After four years of delay, the Philippine government has fulfilled a key pledge to appease the ethnic Moro minority in the country's restive south. On July 26, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law. This starts the process of implementing a new autonomous region in Mindanao that will grant the Muslim group greater control over local affairs. While this will do much to erode the appeal of extremist and jihadist groups, numerous risks will arise during the long period of implementation.
Stratfor's annual forecast noted that the Philippines would maintain its softer approach to China so it could focus on domestic priorities, particularly chronic unrest in the south. The passage of the Bangsamoro Organic Law is a key benchmark in tamping down this unrest over the longer term, eventually freeing resources for a more outwardly-oriented foreign policy.
Getting Mindanao under control took renewed importance after the takeover of Marawi city by militants aligned with the Islamic State in 2017. Rebel groups have long demanded secession or, in more moderate modes, a greater degree of local control of politics, development and social issues. The new Bangsamoro region is meant to fulfill these demands, legitimizing the cooperative stance of the mainstream militant Moro Islamic Liberation Front over extremists.
The new Bangsamoro region will build upon, broaden and deepen an earlier autonomous entity, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The new region will feature a locally elected parliament empowered to set budget and development priorities, an expanded geographic footprint and a role for Sharia. These federalist-style concessions will help promote cooperation with the government.
When it comes to implementing the new law, poor execution runs the risk of lending credibility to those on the fringe, including jihadists.
However, Duterte's signature marks only the start of a long process that will almost certainly be beset with setbacks, delays and attempts by extremist groups to undermine the region's implementation and legitimacy. Already, major delays in winning congressional approval for the law have provided an opening for Islamic State-aligned groups to make inroads in Mindanao. The next step for the region entails holding a local referendum, a process that is sure to highlight geographic, clan and political rivalries. Implementation of the region and demobilization of armed rebels will add further complications. On top of all of this, the law will likely undergo a supreme court challenge. Any further setbacks risk lending credibility to those on the fringe, including jihadists.