A Philippine soldier seen through a hole in a wall of a damaged building in the Islamic State sieged city of Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao on August 30, 2017. Photo: AFP/Ferdinandh Cabrera

It is critical for the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in the Philippines to succeed because failure could mean more recruits for violent extremist groups, the Institute for Policy Analysis and Conflict (IPAC), an independent Jakarta-based think-tank, stated in a report that was released on March 5.

The report, titled “The Jolo Bombings and the Legacy of ISIS in the Philippines,” examines the situation in the newly-created autonomous region in Muslim-inhabited areas in the south of the country and the involvement of local as well as foreign fighters in a conflict that started decades ago and has still not been resolved.

It suggests that Indonesian and possibly other militants from the region may be present in the southern Philippines. ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Roman Catholic cathedral in Jolo in the southern Philippines on January 27.

Although there is no forensic evidence to prove the involvement of foreigners, it is widely suspected that militants from other parts of Asia might have been involved in that attack, which claimed the lives of 20 people.

The report suggested that “stronger support for pro-ISIS components is only one of several outcomes of a failed BARMM but it could be the deadliest. The single most important goal of counter-terrorism programs and findings in the Philippines now should be trying to ensure that BARMM succeeds in meeting the huge challenges it faces.”

But the report also criticized past practices to combat militants: “BARMM authorities should work with the military to end the system of bounties placed on the heads of wanted extremists. The bounties set up counter-productive competition to get the money and encourage the killing of suspects rather than capturing them alive and getting important information about their networks.”

But even with a new approach to the militancy, the report states that “extremism in the Philippines is not going to go away, and ISIS has left a legacy that only makes it more lethal.”

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