There is little doubt that the culprits behind a cathedral bombing in Jolo in the Sulu Archipelago of The Philippines, were those who perversely felt thwarted by the democratic vote in favour of establishing a new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim majority parts of Mindanao. Whilst Sulu was one of the few areas in which a vote for autonomy narrowly lost, it would be presumptuous to suggest that the tragic bombing which killed 21 and injured over 70, was the result of a disgruntled pro-autonomy voter. In all likelihood, the bombing was an attack orchestrated by terrorists who refuse to participate in the political process which looks to heal decades if not centuries of inter-communal tensions in Mindanao.
Such acts of supreme wickedness are not uncommon in places throughout the world that are in the midst of transitioning to a new political model aimed and stemming the tide of violent and economically retrograde sectarianism. Terrorist groups that profit from the weapons and narcotics trade that thrives in conflict zones stand to lose substantial sums of money should the swamp of extremism that feeds terror be drained by a new, positive political mentality.
In the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, this is exactly what is happening. This phenomenon therefore increases the likelihood of agitated extremists conducting attacks as part of a final push to blackmail normal society before the wellspring of terror is finally dried up by the successful implication of a political system designed to act as a real time peace process.
It is already being suggested that the Daesh (aka ISIS) aligned Abu Sayyaf terror group is behind the deadly blast. If this speculation turns out to be true, it would not be surprising as it would conform to the model which suggests that outlier terror groups that opposed national or internationally lead peace processes, engage in new waves of attempted and actual criminal acts of savagery during such periods of otherwise peaceful political transition.
The proper way to address such terror is by implementing a duel-tracked strategy which on the one hand coordinates the security services in order to exact merciless annihilation on the terrorists, whilst simultaneously strengthening political institutions that allow local people to democratically take control over their own cities and regions, thus culminating in an atmosphere in which terrorism cannot pay, does not hold any attraction even to the most economically destitute and as a result is eventually killed off in its entirety.
In both of these areas, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has got the balance right insofar as he refused to end Martial Law in Mindanao, even after the pro-Daesh Maute Group was neutralised by security forces that in 2017 liberated in Mindanao city of Marawi. By maintaining Martial Law, Duterte has sent a firm message to outlying terror groups that the security services remain on high alert in respect of both preventing terror attacks as well as punishing those behind attacks such as the one in Jolo.
At the same time, Duterte’s firm commitment to a rapid implementation of the parliamentary political system associated with the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, clearly indicates that he will not allow terrorist provocations to shake his course in respect of delivering the region the kind of advanced political autonomy that he promised from the earliest days of his Presidency.
Today’s despicable act of barbarism must be and shall be answered with both a robust military approach to counter-terrorism and an equally firm commitment to overseeing the peaceful transition of power to a future Bangsamoro Autonomous Region Parliament. This is the only way forward – anything less and indeed anything more would be allowing terrorist to dictate the future path of a region which has overwhelmingly rejected any and all forms of violence.