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Autonomy for a Muslim Region in the Philippines Could End Decades of Violence

Self-rule is also a win for President Duterte, who hails from the region.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (center) with the caskets of victims killed in a bombing in Sulu province.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (center) with the caskets of victims killed in a bombing in Sulu province.

Source: Malacanang Palace/AP Photo

For decades, poverty in the resource-rich island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines has been exacerbated by an insurgency. The rebels want a majority-Muslim section of the island to break away from the rest of the country, which is overwhelmingly Catholic. With a recent vote for greater self-rule, the area now has a realistic chance for change.

In a Jan. 21 referendum, the Muslim region overwhelmingly favored the creation of a political unit, Bangsamoro, that would have its own parliament, greater federal funding, and full control of the area’s natural resources, which had previously been shared with the national government. The new unit will govern a greater territory than the system it’s replacing, thanks to the addition of Cotabato, one of the more prosperous cities on the island, which opted to be included. Other, smaller areas will vote on Feb. 6 on whether they want to join.