The utterly senseless killings of 14 innocent people enjoying themselves at a night market could still lead to something good for the country, if President Duterte’s government musters the political will to finally wipe out this scourge on the country, the Abu Sayyaf.
It has been a national shame for us that a small group of about 200 young armed Muslims has been able to survive five administrations since 1995, and undertaking kidnappings at will of both Filipinos and foreigners, and even beheading several of them and then heartlessly releasing the video of their horrific act.
What is also really scandalous for our military is that the Abu Sayyaf doesn’t have vast territories like the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in which to move around, nor does it have armed encampments. In hindsight, it may have been a better move for then President Joseph Estrada in 1988 to hunt down and destroy the Abu Sayyaf, rather than the MILF.
The Abu Sayyaf has been, since the late 1990s, prowling the jungles of Patikul, Sulu and in the northern parts of Basilan, although the latter appears to have been largely cleared of this ruthless band of murderers. They are mostly the sons (and even grandsons) of veteran fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the 1970s.
Unlike the MNLF though, these younger insurgents have imbibed the Islamist jihadist cause, with their principal ideologue Abdurajak Abubakr Janjalani (who was killed in 1998) believed to have even met (and later given funds by) the infamous Osama Bin Laden when he fought with the Afghan mujahideens against the Soviets.
What I find inexplicable is that past administrations would undertake an intense hunt for the Abu Sayyaf, right after they undertake kidnapping operations. Once the hostages are released though, usually upon secret payment of ransom (or after they were beheaded), the military slowed down their operations, to revive these only in the next breakout of a kidnapping. Why is this?
While many MNLF fighters who have been integrated into the military have demonstrated loyalty to the Republic, and even made the ultimate sacrifice in battles with Islamic insurgents, there have been consistent reports that the Abu Sayyaf has its moles within the military, mostly distant kinsfolk or townmates.
Worse, because of the huge funds at their disposal raised through kidnapping — as much as P200 million, I was told — the Abu Sayyaf has been able to bribe police and even military officials to give them information that has allowed them to escape military operations.
One clear indication of the Abu Sayyaf’s links with the military is that their improvised explosive devices, the kind reportedly used in Friday’s bombing in Davao City, is a relatively simple device of installing a fuse to an artillery mortar shell. There hasn’t been a case of the Abu Sayyaf or the MILF overrunning a military camp rob its mortar shells, nor does any insurgent group have such artillery. The only conclusion is that these mortar shells were sold by unscrupulous military men to the Abu Sayyaf.
The Abu Sayyaf does not really have bases in Sulu and Basilan as the MILF has had in Maguindanao. Instead, they merely hide their arms and go back to their families after a kidnapping or raiding operation has ended.
While such has been the usual advantage of guerillas, it could also be their weakness. The military should require all adult males in the limited territory in which the Abu Sayyaf operates to register, and even appear personally in a military camp. Sooner or later, with good intelligence operatives, our forces could come up with a detailed, accurate list of Abu Sayyaf fighters, and hunt them down one by one the way law enforces hunt down ordinary criminals.
I do think, though, and hope that President Duterte would finally destroy this scourge. The attack on the Davao night market Friday is undoubtedly personal to him. It is his city, and it wouldn’t have happened if he were not President. The Yellow Cult and Liberal Party sympathizers have even mocked Duterte, claiming that after all he can’t keep safe his own city. The Abu Sayyaf scourge had not, till now, become this personal for all the past Presidents. It is something he would extract revenge on even if it becomes the only accomplishment of his administration.
I don’t think, as Duterte hasn’t in the case of the killings in his war against illegal drugs, that his campaign against the Abu Sayaff would be hampered by charges of human rights abuses.
And there would certainly be more serious human rights charges filed against his administration as the Abu Sayyaf families and sympathizers claim military atrocities as they pass through villages in pursuit of the jihadists.
There’s something eerie, even spine-tingling in the manner Duterte visited the Davao morgues right after the attack. He was totally silent, and even kissed on the head a victim’s corpse. It’s as if he whispered something to the corpse, perhaps a vow to never rest until he has killed every single monster in this savage group.