A Discussion with Marites Vitug, Editor-at-Large for Rappler and Chair of the Journalism for National Building Foundation
With: Marites Vitug Berkley Center Profile
January 18, 2019
Background: After her January 18 lecture at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service entitled “New Year Outlook for the Philippines: From Maritime Dispute with China to Mid-Term Elections,” Marites Dañguilan Vitug spoke with Cameron Pulley, WFDD Research Consultant. In this one-on-one discussion, she explores the religious dimensions of development challenges facing the Philippines. Major conversation topics include religious institutions, press freedom, and the Bangsamoro question in Mindanao contextualized across different political administrations of the Philippines.
To start, could you tell me a bit about your background?
I've been a journalist for more than three decades. I've covered politics, insurgency, military, justice, and security issues.
And, of course, logging and natural resources.
Yes. So far, I've written eight books, but three of them are on the Supreme Court. I just had this interest in the least scrutinized branch of government in the Philippines. As in any government bureaucracy or official agencies, there are many questions to cover, also the Judicial and Bar Council, which vets candidates for the courts. A starting question for me was: "Why are there statues of Virgin Mary here, or Jesus Christ?" My question focused always on their impartiality. They're not supposed to be partisan to any faith, because this is a supreme court, and so are the lower courts. This is still a question that's unresolved in the Philippines.
When you were growing up in the Philippines, were those dynamics of the faith communities being involved in the political system always very apparent to you?
Only because I've always been a Catholic. I went to Catholic school from elementary to high school. I grew up in a small town, and only when I went to college at the University of the Philippines, I was shocked that many people were not Catholics. And, even if they were Catholics, they weren't going to mass.
I suppose you realized at the time that the country was much more diverse.
Exactly. Because in my little town we were forced to pursue a specific path. There was a rule in the family that we would go to mass every Sunday. I joined the Sodality of Our Lady (a Roman Catholic Marian Society). I wore this medal for Mother Mary, and then I was an angel. During Holy Week, they have this big meeting of Jesus and Mother Mary on Easter Sunday, in the early morning. My God, I was an angel. I was supposed to help Mother Mary lift the veil. I was involved in all this. My mother was in the Catholic Women's League, and my father was in Knights of Columbus. This was the atmosphere. It’s a bit shocking in retrospect, but I'm glad my parents decided to send me to UP (University of the Philippines). At first, I said, " There are atheists, there are agnostics." I didn't know them at first, but you didn't have to go to mass every Sunday.
So it widened your perspective a lot.
I changed after that. I'm a Catholic still, but I see our society more critically. Even as a Catholic, I question. I don't believe in institutional rituals. So, it's more personal to me.
Would you say that that curiosity in how institutions work in reality is what motivated you to pursue a career in investigative journalism?
Not yet—I didn't really look that much at institutions then. What really pushed me into it was daily reporting. I was a journalist, but doing boring stories. Business Day was my newspaper. I was doing business research, business reporting. And then 1983 happened, and Aquino was assassinated.
This was during martial law, and everything just changed in the country. I was propelled into journalism. My publisher decided to add a political section to our newspaper. Prior to that we were purely business. So for those three years I felt like I never slept. I was just covering underground insurgency and, above ground, the protests. I was covering the military who were then planning to oust Marcos, and I was covering political parties, Moro Islamic—at the time Moro National Liberation Front.
Which later changed to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Yes. So a whole range of issues. And then after that, I started to cover a wider range of topics. After Marcos left and Cory came, you could see the influence of the Catholic Church on Cory Aquino. She's very religious, she's very Catholic, and she was influenced by bishops in decision-making. So, I thought to myself, "Wow, there’s really no separation of church and state."
So our question as journalists was, "Are we a secular society?" I mean, we are a secular society in our constitution. We're supposed to be a secular society, but it's not in practice.
Right, the separation of church and state is enshrined in the constitution, but how a lot of the text of the constitution came about had a lot of religious influence and advocacy.
Early in your journalism career, it seems you were covering the most controversial underground issues in the country, with the Moro National Liberation Front…,
And the communist insurgency, the New People's Army in the communist part of the Philippines, yes.
I imagine that time was probably one of the most dangerous to be a journalist in the Philippines. How did you begin uncovering such dangerous truths in the country, and what has been your experience writing about these powerful institutions that often want keep these stories out of the public eye?
