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The Republic of the Philippines has a long and colorful history with influences from numerous countries. It is primarily comprised of Roman Catholics in the north and Muslims, which are the minority, in the south. The Muslims desire an independent Islamic state because they feel the government of the Philippines treats them as inferior. As their core grievances are ignored, the Muslims resort to terrorist activities. The U.S. has identified them as threats to the Republic of the Philippines as well as U.S. interests. This paper identifies the internal threats, analyzes the situation and discusses recommended solutions to counter these terrorist organizations.
Breeding Ground in the Philippines
“The southern Philippines have long been a breeding ground for terrorist activity” (Bhattacharji, 2009). This is due to poverty, a lack of education as well as a lack of support from their local government. The Philippine government gained their independence in 1946 and has experienced numerous armed confrontations since. The United States (U.S.) has identified two internal threats within the Philippines. They are the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).
The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) is the foundation from which both of the groups started. Both organizations are predominantly located in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) covering Sulu, Mindanao, and Palawan located in the southern Philippines. It is important to understand what the problem is and where it began in order to be able to defeat it.
The original settlers in Mindanao were Muslim and tribal residents. In the 1950s, the Philippine government gave away land to migrants and poor farmers from other regions of the country. Christian settlers began populating Mindanao in large numbers which soon caused problems with the original inhabitants. The Muslim and tribal residents felt as though their way of life, land, and economic opportunities were being deprived. This grievance led to intense distrust between the Philippine government and the indigenous Muslim population. This eventually led to the birth of the MNLF within their region.
The MNLF was founded in 1972 by Nur Misuari who was a professor at the University of the Philippines. This political organization was established in order to secede from the Philippines and establish an Islam state which would cover Sulu, Mindanao, and Palawan. The MNLF stated that represented the Philippine Muslim liberation movement which proceeded to start the Islam Insurgency in Mindanao. They intended to achieve independence, or at a minimum local autonomy for the southern Philippines. The movement would later cost both sides great amounts in personal sacrifice.
There were many lives lost during this insurgency with estimates ranging from 80,000 to 200,000 in total. Eventually the Philippine government would hold peace talks in 1976 with the MNLF which led to the Tripoli Agreement being negotiated. The Tripoli Agreement basically set up a cease fire as well as autonomy with a broad understanding that Mindanao would remain part of the Philippines. This agreement would allow Muslims their own legislative assembly, economic and financial systems, schools, administrative system, executive council, courts, and special regional security forces (Muslim Mindanao for journalists and other communicators, 2008).
The cease fire eventually hurt the MNLF more than it helped due to the internal factionalism which led to the group fragmenting into separate elements. There were disagreements within the organization on how to deal with the government. The more conservative members wanted to hold a violent insurgency while the liberal side favored non-violent opposition which led to a separation. The conservatives eventually left and organized into the MILF.
The MILF is the largest Islamic liberation organization in the Philippines with an estimated 15,000 active members, out of which 2,900 are troops. Salamat Hashim formed the MILF in 1977 and was backed by the ethnic Maguindanaos. Hashim received support from Egypt after the split and officially established the MILF on March 1984. Hashim didn’t want to accept treaties with the government and he wanted an Islamic education system in a more traditional manner. The MILF would experience the same issues later with the more extremist members leaving and forming the ASG (Economic expert.com 2010).
The ASG is a more radical organization which splintered from the MILF because they too didn’t agree with the way their mother organization dealt with the government. The ASG was founded by Abdurajak Janjalani in 1991 on the island of Basilan. Janjalani fought in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union with the mujahedeen. “The Abu Sayyaf task force was created in 1986 by an Afghan professor named Abu Sayyaf who operated his own guerrilla training school in the mountains near Peshawar, Pakistan” (Barreveld, 2001). After returning to the Philippines, Janjalani formed the ASG to fight for an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines. Janjalani named his group after his professor in Peshawar: Abu Sayyaf-the Father of the Sword (Barreveld, 2001).
In 1998 Abdurajak Janjalani was killed by the local police in Lamatan, Basilan during a shoot out. This caused a power struggle within the organization which led to his younger brother Khadafi Janjalani eventually taking over. The government refers to them as bandits primarily because of their thug like activities. This organization is famous for kidnap for ransom operations, piracy, operating with Al Qaeda (AQ), attacking the Catholic community by conducting abductions of teachers, nuns as well as priests. They have extorted from wealthy businessmen and companies and have terrorized their community through bombings and massacres.
