By Scott Morgan
One of the most underreported fronts in the Global War on Terror has to be the Southern Philippines. Specifically the focus has been on the Island of Mindanao. A recent decision by new President Duterte will have some people trying to determine what is the reason.
Within recent days, the President has demanded that US Special Forces (currently in the country training their Filipino Counterparts) leave the Country. He stated that their presence is a detriment to the ongoing peace process. While maintaining a position of power against drug dealers the Duterte Administration has stated it wishes to negotiate with both the Islamic and Communist Rebels who have rebelled against Manila for decades.
So why the new emphasis on negotiations? Could this be a result of the bombing last month in Davao City? This is the location of the President’s Power Base. After all he is the former mayor of this city. So a move towards talks may be his reaction to having his hometown targeted by a bombing.
Another question is what effect will this have on current US CT strategy in Southeast Asia? Sitting on traditional trade routes and having more than a thousand islands in the country does present a security challenge not only for the United States but also its key partners and allies in the region. If there are two countries that would face some form of blowback from either a US pullout or a collapse of negotiations they just happen to be Malaysia and Indonesia.
It is also interesting to see the desire to negotiate with the Communists. They have not been the main focus in recent years. The goal was to defeat Abu Sayaaf as they are considered to be closely linked to Al-Qaeda. This means that the Islamic State is not considered to be a major threat to the National Security of the Philippines at this time. If this is the criteria that is being used then the idea that a US Presence is making things worse may have some merit.
Clearly, President Duterte feels that he cannot trust the Obama Administration to be a faithful ally. This can be taken as fact after the recent ASEAN summit which President Obama attended. President Obama is nearing the end of his two terms in office and it appears that Duterte wants a clean slate to negotiate with the successor to President Obama. This is a most practical move on his part.
By addressing this internal issue a pressure point that could be exploited for gain by an outside party can be rendered useless. This can be seen as another motivational factor for demanding the withdrawal of US Troops. Could an outside party seek to create an international incident by targeting the Americans for kidnappings and other attacks? Worse yet is the idea of a Filipino group being paid or encouraged to do this.
President Duterte also stated that he would restore Law & Order to the country when he was elected. He appears to be honoring that pledge.
[The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dissecting Society]