During the Marcos years, the last few years, when I covered all these stories, the rules were very clear to all publications. No criticism of the president, no criticism of the military leadership, or of the first family. But since our newspaper was targeted towards businessmen, it was credible, it was independent, and Marcos didn't really care about what we wrote because he saw us as a very elite newspaper just catering to a few businessmen. He was more concerned, and his people were more concerned, about the mass newspapers.
So we were pretty much left alone; we were independent and our publisher was also fiercely independent. We didn't write articles that outrightly criticized Marcos, but we did a lot of analysis. I went to interview rebels in the mountains. Same with MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front). So, I did all this without fear that the government would come after us, because not once did any of Marcos' men call our attention.
We learned to write in a way that was analytical and sometimes critical, but sober. I think our tone was just different from the rest because they would say, “We are an opposition newspaper” and that's the way they identified themselves, but we chose to remain independent. That’s why I think these three years, I see my newspaper as having contributed to the conversation, even to the policies of multilateral institutions and governments toward Marcos.
How did you go from the job at Business Day to then writing full books about the logging companies or about the Moro movement? I'm interested in how you transitioned.
When Cory Aquino became president, I said, "Wow, the atmosphere changed.” We had sudden access to government documents—things we never had during the Marcos years. At the time, there was a very strong environmental movement in the Philippines, but mainly focused on green issues—the forests mainly. So I said, "Now I want to go beyond politics and connect it to other present issues like environment.” I wrote a sort of political economy of the forest. I didn't know it was political economy until somebody read my book and said, "So you did a political economy of the Philippine forest."
Anyway, I wanted to go beyond politics, day to day, and I wanted to connect it to big problems in the country, so that's what led me to my first book Power from the Forest. And then I said, "Wow, now that we have access to information, I should be doing more books." I continued reporting and I would take leave to write my books.
The Mindanao issue was hot at the time. I asked my colleague Glenda [M. Gloria], who's now managing editor of Rappler, if we could do a book on MNLF and what was happening then. We did it, and now we just need to update it. It's dated, but it's still helpful. Again, we wanted to look at politics and rebellion. Why is this happening in Mindanao; we wanted it to be accessible.
When I was researching the book, I was always in Mindanao, and people would ask me, "Are you Muslim?" I grew up in a monolithic environment, in a Catholic community in Luzon. Traveling to Mindanao, oh my God, I was so shocked, how many indigenous groups there were, then Islam. I started to become very interested in Islam, how it moved to Mindanao, how it grew. Meeting the MNLF, then eventually the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), it showed me that the Philippines is not just Luzon.
Our country is Manila-centric. All national newspapers were based in Manila, policy was made in Manila. We needed to look outside metro Manila, and it helped when Ramos was president because he made us look towards Mindanao. He was the first president to go out of the country and land his plane in Cagayan de Oro, or Davao. He was the one who initiated the East ASEAN Growth Area, which tried to connect Muslim Mindanao to Brunei, to Malaysia, Indonesia.
And you wrote a book on that too, Jalan-Jalan.
Correct. So that was my fascination at the time—rebellion. Why are they different, why are they asking to be independent? Going back to history, the connection of Mindanao to its neighbors.
Since Duterte has come to power, have things changed acutely for the press? Do journalists still feel safe to do investigative reports on hot-button issues? Do you think that there is a self-censorship problem in the Philippines right now?
Under Duterte, yes, there is self-censorship, but I don't see this in Rappler, and certainly not among all reporters. But maybe some individuals have opted for self-censorship. This was told to me by former reporters of the Inquirer because when Duterte threatened them, and there was a tax evasion suit against the owners, they started to tone down their stories, and a number of them left, resigned, and I asked them why, and they said, "Because we were already self-censoring ourselves, it's very frustrating."
So, they envy Rappler for continuing to do it work without backing down. But of course, we are careful. Everything must be fact-checked. We should be very careful and we also should be aware of the timing. When Duterte was going after Rappler, when we were about to lose our certificate to operate, we still wrote stories, but we didn't want to give him more ammunition.
What's the difference between Marcos and Duterte? Under Marcos, it was black and white. State censorship: it was very clear. You were jailed if you violated this. Here it's more nuanced. They will make you suffer business wise, bankrupt you, intimidate you, file libel suit, make you nervous, and there is this social media machinery of the government. Not officially, but you know it's from them, and they threaten you. Things like that. So it's nerve-wracking, but he has never sent any journalist to jail. It’s a different kind of intimidation.
