Bottom Line: Although the Philippine army managed to suppress an ISIS-affiliated rebellion in the country’s southern island of Mindanao last summer, ISIS fighters fleeing Syria and Iraq continue to trickle into the country and pose a growing jihadist threat throughout Southeast Asia. The U.S. and the Philippines have further bolstered their defense cooperation in light of these developments, yet the Philippines’ disparate geography, combined with the central government’s failure to provide key services to remote areas of the country, has permitted jihadists to mark the Philippines as a long-term launching pad for their operations across the region.
Background: Last May, Philippine forces encountered an unprecedented jihadist uprising as hardcore ISIS fighters managed to seize the city of Marawi located in the southern island of Mindanao for a five-month period.
- The battle for Marawi began after Philippine forces raided the house of Isnilon Hapilon, the head of a terrorist organization known as the Abu Sayyaf, which had pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in July 2014. However, the Philippine army encountered fiercer-than-expected resistance as Hapilon’s supporters, aligned with another pro-ISIS brigade called the Maute Group, managed to overrun the city and free prisoners from local jails.