Rodrigo Duterte, set to become the Philippines’ next president, is the first leader of the country to come from the conflict-wracked southern region of Mindanao. His deep understanding of the conflict, close relationships with Muslims and out-of-the box character put him in a good position to fight insurgency and terrorism.
Duterte does not claim to know everything about some of the problems besetting the South-East Asian country.
But analysts note that the 71-year-old has a deep understanding of the decades-old conflict that has wracked the southern region of Mindanao, putting him in a strong position to deal with it.
During his election campaign, he vowed to take care of the Muslims who were forced out of their ancestral lands in Mindanao by Christian settlers from other parts of the Philippines.
“We cannot fight forever,” he declared. “We have to correct the historical injustice committed against our Moro brothers and sisters.”
The decades-old conflict in Mindanao has killed tens of thousands of people, and fighting with Muslim rebels and communist insurgents has displaced millions.
While the Philippines has signed a peace deal with the largest Muslim separatist rebel group in Mindanao, radical groups still operate in the area and are forging links with Islamic State (IS).
Militants recently beheaded a Canadian hostage and have threatened to execute their remaining Canadian and Norwegian captives on the southern island of Jolo.
Duterte has decades of “networks of relationships” with the various rebel groups in Mindanao and has the trust of people in the region of more than 21mn, note political analysts.
The conflict in Mindanao is an emotional issue and Duterte seemed to have struck a chord among a lot of people when he talked about the injustices in the region, during his campaign.
Duterte has promised to pass a key legislation that would implement a peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which would create a new Muslim autonomous entity in Mindanao.
Under the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law that failed to pass in Congress in the outgoing administration, the new autonomous entity would have its own powers over such areas as agriculture, trade, tourism and education.
Dubbed as the “land of promise”, Mindanao is rich in agricultural resources and is the food basket of the Philippines. But the region is underdeveloped, and has 11 of country’s 20 most impoverished provinces from just 37 of the total 81 provinces.
The poverty and lack of opportunities have made Mindanao a fertile ground for recruitment by militants.
Duterte, who has been mayor of the southern city of Davao for more than 20 years, has seen up close the suffering of the poor in Mindanao who have had to wait for resources from the central government in Manila.
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