[Note: The arrest of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa on February 13, 2019, which occurred just weeks after this interview, was part of a process of indicting a journalist for libel. In the Philippines, libel is a criminal offense, unlike in other countries where it is a civil offense.]
One thing that is complex to understand for someone looking in from the outside is that his rhetoric on the press is so heated. What is rhetoric and what is really press crackdown? Where has he actually put words into action to make sure that certain stories are not published? Do you have a sense of what is talk and what is action with Duterte, or is it also sort of gray?
Actually, when he threatens a journalist or a news organization, a lot of the interpretation depends on the news organization. At Rappler, we know when he's upset and he's angry, but we have no choice but to continue doing our job. That's why even when Duterte banned reporters from Rappler, we still continued business as usual, except for the timing of some articles. But when this happened to the ABS-CBN (Alto Broadcasting System-Chronicle Broadcasting Network) and to the Inquirer, it was very clear that they toned down. And then, occasionally they would report on sensitive issues again. Whenever it involves Duterte himself and alleged corruption in his office and by people close to him, Inquirer, I am told, puts it in the inside pages of the paper. Online it's more strict. Sometimes they don't publish it—that’s what I am told.
The pressure is felt more by the bigger news organizations, because it's an existential threat. Like ABS-CBN, they may not get their franchise. The Inquirer was pressured to sell to an ally of Duterte but this deal didn't push through. Rappler is small and we can still continue to operate.
President Duterte’s rhetoric on the Catholic Church has of course been similarly intense, some have perceived it as real hatred against the Church. It's not clear whether he's anti-Catholic or anti-Catholic institution where they're involved in politics. Can you give me a sense of what the rhetoric is around the Catholic Church and where he has genuinely tried to change the political system of the Philippines?
I think he's against the Catholic Church because they've been critical. Actually, it's not the entire Catholic Church. The Catholic Church as an institution—like the Catholic Bishop's Conference—reacted quite slowly to the killings, but there were individual bishops who were outspoken. He just lumps them all together as Catholic Church, and he's been using our book, Altar of Secrets.
He hands copies of it out at events, I've seen that.
Our reporter, Aries Rufo, he passed away on September 19, 2015. He wrote
Altar of Secrets and did a good job. I was the one who led the project. We worked with groups to raise funds for it. Now, suddenly, we have to reprint because the demand is so great.
For Duterte, I don't think it's institutional attack, but the way he phrases his rhetoric is against the institution. What triggers it is his individual experience with individual bishops; he has already named some of them.
Is it personal or political strategy?
He's very impulsive, petulant, so he just blurts out what's in him. But it's not like it's very strategic about destroying this institution, but the impact is damaging. Of course, nobody can destroy the Catholic Church. I mean, nobody can destroy it—it's too strong. He just wants to chip at their credibility.
And he's very much been on the record in trying to chip away at that credibility. Your statement that nobody can destroy the Catholic Church in the Philippines is interesting. It's so powerful and it has been a part of Filipino society for so long, through different colonial administrations and now into different political administrations. Do you sense that there are any larger changing perceptions of the Catholic Church among Filipinos? Or has it more or less stayed steady?
It has stayed strong. Maybe what's happening is piecemeal. I don't know if there's been a survey of, say, church attendance. It's the personal decision of some Catholics, or mainly Catholics, to not follow the institutional morals of the Catholic Church. That is, remain Catholic but question some of their strictures or pronouncements, like the Catholics for Reproductive Rights.
So, questioning has been increasing?
Yes, it would seem so.
And those movements that are questioning the classic Catholic Church position on political issues have been rising in popularity?
Yes. During the start of the killings under Duterte, there was impatience about the Catholic Church. Why were they not speaking out? There was an impatience among middle class, opposition, and activists. In conversations they would say, "Why is the Catholic Church not speaking up enough?" And these people I talked to are looking for a leader. They want a “Cardinal Sin” (Cardinal Jaime Lachica Sin) type.
They want a leader who frames the extrajudicial killings as a moral issue.
