“WHAT they do to the Filipino, I will do it to them. No such thing as hard and fast rules for me. You do what you want and in return, I’ll return the favor, exactly the same with the one that you gave me. And that is my assurance to the nation.”
So said President Rodrigo Duterte about terrorists and communist insurgents, speaking before elite Scout Rangers in Bulacan last Friday. The Armed Forces are bracing for attacks by the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the rebel Communist Party of the Philippines, in the weeks toward the CPP-NPA anniversary on December 26.
Along with the AFP, the Philippine National Police is poised to draw communist blood as hostilities intensify.
“If they are tagged as a terror group, their actions are now applicable under the Human Security Act,” said PNP spokesman Senior Supt. Dionardo Carlos. The government is considering declaring the CPP-NPA a terrorist group, as the United States and the European Union had done many years ago.
Even if the rebels don’t get the terrorist tag, security forces certainly won’t hold fire if faced with deadly threats to them or the public.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque reiterated on Sunday the policy on use of force, translated from Filipino: “Violent force is not forbidden [if]there is necessity and there is proportionality. The President and I are together on that.”
Secretary Roque was talking about the anti-drug war, but what holds for armed pushers and syndicates trafficking narcotics, would apply even more so to terrorists and rebels threatening attacks on security forces, public and private facilities, and the citizenry.
Expecting just that, the Commission on Human Rights said it would monitor the crackdown on the communists.
Daesh threat continues
Likely to be caught in the crossfire are ordinary Filipinos and many enterprises; they will especially be targeted by Islamic State- or Daesh-driven terrorist groups.
The military named 10 extremists who may have escaped Marawi and could take over local Daesh cohorts: Malaysian Amin Baco, alias Abu Akmad, who might be dead; Owayda Benito Marohomsar, alias Abu Dar, last seen in Balindong and Piagapo, Lanao del Sur; Ali Amintao, alias White Lawaan, said to fund Maute; Zacaria Romato, uncle of the Maute brothers who led the Marawi attack; and Najib Calimba Pundog, a close ally of Omar Maute.
Sadly, even a couple of such IS hoods could do serious damage. After all, just three Abu Sayyaf bandits arrested in Metro Manila this month were planning attacks against the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit, despite the ironclad security for more than 20 leaders of Asean, the United States, China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United Nations and the European Union; plus countless ministerial and diplomatic bigwigs.
With reprisals after Marawi predicted by security experts, the AFP may ask for martial law in Mindanao to be extended beyond its December 31 expiration. The Palace expects the military’s recommendation in three weeks, which may then require another special session of Congress to vote on the proposed extension.
Probably more crucial to peace and security in Mindanao, President Duterte is pushing to get the Bangsamoro Basic Law passed, with March as the latest target date. Needed to blunt the appeal of extremists recruiting Muslim youth, the BBL would implement the 2014 peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest rebel group with more than 10,000 fighters.
Yesterday, thousands of Muslims welcomed President Duterte at the Bangsamoro General Assembly in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. MILF vice-chairman for political affairs Ghazali Jaafar said the gathering aimed to update Muslims on the BBL. The MILF has maintained support for peace efforts, and even mounted offensives against its splinter group, the extremist Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, with AFP artillery support.
People at the November 27 gathering expressed hopes for Duterte to end conflict in Mindanao by implementing the Bangsamoro agreement. But Congress is wary of passing a law with provisions that would be declared unconstitutional. And President Duterte himself has balked at certain key provisions, including the creation of a Bangsamoro police force separate from the PNP.
Bottom line: If the final BBL fails to satisfy most MILF cadres, then many of them may join or help Daesh-linked terrorists, compounding Daesh-driven threats.
Businesses and bystanders beware
Besides ordinary folk, businesses may also be squeezed by government and enemy forces. President Duterte has warned companies, especially mining firms, to stop paying NPA fighters extorting protection money.
If enterprises stop the rebel cash flow, expect more insurgent attacks on mining firms, cell sites, construction projects, and maybe even commercial establishments. This would hamper not just everyday business operations, but also the government’s massive infrastructure program, especially in rebel- or terrorist-infested areas.
Another likely source of conflict, if not bloodshed is President Duterte’s order to crack down on so-called “legal front” organizations linked to the National Democratic Front, part of the CPP-NPA-NDF communist triumvirate. Among these leftist groups are party-list entities with sitting representatives in Congress.
Presidential spokesman Roque said yesterday that leaders and members of NDF-linked groups could face charges of conspiracy to commit illegal acts. Among such offenses may be sedition, rebellion, and inciting to such crimes.
If police and soldiers go after NDF-linked organizations, many members could go into hiding, probably among the NPA, and could suffer casualties when the AFP mounts offensives against the reds.
Add to those hunted by military and police are communists facing criminal charges, but released from government custody to act as so-called “consultants” of the NDF in its peace talks with the government. With the talks over, the AFP said, these accused insurgents should go back to jail. Hardly any will.
In this intensifying conflict, pitting the government, the military and the police against communists, terrorists, crime syndicates, and their cohorts in government and key sectors, the nation must unite behind the Commander in Chief and our security forces. Without this united front against Daesh, Reds, and drugs, more blood will flow, and we may well lose.