DAVAO CITY (MindaNews /02 March) — The US State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism on Tuesday designated “ISIS-Philippines” as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), the third Philippine-based group declared as FTO, after the Abu Sayyaf in 1997 and the Communist Party of the Philippines / New People’s Army in 2002.
But what constitutes “ISIS-Philippines”? Is there an “ISIS-Philippines”?
The US State Department’s listing does not specify which groups constitute “ISIS-Philippines” although the Abu Sayyaf, listed as FTO since 1997, as well as the Maute Group and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) are among the groups earlier referred to by the Philippine authorities as “ISIS-inspired.”
The Philippines’ Defense Secretary, Delfin Lorenzana, says “there is no ISIS-Philippines.”
“The objective of the Marawi siege by the Maute Group and the Abu Sayyaf Group’s Hapilon as Emir or Amir was to create an ISIS wilayat or Province in Southern Philippines as intended by the ISIS, but they failed. So there in no ISIS wilayat and there is no ISIS-Philippines,” Lorenzana told MindaNews on Thursday.
“The term is more a reference by the US government to the remnants of ISIS-inspired or affiliated groups which are still present in some parts of Mindanao. The US government may therefore be referring to groups or persons who have pledged or declared allegiance to the ISIS, including the Maute Group, BIFF-Turaife Gropu, AKP (Ansar al-Khilafah in the Philippines), any remnants of ASG-Hapilon and other ISIS-inspired groups/persons still actively propagating the ISIS extremist ideology,” Lorenzana said.
The US State Department defines FTOs as foreign organizations that engage in terrorist activity or terrorism or retains the capability and intent to engage in terrorist activity or terrorism; and threaten the security of United States nationals or the national security of the United States.
FTO designations, it said, “play a critical role in our fight against terrorism and are an effective means of curtailing support for terrorist activities and pressuring groups to get out of the terrorism business.”
The Abu Sayyaf’s Isnilon Hapilon, allegedly designated by the ISIS as its “Emir” in Southeast Asia, was killed in Marawi along with Omar Maute of the Maute Group on October 16 last year.
A day after they were killed, President Rodrigo Duterte declared Marawi “liberated from the terrorist influence” and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana terminated all combat operations in Marawi City on October 23, five months to the day the Marawi Siege began.
A foiled attempt to arrest Hapilon in an apartment in Marawi City triggered the clashes between government forces and the ISIS-inspired Maute Group and its allies on May 23, 2017, the latter taking control of key areas in Marawi’s commercial district.
Barely eight hours after the first shots were fired in Marawi, President Rodrigo Duterte, who was then in Moscow for a state visit, placed Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities under martial law and suspended the writ of habeas corpus for 60 days. The period of martial law was extended up to end of 2017 and extended anew until December 31, 2018.
In a statement on Wednesday “on the Maute Group in the US list of FTOs,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said: “The official designation of the Maute Group as an affiliate group of ISIS and its inclusion in the US list of foreign terrorist organizations are positive developments in the campaign against terrorism.”
The US State Department’s listing of FTOs since 1997 includes the Abu Sayyaf but the Maute Group has not been specifically named. What it listed as FTOs on February 27 are “ISIS-Philippines,” “ISIS-Bangladesh” and “ISIS-West Africa.”
Roque said the listing of the Maute Group as an FTO “reaffirms our long-held belief that the Maute Group is composed of local terrorists aided by foreign extremists. This likewise recognizes the decisive action we have taken in liberating Marawi from these terrorists, which resulted in the success of the government in thwarting the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in the area and the containing of the rebellion from spreading to other parts of the Philippines.”
“Terrorism, indeed, knows no borders and the inclusion of the Maute Group in the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists and Foreign Terrorist Organizations as an affiliate group of ISIS shows the solidarity and resolve of the international community to flush out evil forces to make the world safe and secure,” he said.
Asked on Thursday morning which groups the US State Department was referring to as “ISIS-Philippines,” Roque told MindaNews: “That’s ISIS-Maute. I think it’s specific since Maute is known to be the local ISIS.”
Lorenzana on Thursday afternoon told MindaNews “there is no ISIS-Philippines” and that the term may have been used by the US government to “groups or persons who have pledged or declared allegiance to the ISIS,” among them the Maute Group.
In Marawi on Wednesday afternoon, President Rodrigo Duterte told Meranaws he is not angry with them but “galit ako sa mga taong taga-labas at pumunta dito para udyukin ang mga Moro na lumaban sa gobyerno at makipag-away” (I am mad at the foreigners who came here to entice the Moro to fight government).
He said the foreigners, apparently referring to the ISIS, came allegedly in the name of religion but were espousing terrorism. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)