The country's long-running conflict between Muslim rebels in the southern island of Mindanao and the central government up north on the island of Luzon finally seemed to be nearing a peaceful end after 88% of voters in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao agreed to create the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. Even though people in the province of Sulu where Jolo is located narrowly voted against the proposal, they'll still be included in the forthcoming polity because the entire autonomous region of several provinces voted as a singular unit.
Nevertheless, that might be why Daesh-affiliated Abu Sayyaf targeted Jolo as a last-ditch attempt to derail the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region out of fear that the implementation of this progressive proposal would end the conflict once and for all and therefore make all terrorist and separatist organizations lose their appeal among the population. The group had previously targeted another area in this region back in 2017 when it laid siege to the city of Marawi for approximately five months before finally being expelled by the Philippine Armed Forces. Mindanao-native President Duterte has been determined to bring peace to his homeland since he first entered into office two and a half years ago, so both the Marawi siege and the Jolo bombing can be seen as personal attacks against his policies there.
The sudden re-eruption of conflict in this fragile region at such a sensitive time in its history could potentially destabilize the tri-state maritime space of the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, seeing as how the latter two are also confronting differing degrees of terrorist threats as well. That worst-case scenario probably won't materialize, or it would take some time to do so if it does, so the current focus should be on the kinetic and non-kinetic measures that Manilla implements in response to this latest attack as it attempts to contain the re-emerging threat. Mindanao is finally moving beyond its troublesome history as a hotbed of Islamist terror by proudly bestowing autonomy on its Muslim minority, but it might be held back if the terrorists temporarily regain the upper hand.
Andrew Korybko is joined by Adam Garrie, Director of Eurasia Future and Orion Perez, CoRRECT Movement Principal Co-Founder and Constitutional Reform Advocate.
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