“Militant organizations like the ASG and the MILF operate in the Sulu archipelago and easternmost island of Mindanao, where a rugged terrain, weak rule of law, sense of grievance among the country’s Muslim minority, and poverty make it difficult for the government to root them out” (Bhattacharji, 2009). Both groups are considered threats against the Republic of the Philippines. The United States considers them a threat because of their ties with AQ and global terrorist organizations.
The United States and the Philippine government signed a treaty of general relations between the two governments on July 4, 1946. This treaty identified the independence of the Philippines as of July 4, 1946 as well as recognizing the relinquishment of American sovereignty over the Philippines. “In February 1987, the Philippines adopted a new constitution that instituted the presidential-style republican form of democracy, which resembles the U.S. model much more than the European parliamentary system” (Library of Congress, 2006). The Philippines has a centralized form of government and federal rule of law which is supreme to the states or provinces. There are other organizations in the Philippines government that mirror the U.S. such as their military.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is made up with four branches of service consisting of Army, Navy Air Force and Marines. In total the AFP has approximately 150,000 military personnel forces and about half of which are reserves (Global security.org 2010). The AFP Army has a Light Reaction Battalion (LRB) trained in counter terrorist operations and is used often in combat today. The LRB was developed, equipped, and trained by U.S. Army Special Forces. The Philippine government’s gross domestic product exceeds $160 billion; however they spend less than 1% of their GDP on military expenditures. Aside from the LRB most of the AFP is under equipped and poorly funded.
“The United States and the Philippines have a mutual defense treaty that has been in effect since 1952. Total U.S. military assistance to the Philippines rose from $38 million in 2001 to $164 million in 2005, which would make the Philippines the fourth largest recipient of U.S. foreign military assistance” (Library of Congress, 2006). The U.S. is supporting the Philippines government by providing for their military. This coincides with how we are conducting Irregular Warfare (IW) when considering the Trinity model. There are other areas that need to be addressed in the Philippines as well.
Economic growth in the Philippines has averaged 4.5% per year since 2001. Despite this growth, poverty worsened during the term of Macapagal-Arroyo, because of a high population growth rate and inequitable distribution of income (Central Intelligence Agency, 2010). Thirty three percent of the Philippine population lives below the poverty line. This leads to corruption and crime which drains resources available to further develope the government. It will also undermines confidence in the government from the population. The Republic of the Philippines has an extreme problem with crime and corruption at all levels because of poverty and lack of education across the country. This effects the governments ability to take care of the relevent population’s critical needs.
“The Muslims in the Philippines consist of thirteen ethno-linguistics groups. The Muslims who traditionally inhabited Mindanao, the islands of Basilan and Palawan, and the Sulu and Tawi-Tawi archipelago in the south of the Philippines identify themselves as Bangsamoro” (Lingga, 2004). Christian Malays make up over ninety percent of the total population, Muslim only make up about four percent, Chinese 1.5 percent, and others 3 percent (Library of Congress, 2006). Muslims are often treated like second class citizens because of their minority status. This is part of the reason why they want independence in the ARMM. “The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and separation of church and state, but Christianity predominates, and Muslims historically have been marginalized” (Library of Congress, 2006).
The Philippine population communicates in many languages; however English and Filipino (based on Tagalog) are the official languages spoken with eight other major dialects. There are additional barriers or obstacles the country has to deal with because of this. This leads into how they communicate across the Philippines.
Cell phones are the primary method of communications in their country. “The Philippines is known to be the text messaging capital of the world. Digital phones currently outnumber the landlines based telephones. It is very common for the military to use their cell phones as a means of communication during operations. This has the potential for compromise during missions, which causes their commanders to collect phones from the soldiers before they’re briefed on the details of the operation.
The lack of education in the southern Philippines reduces the necessity for newspapers or magazines to be sold. The Philippines government will use billboards, posters, and the radio to communicate their message to the local population in Mindanao. Additionally, they also use the mayors and village leaders “by word of mouth system” through the military.
As an archipelago, the Philippines have more than 1,000 ports, of which 117 are regarded as international ports. About 12 of the 117 international ports have major cargo and passenger terminals (Library of Congress 2006). The ports in the southern Philippines need upgraded to support the fishing industry. Sixty percent of the roads are unpaved and the rest are in need of repair to some degree. The infrastructure needs upgraded in order to support and build on the local economy.
