape, hope remains that violence can abate.
There are clearly areas of accommodation, if not cooperation, among different political groups,
including those that take up arms. Members of the Moro National Liberation Front, a group
behind the 2013 Siege of Zamboanga that resulted in the deaths of hundreds and the
displacement of thousands, for example, was permitted to parade Davao City two years
later in 2015.42 In tending to domestic insecurity, there must be a balance. The authors
hope that this balance can be found in the incoming Duterte administration.




Millar, Paul, Does Abu Sayyaf pose a major
terror threat to Southeast Asia?, Southeast Asia
Globe, June 1, 2016:

For more information on the Global Terrorism
Database, please see the website at https://www.

For more information on the Bangsamoro
Conflict Monitoring System, please see the website

In the interests of saving space, definitions
for each individual category have not been reproduced here. For a complete set of definitions for
these attacks, the reader is requested to refer to
pp. 22-24 of the Global Terrorism Databases Codebook, which can be accessed through this link:

See: Thomas M. McKenna, Muslim Rulers
and Rebels: Everyday Politics and Armed Separatism in the Southern Philippines. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Cesar Adib Majul, The Moro Struggle in the
Philippines, Third World Quarterly, Vol. 10, No. 2,
Islam & Politics (Apr., 1988), pp. 897-922

Tom McKenna, Saints, scholars and the idealized past in Philippine Muslim separatism, The
Pacific Review, Vol. 15 No. 4 2002: 544-545

McKenna, Thomas M. Muslim Rulers and
Rebels: Everyday Politics and Armed Separatism
in the Southern Philippines. Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1998, 200-210

Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Mapping Militant Organizations, Stanford University, August 24,
Marites Daguilan Vitug and Glenda M. Gloria. The
MILF Story, Under the Crescent Moon: Rebellion
in Mindanao, Quezon City, Philippines : Ateneo
Center for Social Policy & Public Affairs : Institute
for Popular Democracy, 2000.

C 2016 ADRiNSTITUTE for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.





Zachary Abuza, The Moro Islamic Liberation Front at 20: State of the Revolution, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 28:4, 2005, 53479,
Alpaslan zerdem and Sukanya Podder, Grassroots and Rebellion: A Study on the Future of the
Moro Struggle in Mindanao, Philippines, Civil
Wars, Vol. 14, Iss. 4, 2012, 521-527


Julliane Love De Jesus, SAF: Rising from

the fields of Mamasapano,, January
25, 2016:


Zachary Abuza, Balik-Terrorism: The Return of the Abu Sayyaf, Strategic Studies Institute, September 2005, 2-20




Abu Sayyaf Group, Mapping Militant Organizations, Stanford University, August 24, 2015


Peter Chalk, The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters: The Newest Obstacles to Peace in
the Southern Philippines?, CTC Sentinel, November 2013


Andrei Medina MNLF, BIFF form alliance

report, GMA News, February 4, 2014 http://


Agence France-Presse BIFF, Abu Sayyaf

pledge allegiance to Islamic State jihadists, GMA
News, August 16, 2014 http://www.gmanetwork.


In the Nation, Post-Mamasapano Incident

Sentiments on Peace Agreements Are Negative;
in the Bangsamoro Core Territory, Sentiments Remain Hopeful Social Weather Stations, Special
Report May 15, 2015


Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters,

Mapping Militant Organizations, Stanford University, August 27, 2015


For a full history please see Lawrence M.

Greenberg, The Hukbalahap insurrection : A Case
Study of a Successful Anti-Insurgency Operation
in the Philippines, 1946-1955, U.S. Army Center
of Military History. & Benedict J. Kerkvliet, The Huk
Rebellion: A Study of Peasant Revolt in the Philippines, Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002


The Communist Insurgency in the Philippines: Tactics and Talks, Crisis Group Asia Report
N202, 14 February 2011, 3-4


Ibid, 5-10 Nathan Gilbert Quimpo, Revolutionary Taxation and the Logistical and Strategic
Dilemmas of the Maoist Insurgency in the Philippines. Journal of Asian Security and International
Affairs 1, no. 3 (2014): 266-267


Editha Z. Caduaya, Peoples burial: Thousands march for NPAs Kumander Parago, Rappler, July 10, 2015
nation/98884-kumander-parago-pitao-funeraldavao Glenda M. Gloria, Benito Tiamzon: Writer,
organizer, party man, Rappler, March 23, 2014


The Communist Insurgency in the Philippines: Tactics and Talks, Crisis Group Asia Report
N202, 14 February 2011, 10-22 Nathan Gilbert
Quimpo, Revolutionary Taxation and the Logistical and Strategic Dilemmas of the Maoist Insurgency in the Philippines. Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs 1, no. 3 (2014): 282-287
Francis Domingo, Explaining the Sustainability
of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New
Peoples Army, Small Wars Journal, October 4,
2013 Edwin Espejo, Pay for permit to campaign,
Reds tell candidates, Rappler, December 26,
Alexis Romero, AFP insists NPA strength down
to 3,900, PhilStar, January 12, 2016 http://www. Mart D. Sambalud, NPA at 47: We become large and strong,
Davao Today, March 29, 2016 http://davaotoday.





