In light of the publication of Victor Taylor’s series on the rise and evolution of the Abu Sayyaf Group, it is important to note the recent events unfolding on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines.
As of 10 p.m. local Philippine time on 23 May, President Roderigo Duterte has placed the island of Mindanao under martial law following violent clashes between government troops and members of the ISIS-linked Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf Group in the city of Marawi. The ongoing struggle has currently killed three government troops, and injured 12 others.
The martial law proclaims that Mindanao be placed under the control of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and typically accompanies curfews, the suspension of civil law and civil rights, habeas corpus, and civilians may be subjected to military tribunals.
Marawi, which is the capital of the province of Lanao del Sur on the island of Mindanao, has been set ablaze and the terrorists have occupied government establishments. These include the government-run Amai Pakpak Hospital—where the flag of the Islamic State has been raised—City Hall, the city jail and parts of the Mindanao State University campus. Additionally, they have occupied major streets, and two bridges leading into the city. It should be noted, however, that the capture of many of these facilities is being denied by the military.
As firefights continue to rage in the streets, civilians are being told to stay in their homes, so as not to be mistaken for soldiers by Maute Group members who have snipers stationed upon rooftops.
These clashes have allegedly stemmed from a report received by the Philippine military that Isnilon Hapilon, one of the leaders of the Abu Sayyaf Group in Basilan, was in the area and seeking to establish an Islamic State province, or wilayat, in Lanao del Sur. Victor Taylor explains that Isnilon was designated Emir of the IS forces in the Philippines.
Further, “Basilan, as an island, would prove difficult to defend should the base of the IS province be set up there. Hence the decision was to go to mainland Mindanao and particularly Lanao del Sur (because of the Maute Group forces there) and aim to establish the IS province there. There is more room to maneuver on the mainland in the face of attacks from state security forces,” explains Taylor.
In a report by MindaNews, a regional news outlet based in Mindanao, Akram Latip, a native of Lanao Sur, explained, “the best solution for Marawi City now is for the AFP to disengage the ISIS Group. If they push through with the military operation the city will be left with total destruction. Let the Local Executives, Ulama, Elders and other influential people talk with the ISIS Group and allow them to leave in peace. That’s the best way to protect the civilians and avoid more casualties and destruction.”
This declaration of martial law comes after President Duterte flew home early from scheduled meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and can legally be held in effect for 60 days. Following the end of this two-month period, President Duterte must seek congressional approval to prolong the implementation of martial law.