A NEW name has appeared in military reports of fighting in Mindanao – Maute Group. The Western Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines reported the other day that 54 militants identified as members of the Maute Group had been killed in a joint military-police offensive in Lanao del Sur.
For many years the dominant Moro group fighting government forces in Mindanao was the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), itself a splinter group of the Muslim Independence Movement. When the MNLF reached an agreement with the government in 1996, dominating the leadership of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), a group broke away and formed the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
It is this group with which the Aquino administration negotiated for years until they agreed last year on setting up a Bangsamoro Autonomous Region to replace the ARMM. The MNLF had no part in the Bangsamoro program and thus remains a problem. One other group – the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) – also distanced itself from the MILF.
There were other fighting groups such as the Abu Sayyaf which came to be known for its hostage-taking activities.
Last week, the media learned of the existence of a new Maute Group, said to be affiliated with the Jemaah Islamiyah of Southeast Asia. These are former MILF guerrillas with some foreign fighters led by Abdullah Maute, alleged founder of an Islamic state in Lanao del Sur called Dawlah Islamiya. The Maute Group is reported trying to link up with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and is often seen carrying the black flag of ISIS.
Incoming President Rodrigo Duterte, now mayor of Davao City, is determined to bring peace to his home region of Mindanao as the first step to bringing its economic development to the level of the rest of the country. He has been able to reach out to the Communist rebel group, the New People’s Army.
The Moro groups may pose a different problem. For one thing, they seem to be many different groups with no common loyalty, so that when one rebel group is won over by the government, another one takes its place.
Among all the many problems the incoming Duterte administration faces, peace in Mindanao may be among the most difficult, but the new president has declared his determination to develop Mindanao to the “land of promise” that it has long been known as. He carries the hopes of the entire nation on his shoulders.