It is critical to address the political, military, economic, social, information, and infrastructure (PMESII) issues listed above. The Muslims will support the government and work against the insurgency when their basic needs are being taking care of. This will in turn bolster the countries internal stability and will ensure that they have legitimacy and influence over the relevant population.
The U.S. realized how serious and evolving the global terrorist threat was after 9/11. The Philippines is an ideal location for AQ to establish training camps, safe havens as well as recruitment base. Conditions for recruitment are perfect when there is a lack of education; bad economy, and there is a lack of support from the government. The U.S. goal is to eliminate or contain extremist Muslim terrorist’s organizations across the globe. The U.S. will do this in order to preserve our four enduring national interests which are security, values, prosperity, and international order. The following paragraphs will explain the recommended way to defeat the terrorist threats.
In order to do this in Mindanao both the U.S. and Philippines government will need to look at the whole of government (WOG) concept and use the four elements of national power which are diplomatic, informational, military, and economic (D.I.M.E). Irregular Warfare (IW) is predominantly the U.S. “way ahead” when looking at combating the insurgency. To be successful, IW will need to be applied at all three levels of war.
At the Strategic Level both countries will need to develop and fund plans to eventually gain control and influence over the relevant population. This is done at the national level and with ideally SOF elements used as the primary tool to get initial ground truth information to the decision makers. The U.S. deployed SOF forces into Mindanao in 2002 and are still conducting FID operations in the area today. The U.S. government will need to continue to monitor the status and make changes as necessary.
The more indirect approach will be the focus when looking at the Operational Level. There is a Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF) established in Zambowonga which takes the guidance and end state from the Strategic Level and applies it to tactical operations. The JSOTF is responsible for planning and conducting operations and campaigns. The enlisted staff positions needs to be filled with operators that have experience and ideally graduates of the Joint Special Operations Force Senior Enlisted Academy (JSOFSEA).
The next level that IW would be applied is the Tactical Level. First Special Forces Group currently has a Special Operations Task Force (SOTF) on the island of Jolo. The SOTF is currently being run by a company rather than a battalion. This is due to the other requirements that need to be met in other countries. The Tactical Level is the most critical for numerous reasons. This is where the plans come to life in order to meet the National Strategic Strategy (NSS). Whatever the operator does on the ground will either support the NSS or possibly hurt it.
The U.S. military are conducting Foreign Internal Defense (FID) operations in the southern Philippines as part of the Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines (OEF-P). They will need to continue to provide military assistance by training through, by, and with the AFP. “As part of Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines, U.S. military forces are strengthening the Philippines military and using civic action to drive a wedge between rebels and the Muslim populace” (Crisis Group, 2008).
“Philippine military and law enforcement agencies conducted intensive Civil-Military and internal security operations to eliminate terrorist safe havens in the Sulu Archipelago and central Mindanao” (U.S. Department of State, 2009). Many of the programs that have been put in place are currently working. The economic development programs need more support from other countries. “The Japanese government has been the largest provider of financial aid for Mindanao, having financed 166 different projects valued at a total of 363 million dollars since 2002” (Carames, et. al., 2008). The U.S. needs to work with other countries in order to get more participation in this area. The enticement or need to join the terrorist’s organizations will decrease if the jobs are available and the infrastructure is built up on the island of Mindanao and the ARMM.
The State Department’s USAID will need to continue to retrain combatants from the MNLF, MILF, and ASG as well as providing micro-grants in order to bolster the economy. USAID as well as civilian non-government organizations (NGO’s) will need to continue to work on infrastructure development. This is critical to the success of the campaign. When schools, roads, wells, and mosques are repaired the quality of life is dramatically improved.
In conclusion eradicating the insurgency means an end to the silent discrimination, respect for the Muslim religion in all its aspects. In order to minimize or stop the threat and terrorist activities we must attack ideological and financial angles as well. Developing the economy, infrastructure and improving education in Mindanao will win over the local populace faster than using military force. This must be done in order to protect the Philippines national interests. The U.S. will continue to have an invested interest in the Philippines so that we can prevent Mindanao from becoming a safe haven and training ground for Muslim extremists across the globe.
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