“All-out war” vs terrorists “in full swing;” Defense Sec asks public to cooperate

President Rodrigo Duterte declares a "full time military operation" against terrorist groups during a press conference in Malacañang midnight January 29-30, 2017. Malacañang photo

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 31 Jan) – Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Tuesday urged the public to cooperate with the Armed Forces of the Philippines “to avoid any untoward incident or injury” as he declared the “all-out operations” against terrorists in Mindanao “is in full swing.”

“I would like to inform my fellow Mindanaoans and Filipinos that operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines against the Abu Sayyaf and other local terrorist groups are now in full swing. Your AFP will use its ground, air and sea assets against our enemies and leave them no room for escape,” Lorenzana said in a statement e-mailed to media Tuesday afternoon.

At the midnight press conference in Malacañang on January 29-30, where President Rodrigo Duterte ordered a “full press operations” against terrorists, Lorenzana said, “you can say it is an all out war” against the Maute group in Lanao del Sur, noting that Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and 40 of his people from Basilan are now with the Maute Group in Lanao del Sur “with the intention of organizing the ISIS-connected group.”

Lorenzana, a retired general who hails from Mindanao, said the military will ensure the public’s “safety and those of the poor hostages who are being heartlessly used as human shields.”

He asked the public to cooperate with the AFP “to avoid any untoward incident or injury.”

Huwag ninyong tutulungan ang mga terorista. Kung tatakbo sila sa mga bahay n’yo, huwag ninyo silang patutuluyin, kakanlungin at itatago. Kung mga kamag-anak o kaibigan ninyo sila at gusto n’yo silang sagipin, kumbinsihin n’yo silang magbalik-loob sa pamahalaan habang may panahon pa,” (Do not help terrorists. If they run to your houses, do not let them in, provide refuge or hide them. If they are your relatives or friends and you want to save them, convince them to surrender to government while there is still time), Lorenzana warned.

He explained the war against terrorism and violent extremism is not just the responsibility of the AFP but is “a war every Filipino citizen must fight in order to attain lasting peace and usher in development to Mindanao and the entire nation.”

Lorenzana also announced during the midnight press conference that “for the first time,” the AFP used its FA 50 combat aircraft on January 25 “to deliver our bombs and it was also supported by the Broncos and helicopters plus in the morning ‘yung mga artillery naman natin ang ginamit to support our troops.”

Not the first time

But this was not the first time the Duterte administration launched operations against the Abu Sayyaf in the island provinces of Sulu and Basilan and the Maute Group in Lanao del Sur.

In both operations – the Abu Sayyaf in August-September and the Maute Group in November- December – the military reported success and in the case of Butig, Lanao del Sur, the area already supposedly “liberated” by December 2016.

Duterte, the country’s 16th President and first Mindanawon to lead the nation, is the fifth Philippine President to attempt to destroy the Abu Sayyaf Group and the second to attempt to destroy the Maute Group. Both groups are based in Mindanao – the Abu Sayyaf in the island provinces of Sulu and Basilan and the Maute Group in the mainland.

Former Presidents Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Benigno Simeon Aquino III had launched their own “all-out war” and “all-out operations” against the Abu Sayyaf but the group has remained, its kidnapping and other terror acts even worse than before.

Duterte announced in a midnight press conference in Davao City in late August 2016 that he had ordered the military and police to “seek out the Abu Sayyaf and destroy them.”

“Seek them out in their lairs and destroy them… Ang mga Abu Sayyaf destroy them, period,” Duterte said in a midnight press conference, hours after the Abu Sayyaf was reported to have beheaded an 18-year-old male resident of Sulu who was kidnapped by the terrorist group on July 16.

“My orders to the police and armed forces against all enemies of the state: Seek out, seek them out in their lairs, whatever and destroy them. Ang mga droga destroy them. Ang mga Abu Sayyaf, destroy them. Period.”

Primacy of the Peace Process

Drieza Liningding, Secretary-General of the Bangsamoro National Movement for Peace and Development and chair of the Moro Consensus Group, told MindaNews that while they acknowledge the “threat and danger posed by these so-called terrorist groups whom in the past were tainted as colluding with some government agents,” they would like to appeal to the government to “respect the primacy of the peace process.”

Liningding said that if the government is serious in neutralizing these groups, “they should seek the help of major Moro fronts,” referring to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) with whom government has signed peace agreements, “in combating terrorism and expand the mandate of peace mechanisms like the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) which is mandated to interdict criminals in communities dominated by the MILF.”

He noted that military operations against the Abu Sayyaf are near the camps of the MNLF while operations against the Maute Group are near MILF camps.

He said there have been success stories “where the MILF drove out these rogue groups (and) in the case of MNLF, at one time Misuari group engaged the Abu Sayyaf in a firefight and were also instrumental in freeing some of the Abu Sayyaf’s kidnap victims.”

“The more the Government is unilaterally doing this, the more we suspect that these operations are just an excuse to further militarize the Bangsamoro areas,” adding , they “wish that a parallel all out peace by implementing peace agreements be accelerated soon” because the “slow progress” has not been helping the situation on the ground.

Before the meeting, President Duterte held a joint military-police command conference Sunday night.

MindaNews asked Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza if the military option was the only option left for the Mindanawon President, Mindanawon Peace Adviser, and Mindanawon Defense Secretary, in dealing with the terror groups. Dureza had yet to reply as of 9 p.m.

“Takot ako sa kanila”

In the Jan 29-30 midnight press conference, Duterte said there is a “full time military operation” against the Maute Group in Lanao del Sur, following reports that the Hapilon is already in the area.

“Takot ako sa kanila (I am afraid of them) because historically they use bombs, bomb, IED and they did it several times in my city,” Duterte said, citing the latest, the Roxas night market bombing in Davao City on September 2 last year. The bombers, allegedly affiliated with the Maute Group, were later arrested.

Duterte said violent extremism “would be the more dangerous thing for us. And I have ordered a full-press military operation kasi uulit iyan, uulit iyan (they will do it again, they will do it again). And if they are desperate enough they would resume bombing,” Duterte said.

“Embargo the place, you contain them in that area alone, Lanao. Sana huwag nang lumabas sa ibang lugar. Diyan na lang tayo magbakbakan” (Hopefully we can contain the fighting there), he added.

He said he asked the AFP to “use all available and all the weaponry that’s at our disposal” and sent an “urgent message to China to help us kung meron silang mga (if they have) precision-guided arms, they can give us a loan or….” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)