Jolo Church Bombing Highlights ongoing ISIS Presence in the Southern Philippines

Two bombs ripped through a cathedral in the Philippines over the weekend, killing over 20 people. The attack took place on the island of Jolo, southwest of the Muslim-majority island of Mindanao.

Voters had just approved a plan for greater autonomy two days previous, paving the way for a new autonomous region of around 2.8 million, encompassing most of the southern Philippines. The referendum was the culmination of a long and arduous peace process between the government and various militant groups, mainly the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The Sunday church bombing was meant to send a message: not everyone is on-board with the peace process. Specifically, the ISIS-linked Abu Sayyaf group which is believed to be behind the bombing, but also splinter groups like the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which are continuing their violent campaign against the government despite the agreement. Greater autonomy in local governance and education is not enough for these groups to lay down their arms; they view their religious struggle in Manichean terms, evident in ISIS branding the Jojo church a ‘crusader temple’ in its claim of responsibility.