Yes, and somebody who goes up there and is very outspoken. So they're very frustrated with Cardinal Tagle, who's always traveling and apparently spends more time overseas than in the Philippines. That's the complaint I hear, and I was thinking to myself, isn't this a good development? Because it will force action in civilian society. It will force other groups to act, not just the Church. It makes us less dependent on the Church. I would say, isn't this better for us, so that Filipinos are not just always looking at the Church saying, please lead us out of this. It's civil society, it's the business community, and it's other sectors of society.
So, you're somewhat optimistic that new groups will fill in the new power gaps that are forming in the opposition advocacy landscape?
Yes, in a gradual way. The opposition is so fragmented, but I see that civil society remains strong. It will take some time. Civil society needs to work with people in government who are reform minded. This was the policy of advocacy of one retired general, Almonte. He said that the middle layers in the government, the leaders and their successors, should be tapped by civil society and reform government, not rely on Catholic Church.
In terms of these reform movements, you have suggested that it's not clear if there are political parties that represent a movement. It may be more personalities that are leading reform movements. Going into the mid-term elections, do you see there being a real option for reform, or will we wait until 2022 presidential election?
The reform that can happen, or that's been happening through legislation. It has been piecemeal. For example, Duterte signed a freedom of information executive order mandating the executive branch to give information upon request, if it doesn't impinge on national security. To a certain extent, this has worked, but he's secretive about his health. Our reporters have used the mandate, and they've gotten information. But what is the real state of his health? How much does the government spend for all his travels? Every weekend, he goes to Davao, sometimes on commercial flights, but mainly on private planes. Who owns the planes? Are these rented? Or lent? The mandate is a window, but the freedom of information is for the executive branch alone.
Let’s talk about the Bangsamoro question, which is of course very current right now. Duterte is the first president to self-identify as Moro. The identity itself is quite complex, and it may be more accurate to say he is of mixed descent—half-Maranao and half-Cebuano. He did genuinely build upon the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro and pushed the Bangsamoro Organic Law to the point that it is now. Do you think that the Duterte administration represents a new chapter in the Moro conflict, or is it still too early to say?
I think he’s just continuing what has happened in the past administration (Benigno Aquino III), except that he, should I say, is more decisive than Aquino. And since he is from Mindanao, then that's what he wants to portray.
I suppose he is very keen on taking credit.
Yes, but this happened during Aquino's time. The 2014 agreement was the groundwork. Of course, during the time of Arroyo, it was declared unconstitutional, but the Aquino government worked on it and the Aquino government had a breakthrough with MILF. Remember when Noynoy (Aquino III) met with Murad in Tokyo, Japan? A lot of moves were taken there, but of course it didn't conclude well. What I'm saying is the groundwork had been laid, but Duterte did not begin from scratch. Still, under his watch, he really did push for it.
Do you think that some of these big watershed moments in the Moro peace process would have happened even if Duterte wasn't president?
No, I think he gave it a big push. It’s also because he wants to be known, because he's from Mindanao, and he wants that to be his legacy. In contrast with the Communist Party, he also said he wanted the insurgency to end, but he's no longer pursuing it.
That's an interesting point. So what are your perceptions about how this January 21 plebiscite will go? Are you optimistic about it? People have been very divided on their opinions.
Yes, it's so hard, and I was just talking to Professor Yukhi Tajima of Georgetown University who has been studying this extensively. I said, "It's so hard to see how it will go, but maybe what has changed is Duterte’s strong man rule.” He's able to talk to his political allies in local governments and they want to or have to follow him. He must have talked to them to campaign in favor of the plan. But I'm not sure. Even if the local government officials do that, the Christian population may be against the plan. There’s very rooted antipathy or bias, or prejudice. I don't know politically if he will be able to push this. That's why I'm not too sure.
We’ll have to see what happens after January 21.
Yes, Also, what will happen after that. Historically, during the Ramos period (President Fidel Ramos), it was very difficult to get a consensus from the Christian population on this. Anyway, I have to read up more on the agreement and what it will mean after the plebiscite on January 21.
You mentioned that Christian groups have been particularly vocal on these issues. Particularly right now, because we're so close to the plebiscite, a lot of what I've been reading is about fear of “becoming.” Meaning, groups that were once in the majority in the Philippines at the national level will now become part of a minority in a semi-autonomous state that has real power to create law. Do you have a sense of which groups and how many people are at risk—or whether the incoming government in the semi-autonomous region will be sympathetic to the minority rights given they have been a minority for a long time?
