Philippines snapshot: Battle of Marawi anniversary

As the first anniversary of the start of the Battle of Marawi approached, the Philippines military announced that it had uncovered sleeper cells linked to Islamist extremists. What are the risks to foreign corporations?


Officials examine a scene of heavy fighting after the Battle of Marawi


Philippines army commander Lieutenant-General Rolando Joselito Bautista said on Tuesday (22 May) that the military had detected sleeper cells linked to Islamist extremists throughout the country. Wednesday (23 May) was the first anniversary of the start of the Battle of Marawi, a city on southern island Mindanao, where local Islamist, separatist and criminal groups fought the armed forces in a five-month campaign. While a terrorist attack on the scale of Marawi seems unlikely, Islamists and their allies could launch surprise attacks around the anniversary on high-profile targets, putting the capital Manila at risk. Earlier in May, a Singaporean anti-piracy agency warned that Abu Sayyaf group, which combines criminality with Islamist insurgency, may seek to intercept vessels off Mindanao, increasing the kidnap and ransom (K&R) risk.


Business travellers should exercise additional situational awareness, particularly in areas close to security forces installations and in high-profile areas that could be vulnerable to attack. Personnel travelling by road should seek to avoid close proximity to police or military vehicles, as these could be targeted by terrorists. Organisations should have contingency plans in place to respond to any incident in which their personnel may be involved. Shipping companies should ensure that crews are trained to minimise the piracy risk to themselves and their vessels, while personnel in resorts should be trained to minimise the K&R risk.


Bautista said the army had discovered sleeper cells in Mindanao a stronghold of Islamist groups as well on the northern island of Luzon, notably Baguio City, and the Visayas islands, including the cities of Cebu and Samar. The Battle of Marawi began on 23 May 2017, when Islamist groups, including affiliates of the Islamic State, occupied buildings in the city. After months of fighting, in which more than 1,000 people were killed and 1.1 million displaced, the Philippine government announced on 23 October that the battle had ended.