Is Philippines' Marawi free from 'Islamic State' influence?

The Philippine government has "liberated" the southern city of Marawi from Islamist extremists. But does it also signal the end of "Islamic State"-inspired militant groups in the country? Ana P. Santos reports.

The Philippine government may have won the battle against "Islamic State"-affiliated jihadists in Marawi but experts say it may lose the war against violent extremism if the peace process is not revived in the area and the rebuilding of Marawi is not done according to the wishes of the locals.

The Philippine security forces officially ended their combat operations in the city last Monday. The five-month battle between the country's army and the IS-linked Maute militant group was one of the deadliest wars in the Southeast Asian country since World War II.

"The government needs to restart the peace process immediately," Agakhan Sharief, a Muslim leader in Marawi, told DW.

Sharief, who is also a member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – the biggest armed group in the region – said the government's failure to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) for a greater Muslim autonomy in southern Philippines contributed to the frustration and radicalization of Omar and Abdullah Maute, the two brothers who led the siege.

Read more: Marawi residents caught between a difficult terrain and Islamists

The passage of the BBL would have ended decades of armed conflict between the government and separatist groups fighting for autonomy for the Filipino Muslim minority. The conflict has claimed more than 120,000 lives and has seen a series of collapsed peace deals that led to the formation of militias like Maute.

It may take years to rebuild Marawi

No military solution

Commenting on the volatile situation in Marawi, Sidney Jones, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), said in August: "The risks won't end when the military declares victory."

A report released by IPAC states that addressing violent extremism will require "looking beyond military solutions that include brokering peace with other insurgent groups to promote security, development projects that address root problems of scarce opportunities and education and re-building the city of Marawi with respect for the Muslim culture and way of life."

Humanitarian agencies working in Marawi say the military did its best to protect civilians and minimize damage to mosques, but the fighting has reduced much of the city to rubble. Thousands of homes have been completely destroyed and it may take years to rebuild them.

Rebuilding Marawi

"The real battle – re-building Marawi – starts now," Jamalodin Mohammad, one of the many Marawi residents forced to flee the city after its siege in May, told DW.

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Mohammad is not satisfied with the government efforts toward reconstruction and rehabilitation.

"We've been hearing about consultative meetings. But will the real victims be involved in these meetings? If the post-war reconstruction work in Marawi is not done satisfactorily, it will give impetus to Islamist fighters," he added.

Marawi residents Fatima and Nurhabib say the preservation of Islamic culture in the city is extremely important for them.

"Marawi is the only place in the country where I can freely wear veil and openly practice my religion," Fatima told DW.

Read more: Muslim ID proposal sparks anger in Philippines Marawi

"We are re-building from scratch. Who is going to help us? If there is no assistance from the government, it will add to the radicalization in the area," Nurhabib said.

Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte completes one year in power

An outsider

Rodrigo Duterte's rise in Philippine politics began in the spring of 2016. He was considered an outsider in the presidential election but he gradually gained popularity due to a radical election campaign that promised to free the Philippines from drugs and corruption.

Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte completes one year in power

Landslide victory

On May 9, 2016, Duterte was elected to the presidency with almost 40 percent of the total votes and a big lead over other candidates. As mayor of Davao, he had transformed the southern city from a mafia-run place into an economically prosperous area. However, human rights activists accuse him of using death squads and brutal force to achieve this goal.

Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte completes one year in power

A short-tempered president

Duterte is known for his sort temper. After coming to power, he threatened to break ties with the EU, the US and Australia. He also publicly insulted foreign leaders like Barack Obama because the former US president labeled Duterte's drug war as inhuman. Duterte also announced that his government would scale down dependence on the US and get closer to China and Russia.

Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte completes one year in power

A victory over China

In July 2016, the Philippines won a lawsuit against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that rejected Beijing's territorial claims on the South China Sea. China refused to accept the court's ruling. Manila nevertheless celebrated it as a victory but remained cautious in its approach toward China due to its economic interests with Beijing.

Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte completes one year in power

Drug killings

Leila de Lima, a senator and former director of the Philippine Human Rights Commission, has emerged as Duterte's most powerful opponent during his one year in power. She is leading a senate probe into extra-judicial killings in Duterte's war on drugs.

Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte completes one year in power

Honoring a 'dictator'

One of Duterte's most controversial decisions during his one year in power was to allow the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos' body to be buried in Manila. Marcos had been denied this honor due to massive human rights violations during his reign. Human rights activists and church representatives held demonstrations against Marcos' "hero's burial."

Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte completes one year in power

Fighting 'Islamic State'

In May, militant groups affiliated with the self-styled "Islamic State" (IS) group took control of the southern city of Marawi. Duterte declared Martial Law in Mindanao province and his forces have been trying to recapture the city for weeks. More than 200 people have been killed in the fighting and thousands have fled the town.