Julie M. Aurelio, 13 Abu Sayyaf men killed
in new firefight, says AFP, Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 12 2016: http://newsinfo.inquirer.
Desk Man,
Notorious Sayyaf leader killed in Basilan clash,
Mindanao Examiner, April 12, 2016: Gerg Cahiles, AFP
downplays ISIS hand in Basilan clash. CNN Philippines, April 13, 2016:
news/2016/04/12/afp-isis-abu-sayyaf-basilanclash.html Kaye Imson, Analyst: PHL govt should
reinforce troops in Mindanao, InterAksyon, April
12, 2016:




Terror Fugitive Santoso Attempts to Buy

Weapons From Abu Sayyaf, Jakarta Globe, May
24, 2016:



Joseph Franco, Mindanao after the Philippines presidential elections, New Mandala, March
9 2016:


Maute Group member slain in Butig involved

in 9 murder, GMA News, June 1, 2016: http://
news/regions/maute-group-member-slain-in-butig-involved-in-9-murder-cases Froilan Gallardo,
Army chief: Maute group is no ISIS, Minda News,
March 24, 2016:
top-stories/2016/03/24/army-chief-maute-groupis-no-isis/ Florante S. Solmerin, 54 jihadists slain
in Lanao Sur, The Standard, May 31. 2016 http://
Military retakes Maute Groups training camp in
Lanao del Sur, GMA News, May 31, 2016: http://


C 2016 ADRiNSTITUTE for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

dpuf PH troops regain control of town attacked
by terrorists, Rappler, March 1, 2016: http://www. Richel V. Umel, IS-linked group beheads 2
captive sawmill workers, SunStar, April 15, 2016
local-news/2016/04/14/linked-group-beheads2-captive-sawmill-workers-467848 JC Ansis,
Butig clashes: What we know so far, CNN Philippines, March 3, 2016: http://cnnphilippines.
Military finds evidence linking Maute Group to
MILF, May 31, 2016:
Dennis J. Santos, Communist rebels free
5 cops captured in Davao City, Inquirer Mindanao, April 25, 2016: http://newsinfo.inquirer.

James Fearon, Ethnicity, Insurgency, and
Civil War, The American Political Science Review.
97.1 (Feb 2003): 75-90. Simeon Djankov and Marta Reynal Querol, Poverty and Civil War: Revisiting
the Evidence, Review of Economics and Statistics, 92:4, 2010, 1035-1041


Martin Gassebner and Simon Luechinger,

Lock, stock, and barrel: a comprehensive assessment of the determinants of terror, Public Choice,
Vol. 149, No. 3/4, The Many Faces of Counterterrorism (December 2011), 235-261 Alan B. Krueger
and Jitka Maleckova, Education, Poverty and Terrorism: Is There a Causal Connection?, Journal of
Economic Perspectives, Volume 17, Number 4,
Fall 2003, 119144



Soliman M. Santos, Jr. Plan B: Post BBL

Non-Passage, Institute for Autonomy and Governance, May 2, 2016:


Cesi Cruz, Julien Labonne, and Pablo

Querubin, Politician family networks and electoral
outcomes: Evidence from the Philippines, Annual
Meeting of the American Political Science Association, 2014


Quimpo, Nathan Gilbert. 2005. Oligarchic

Patrimonialism, Bossism, Electoral Clientelism,
and Contested Democracy in the Philippines.
Comparative Politics 37 (2), 2005, 22950.


International Alert, Rebellion, Political Violence and Shadow Crimes in the Bangsamoro: The
Bangsamoro Conflict Monitoring System (BCMS),
August 2014, 20112013


Nikki Philline C. de la Rosa, Disrupting conflict strings in sub-national contexts: Experience

from Muslim Mindanao, Philippines, International
Alert UK, September 18, 2014,


Joseph Franco, All conflict is local: Mindanao after the Philippine Presidential Elections, Asia
& Pacific Policy Society, March 10, 2016: http://



Luke Lischin

is an Academic Assistant at the National War College. In 2014, he received

his MA from Georgetown Universitys Security Studies Program, where he
concentrated in the study of terrorism and substate violence. Lukes current
research interests include political violence and insurgency in the
Philippines and the greater Southeast Asian region. Beyond political
violence, Luke also studies grand strategy andcivil-military
relations in the American and global contexts.

Angelica Mangahas

is Deputy Executive Director of ADRI and a lecturer with the

International Studies department of De La Salle University. Immediately
prior to joining ADRI, she completed her Masters in Security Studies at
Georgetown University. Her writing and advocacy experience spans
multiple international humanitarian and diplomatic organizations. Her
current research focuses on Philippine and regional security concerns.

Stratbases Albert Del Rosario Institute

is an independent international and strategic research
organization with the principal goal of addressing the
issues affecting the Philippines and East Asia
9F 6780 Ayala Avenue, Makati City
Philippines 1200
V 8921751
F 8921754
C 2016 ADRiNSTITUTE for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.