DRUG money and not support from the Islamic State is fueling the ongoing terrorist activities by extremist groups in Mindanao, President Rodrigo Duterte said Wednesday as he insisted that the situation in the region is already at its critical level after he declared martial law.
“We allowed drugs to flourish. So there was a time and until now that the terrorism activities in the Philippines are funded and fueled by drug money. We know there’s not much support coming from ISIS in the Middle East,” the President said.
Duterte said that they were able to intercept transactions between foreign terrorists and their local counterparts, including that of Police Supt. Maria Cristina Nobleza, who is said to be romantically linked to a member of the Abu Sayyaf.
Duterte said Nobleza, who was arrested in Bohol while attempting to rescue a member of the Abu Sayyaf who was on the run at the time, had been a recipient of “a huge amount” of drug money.
Duterte made these allegations as lawmakers said a company that was processing health certifications of Kuwait-bound Filipino workers was also funding the Maute terrorist group.
Hussein Al-Dhafiri, a suspected Islamic State member who was arrested in Taguig in March and deported back to Kuwait in April, owns the Winston Q8 clinic reportedly supporting the ISIS threats in the country.
“Before the [Kuwait] embassy considers an applicant, the physical test should be certified by a certain clinic. The clinic is Winston Q8. Apparently, one of the owners of this company is involved with ISIS,” House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez said in a press conference.
“They collect P5,483 as [fee for the] clearing of medical certifications, plus P4,000 courier fee. P240 million a month, operating for a period of eight months. More or less they have P1 billion in cash,” ACTS-OFW Party-List Aniceto Bertiz said.
Military intelligence said Al-Dhafiri’s wife Rahaf Zina is the widow of Abu Jandal Al-Kuwaiti, the second highest ISIS leader in Syria who was earlier killed in combat. She then remarried within the terror group.
Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa had earlier said the Maute group, which besieged Marawi City in Lanao del Sur since last week, was known to have “protected” drug lords as early as last year.
“Even before July 1, when I assumed my post and announced that drug lords should surrender, we received information that a majority of drug lords here in Metro Manila, Luzon and Visayas went to Marawi to hold a ‘drug summit.’ And they were protected by the Maute group and narco-politicians,” Dela Rosa said earlier this week.
Dela Rosa alleged “mutual” protection and support between the Maute group and narcopoliticians.
“They are all subject to our operations in this martial law period,” Dela Rosa said.
Defending his declaration of martial law, Duterte said that security forces informed him that Mindanao was already at a critical level.
“While they did not say, ‘You go ahead, President Duterte.’ They give me sufficient information and I asked them, ‘Are we already in the critical level?’” the President said.
“We are at a delicate stage in Mindanao,” he continued in Filipino, citing what ISIS had done in the Middle East.
In the same speech, Duterte warned that he would suspend the writ of habeas corpus “as a precautionary measure” in Visayas if extremist threats starts to spread in the region.
“That is just a precautionary measure. I don’t think it will happen. I hope it will not happen. But if it does, we must be ready. There is no middle ground here. We are not talking about an ordinary police operation,” he added.
Duterte also gave saluted state forces who died in fighting a “terrible ideology.”
“It does not know anything except to waste human lives. So I give my salute, my respect to the men and women of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the National Police, my salute and my deepest respect. And I grieve with the families of those who have lost their lives,” he said.
The minority bloc in the House of Representatives, meanwhile, asked the Anti-Money Laundering Council to use its expertise to find out how terrorist groups like Maute were being funded.
Suarez and Bertiz urged AMLC to investigate the bank transactions of dubious companies to ensure that local terrorist groups would not be at the receiving end of their funds following the Marawi siege.
Also on Wednesday, the Justice department said it will form a panel of prosecutors to handle the cases that will be filed against members of the Maute terrorist group.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said Undersecretary Renante Orceo has been sent to Iligan City to oversee the creation of the panel.
Last week, Aguirre met with prosecutors in Mindanao following the attack in Marawi by the Maute terror group.
Aguirre admitted that he is worried about the safety of the prosecutors as well as judges, especially when cases against members of the Maute group are filed.
The Justice secretary also said he has asked the Supreme Court to create special courts to handle cases against members of Maute group.
In a letter dated May 29, Aguirre asked Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. Sereno to take the necessary and appropriate actions to protect the members of the judiciary who will eventually hear the cases to be filed against the members of the Maute group who will be captured or who will surrender.
Aguirre said such move is necessary for “justice may run its course without fear of violence.”
“In order to protect our judges and the judicial system from possible threats and acts of violence, the Department of Justice most respectfully requests that special courts in Visayas or in Luzon be designated to hear criminal cases to be filed in relation to this rebellion and other crimes which may be filed against members of the Maute terror group and other armed groups tagged as terrorists,” Aguirre said, in a separate statement. With Maricel V. Cruz
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