This time non-Muslim indigenous groups were consulted. Previously, during Aquino (III), they were questioning why their voice wasn't heard, so I think they learned from that experience. The Office of the Peace Adviser included consultations with non-Muslim indigenous peoples, because it was their allegation that the Muslims disregarded them while they were the real occupants. They were there first in Mindanao. I haven't watched what has happened, but there are dynamics between the non-Muslim and indigenous peoples, and the MILF.
This has been quite difficult to comprehend fully. When one reads these articles and then reads who is writing the articles, oftentimes, it appears to be a Christian organization that is speaking on behalf of an indigenous group, at which point it's difficult to understand whether it...
Reflects their genuine interest? There are non-Christian groups who have been working with indigenous peoples. International Alert , have you read their work? They're not partisan. International Alert recently published a book on the underground economy of Mindanao, and they're now studying indigenous peoples and the conflict. They're very good resource, I think. They don't belong to any base group (identity group). They're a U.K. group, but they have a Philippine office.
Your general sense though is that there is a way to find what those in the indigenous movement are really saying about the issue.
Yes, there is a way, and the journalists in Mindanao would know. There are credible sources—Mindanews is credible, independent, and so I rely on them.
International Alert is also very credible. Because we don't know those little known groups, organizations just speak up. The communists also have front organizations, which speak up for indigenous peoples.
What is often difficult is it's not immediately clear from the articles who is writing it.
If it's Mindanews, if it's International Alert, and well of course, Rappler, we have fact-checkers and our editors are very careful. You could always ask!
Your recent book is about the dispute in the South China, or West Philippine, Sea. It’s an extremely complicated issue. Have faith communities, the Catholic Church, or other faith institutions taken any stand in advocacy on the dispute issue? Do you have any sense about this? Is it mostly outside of the faith conversation?
The faith-based groups are really more involved on advocating human rights and accountability.
So, this is geopolitics whereas faith communities are more involved in domestic issues?
Yes; the case of extrajudicial killings. The groups that are outspoken on or really studying the maritime disputes are interesting. Retired naval officers and retired military officers, because the active officers don't want to go on the record. Still, many of them don't agree with. As for faith-based groups, I don't think so.
Even those who are directly involved but not affiliated with a faith organization, they're not framing this South China Sea or West Philippine Sea dispute as a moral issue?
No. It's just geopolitical. It's China bullying the Philippines.
Other than the extrajudicial killings, are there other issues that are very current that you think faith communities are framing as moral issues?
Apart from the killings, there are Duterte’s misogynist remarks. Both faith-based groups and women's groups have spoken out. For example, the Australian missionary (Jacqueline Hamill) who was raped and the deportation of Sister Patricia Fox. Also, the killing of three Catholic priests, so far. On those cases, we don't know exactly what happened yet. There have not been any convictions yet. None of the three priest cases has been solved.
Women's groups and the Catholic Church are quite aligned on issues like the extrajudicial killings, but then they can be seemingly at each other's throats on issues such as family planning and access to contraception. Does this just have to do with the fact that there are pockets of politics in the Philippines and that different alliances form within those different pockets? Or is there something different going on?
I think when it comes to contraceptives and family planning, you reach a dead end if you want allies from the Catholic Church. You can talk to individual priests or nuns who will be on your side, but it’s a dead end if any group wants to have the institution on their side—so it's tactical. It’s like, “Let's work together on EJKs (extrajudicial killings) or misogynist remarks,” but when it comes to family planning, it's very difficult.
An even further complicating factor is Duterte's 2017 executive order mandating that all women have access to family planning education and contraceptives by the end of the year. Many faith institutions were completely up in arms about it. But of course, the reproductive health law had already been passed.
So, it seemed to me more of a mandate to make sure that the law was actually carried out. Would you say that this characterizes the situation, or were there other political dynamics between Duterte and the Catholic Church in the lead-up to the executive order?
Because Duterte has always been for reproductive health rights and access. In fact, during one State of the Nation address, he questioned the Supreme Court justice in attendance. There was a TRO (Temporary Restraining Order) filed with the Supreme Court not to implement first RH Law (Reproductive Health Law), and he said in that speech, "Madame,”—referring to the chief justice then—“I want clarification on the temporary restraining order and what it covered.” So, the Supreme Court had to issue a clarification. Duterte is not used to working with institutions. When he was mayor, he was just by himself.
