December 01, 2016 at 12:01 am
From the never-ending fighting going on in Mindanao, peace and tranquility are becoming elusive in the island. As if the Abu Sayyaf and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters were not enough, we now have a new Muslim militant armed organization in Mindanao called the Maute group. Our military is battling it now in the town of Butig, Lanao del Sur. Not much is known about this group except that it is an ISIS-inspired armed group that raised the ISIS flag when they took over the municipal hall of the town. Whether this group knows the ideology and what ISIS stand for or simply raised the ISIS flag to attract attention, we do not know.
Still, judging from the casualties that it already suffered, it must be a large group. Forty deaths is a lot and the town has not yet been recaptured by the Armed Forces. To add to the seriousness of the situation, one vehicle of the advance party of the President was destroyed by an improvised explosive device, wounding several personnel, one seriously.
The Maute group may also have something to do with the IED found along Roxas Boulevard near the United States Embassy. The device that was detonated was similar to the one that killed many in Davao City.
There are several questions that need to be asked here. How come our intelligence services did not know about this group? Instead of Mindanao becoming more peaceful, it seems to have become more violent.
The Abu Sayyaf, instead of slowing down, has increased its kidnap-for-ransom activities, making a mockery of government efforts to achieve peace in the island. Instead of the armed groups decreasing, there are now five. There is the Moro National Liberation Front, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the BIFF, the Abu Sayyaf and now the Maute group.
Another question that needs asking is this: Why is it so difficult for our government to establish full control over the whole of Mindanao? The bulk of the combat elements of our Armed Forces are deployed there together with those of the Philippine National Police. Yet, the violence continues. It has been that way since previous administrations.
If this is the case, signing a peace deal with the MILF and the MNLF will not bring peace to the island. There will always be another armed militant group that can easily sprout anytime.
The President has always said that he prefers talking than fighting. He even said that he would be willing to talk peace with the abominable and notorious Abu Sayyaf, a group that continuous to kidnap and kill its victims. The latest was the abduction of a German couple with the wife ending up being killed. The Abu Sayyaf now wants P500 million for the release of the husband.
Should we really be talking at all with this kind of a group or should we resolve to do everything possible to destroy them? The President, it would seem, is more flexible on the matter of achieving peace in Mindanao. He is willing to go the extra mile for peace but is hard-line when it comes to the war on drugs. He is not willing to accept any middle ground when it comes to drug addicts but is willing to meet these militant groups more than halfway in order to achieve peace.
What an interesting and contrasting approach. It shows that the personality of President Duterte is complicated and difficult to analyze. He is willing to talk peace with the Abu Sayyaf, which is clearly nothing but a vicious criminal group. Yet he is unwilling to give any quarter to drugs addicts whom many believe are sick and more in need of rehabilitation and treatment than being killed.
Right now, there seems to be no coherent government policy in dealing with these new emerging militant groups. Should they be treated the same as the MILF or as criminal groups?
There is a huge challenge to this administration to be able to achieve peace in war-torn Mindanao. The Speaker of the House, the Senate President and the President all come from there. It is also one of the reasons that President Duterte was elected by the people. It is the belief that if there is anyone who can bring peace to Mindanao, it is he because he understands the problem. It is certainly one of the reasons why former President Fidel Ramos threw his support behind him during the presidential campaign.
Still, there must be a distinction made between legitimate groups fighting for social issues and terrorist and criminal groups. The distinction can sometimes be blurred. The Maute group and the Abu Sayyaf are clearly both terrorist groups. Talking to these two will simply be interpreted as a sign of weakness on the part of government. Problem is, our security services have been going after the Abu Sayyaf for so long that many believe that the Abus cannot simply be stopped. In a sense, the strategy and tactics of the AFP when it comes to the Abus are not working. Maybe the military should go back to the drawing board to examine strategy and tactics.
Perhaps new methods should come into play like better intelligence gathering using sophisticated electronic equipment or buying and deploying smart weapons system to target ranking leaders. Also, more funds for a sustained effort are needed. The AFP cannot seem to maintain a sustained military effort. Whatever it is, what the government is doing right now, is not working and there is a need for a new strategy.