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Anti-IS solution

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The two-day Lanao del Sur skirmish proved President Rody Duterte’s foresight that the Islamic State (IS) threat is far from over eight months after the Marawi City siege.

Rody, shortly after the liberation of Marawi City from pro-IS Maute group fighters, said the extremists remain active in other parts of Mindanao and that another attack may happen which he cited as his reason to maintain martial law in the region.

Regional experts believe IS-aligned militants are still capable of regrouping and potentially join forces.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) intelligence reports also cite at least 23 armed groups in Mindanao still pledge allegiance to IS, but the reports do not state how many receive direct support from the terror group.

A major source of worry are foreign IS fighters from Asia such as Indonesia, Malaysia and even China, who are unable to return home after the defeat of the terror group in Syria and Iraq.

Experts say they are likely to seek refuge in Mindanao.

Think tank Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC) indicated more than 30 Malaysian militants were believed involved in the Marawi City siege.

Aside from Asian countries, foreign fighters from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Chechnya and Singapore were reported to have been part of the pro-IS groups in Marawi City.

Chinese Uighurs and Africans were also reported to have been possibly involved in the five-month war, a TRAC report stated.

According to the TRAC report, foreign fighter remnants of the Marawi City siege have also stayed on in different parts of Mindanao.

The entry of foreign ideologues, in turn, may influence other Muslim groups in the bailiwick of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which the government is seeking to strike a peace deal with.

The current situation makes the immediate passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law which will give autonomy to the Muslim regions an imperative.

The IS is banking on discontent as a result of the delayed implementation of the bill to make inroads and win sympathies in the MILF territories.

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which is among the Muslim groups that pledged allegiance to IS, is also a source of worry.

The BIFF is a splinter group of the MILF formed after the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, signed under former President Gloria Arroyo, was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2008.

MILF and BIFF members are mostly linked to each other either by blood or through intermarriages.

The main camps of both groups are in Maguindanao, where the tragic Mamasapano encounter that transpired. That Oplan Exodus in 2015 saw 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos and Malaysian terrorist and bomb-making expert Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan killed.

Rody had repeatedly sought apology for imposing martial law, but said it should be the best way to address the existing threats from the IS.

The BBL, with its promise of autonomy, is a deterrent to the IS promise of emancipation through a rigid Islamic society.

The move of Rody to enlist the help of both the Moro National Liberation Front and the MILF in drafting the revised law was crucial to make it more encompassing.

While the help of allies like the United States, Australia and China is instrumental in containing the IS threat, the permanent solution remains the granting of autonomy to the Muslim regions through the BBL.

Rody had said autonomy, which is the proposed solution then and now, would be a step towards righting the historic wrong done on Filipino Muslims.

Failure of the BBL, it seems, will put to waste efforts for lasting peace.

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