In the marshlands of the southern Philippines, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or the MILF, patrol the swamps, looking to root out remaining pockets of ISIS-linked militants. The MILF have been longtime enemies of the state, but they recently forged an alliance with the government. Their partnership hinges on a deal that would give the Muslims in the Southern Philippines an autonomous homeland, ending decades of insurgency.

The Moro rebellion began in 1968, when the Muslim Independence Movement was founded. Since then, nearly a half-dozen armed groups warred against the government to establish a Muslim homeland on the island of Mindanao. Over 150,000 were killed in the decades-long insurgency that ensued.

Wahid Tundok (Center) is the commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front's 118th Base Command in Maguindanao. (Adam Desiderio/VICE News.)

The Philippine government has attempted negotiating multiple peace deals with various Muslim insurgent groups since the rebellion began, but so far none have stuck.

However, on Wednesday, both houses of the Philippine Congress relented to pressure from the MILF and President Duterte, and preliminarily passed the most promising version of a peace deal yet; its called the Bangsamoro Basic Law or BBL.

The BBL would give the Muslims in the Bangsamoro region of Mindanao an autonomous local government that would gain control the tax-base, land, water, education and legal systems. However, the deal doesn’t give them complete independence, it reserves the responsibility of the military, policing, immigration and foreign affairs among other powers to the central government of the Philippines.

Hundreds of fighters from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s 118th Base Command stand protect civilian communities from ISIS-linked militants in Maguindanao using high-powered weapons, some of which are homemade sniper rifles. (Adam Desiderio/VICE News.)

The BBL has been on the table for nearly four years, but in the past year the MILF managed to tip the scales in favor of getting the deal passed by making a historic partnership with the government, who’ve been their longtime enemies.

They helped the government establish peace corridors and negotiate hostage releases during the battle for Marawi, and are now fighting to root out ISIS-linked factions in other parts of Mindinao. But the unlikely partnership was made knowing full well that getting a peace deal passed under Duterte’s presidency was the MILF’s best shot at favorable terms with the government.

President Duterte is the Philippines’ first president from the island of Mindanao, and he campaigned on the promise to pass the BBL. In the aftermath of Marawi, Duterte even warned lawmakers in January that passing the BBL was the only way to avoid large-scale war in Mindanao and forge a lasting peace on the island.

A Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighter patrols the marshlands of Maguindanao where ISIS-linked militants began attacking civilian communities last August. (Adam Desiderio/VICE News.)

MILF commanders like Wahid Tundok, who heads the insurgents' 118th Base Command, feel the same way.

“If the BBL gets signed, then all is well and the peace will continue,” says Tundok. “But when push comes to shove, the MILF is already preparing its best weaponry.”

VICE News’ Isobel Yeung met with members of the MILF before Congress decided to pass the BBL this week. Since the fighting in Marawi ended, they’ve been on edge, waiting for Duterte to follow through with his campaign pledge to get the peace deal passed.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters reinforce forward operating bases scattered throughout marshlands in Maguindanao. (Adam Desiderio/VICE News)

This segment originally aired May 23, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.