The Philippines parliament yesterday (30 May) approved a bill that will give greater autonomy to the southern region of Mindanao, as reported by Reuters.
The approval of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is another step towards the creation a new autonomous territory called Bangsamoro, named after its ‘Moro’, or Muslim, population.
The BBL is seen as key to ending decades of conflict in the southern part of the Philippines, where Islamist groups have been engaged in an insurgency for an independent province.
Just last year, one such group, the Islamic State-affiliated Maute group, kept the southern city of Marawi under siege for five months.
President Rodrigo Duterte vowed during the siege to see the legislation – part of a peace deal between government and rebels that was signed in 2014 – through to completion.
At the same time, Ghazali Jaafar, vice chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group, said the Marawi siege had happened as a result of frustration with the delay in the peace process and that the proposed bill was “the best antidote to violent extremism”.
While MILF engaged with the government on implementation of the peace deal, more extreme Islamist groups have moved into the area to continue the insurgency, some of which have pledged allegiance to Islamic State.
Thomas Muller, Asia analyst for Christian charity Open Doors International, said the bill may “help prevent young frustrated Muslims from joining militant groups”, but that “in the short term, rebuilding Marawi is at least as important”.
He added: “There were reports that the government focused on building a large military base in Marawi to ensure safety, [but] this sends a wrong signal as the rebuilding process [of the city] proceeds painfully slowly. At least people need to see progress in rebuilding of civilian structures as well.”
Muller warned that the building of security structures, although necessary, “sends a certain message that extremists can easily exploit. Especially as Islamic State seems to see South East Asia as a new stage”.