When he became president, he wasn't used to working with the Supreme Court and the Legislature, but, of course, the current legislature is very loyal to him. It’s subordinate—a rubber stamp. Working with the Supreme Court was different, so he was impatient. He wanted implementation right away.
Aside from family planning, do you perceive there to be other issues where the Catholic Church has disproportionate advocacy power in the Philippines? The things that come to mind for me are marriage law and the LGBT community.
Gay marriage, divorce. There's a pending divorce bill. Again, despite all the evidence that shows that the number of annulled marriages and legal separations is increasing—despite that, the Church holds firm. It's interesting that the Church holds such a firm stance. There is no block “Catholic vote” in the Philippines, unlike Iglesia Ni Cristo. Despite that, politicians are intimidated or scared that individual Catholic priests will use the pulpit to campaign against them if they support divorce or family planning. That still makes the Catholic Church influential in that sense, but there is no Catholic people’s vote. Why the candidates would be so scared is hard to reconcile. It’s because it affects the votes in their constituency. It's local.
You don't perceive that, after the mid-term elections this year, there will be any sort of drastic shifting with what sort of bill may come to pass on divorce?
I don't think so. Duterte is not pushing. He even did not go for it (the 2018 proposed legislation on divorce).
It was complicated, because as I understand, he said that he was for divorce, but when he asked his daughter (Sara Duterte-Carpio), Sara said that she didn't support it specifically because of her Catholic faith. So to me, it was unclear whether he was deferring so that he didn't have to take the fall politically, or whether that was genuinely what happened.
It's hard to say, because what I learned recently is that he really listens to Sara. He has a lot of respect for his daughter. Maybe it was an excuse also for him to or truly a way of showing how he respected his daughter's opinion. But with him, sometimes it's so hard because he might change his mind. Maybe it's not a priority thing for him. Of course, he's sort of a “one note samba.” Okay, a “two note samba.” The first is his focus on drugs and the second is law enforcement, criminality
I guess being so focused on singular issues was beneficial for him politically.
He only talks about one issue. He doesn't really talk about economy, education, public health, or universal health care. You know, these things that matter. He only talks about the killings, law and order, criminality, and occasionally, of course, China. But if you track his speeches, there is no deliberate messaging on other issues, you know.
And we know that he won’t be up for reelection in 2022.
No, he cannot.
Right, he cannot have another term. Do you think that, and we're speculating a bit now, but do you think that his one-issue style has had a lasting effect on the way Filipino politics is conducted?
For the mid-terms, it's usually in favor of the administration, historically. So 2022 is more crucial because, so far, there appears to be no alternative leader. We have the vice president. She doesn't exhibit a strong desire or lust for the presidency. That's what people are seeing.
So what personalities will come to popularity is still yet to be seen.
Of course. That's why after these elections, we may see some. Let's see who among the senators may be interested in running. Maybe Grace Poe? Remember, she ran in 2016, but lost. So she may again.
Is Grace Poe related to Fernando Poe, Jr.?
Yes, adopted daughter. There will be movements post mid-term elections. We will see how Sara Duterte acts. She's not running for the senate, but she's a power broker. She's very visible and she has high popularity. So, she may emerge. And then the scary thing, Imee Marcos (daughter of Ferdinand E. and Imelda R. Marcos) is in the top ten or twelve, and I think she'll win her senate race. She may make a bid for the presidency.
Other than blocking voting in Iglesia Ni Cristo, faith communities don't seem to have positions on issues. It seems to be the institutions or their leadership that are making statements on social development or politics. Do you share this sense? For example, the Catholic Bishops Conference makes very large statements on politics and poverty, but it may not necessarily represent the Catholic community at large.
Yes. That's true. They’re just the men talking—the bishops. Of course, it’s universal values against poverty, for health, and all that, but it doesn't really reflect many in the communities’ views on family planning, women’s reproductive rights.
 During the twentieth round of Philippines-MILF Peace Negotiations; MILF announced it was no longer seeking secession.
 The Al-Barka, Basilan MILF ambush attack occurred two months after the Tokyo peace talks, killing 19 and wounding 12 Philippine Army soldiers. This moment was crucial in stalling the wider peace process due to a perceived lack of sincerity on both sides.
 An Australian nun deported in 2018 for criticizing Duterte on the extrajudicial killings