- Millions of people voted in a referendum in January to ratify a law allowing greater autonomy for majority-Muslim areas of Mindanao. The move is likely to improve security in the region, achieving a political solution to decades of fighting between Islamist separatists and the Philippine army.
- Several legal and procedural issues could delay the implementation of the law. In addition to opposition from powerful interests in congress and the judiciary, the national government must oversee a transition period before elections are held in the new region in 2022.
- Islamist groups that do not have an agreement with the government are likely to continue attacks against security forces. The intensity and frequency of such attacks will depend on the effectiveness of the cooperation between the Philippine army and Islamist separatists.
The overwhelming vote in a long-awaited referendum on 21 January to ratify the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) in Mindanao is likely to stabilise security in the region by achieving a political solution to decades of fighting between Islamist separatists and the Philippine army. The vote fulfils a 2014 peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has been fighting for independence since the 1970s. Some 150,000 people have died in the decades of violence.
The vote creates a new self-administered region called the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in majority-Muslim areas of Mindanao. The national government will transfer to the new region control over all policy areas other than policing and security. The new region will hold its own elections in 2022, and constituents will be able to vote for its own parliament and a chief ministry.
Under the agreement, MILF will give up its quest for an independent homeland and end its separatist insurgency in return for greater autonomy. Both the government and MILF believe this is the most effective way of reducing the influence of small, more radical groups – some with links to Islamic State (IS) – which have emerged in recent years.
The ratification is a positive security development for the region, which has seen high levels of violence in recent years – mainly between the army, Islamist separatists and other rebels. The entire region of Mindanao remains under martial law after clashes between the army and militants linked to IS in 2017.
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