Abu Sayyaf
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Tragically, another hostage, Canadian Robert Hall, was beheaded just this month by the ISIS-inspired terrorist group in Mindanao. Are they really inspired by ISIS or is their real motivation money by kidnapping?

Incoming Philippine President Duterte’s national appeal comes as if he is a “Robocop” or “Terminator.” Can Philippine-style “Governator” handle the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)?

Keeping the streets safe and clean from petty purse snatchers and pick pockets is not as easy as fighting the ISIS-inspired militants in the jungles of Jolo.

It is known that the drug lords are scared of Duterte. The word on the street is that even corrupt law enforcers are starting to be “less corrupt.” However, can he really tackle the Abu Sayaff? Duterte’ handling and eradicating the ASG could be his first test for his presidency.

He already received his challenge from an ASG spokesperson right after ASG beheaded the latest Canadian victim. Asia Times reported that ASG leader Abu Raami was quoted in a national statement as saying, “You promised Trudeau (Canadian Prime Minister) you will get the hostages alive and what happened to Ridsell will not be repeated. So let’s see if you will not be embarrassed. This is for you Duterte. This is for you to know what we will do to the Canadian.”

This challenge was issued after Duterte stated that the ASG would be eliminated.

Duterte is from the south. Can he demonstrate peace and order in the south? Our new found military cooperation with the US is a positive step in fostering more stability in the Asia Pacific region.

The Philippines should now have greater logistical support in finding and eliminating the ASG. We need the strategy and the will to doing so. Currently, there are about 400 declared ASG members. If these vicious murders (beheadings) continue in the months to come, this will likely take its toll on President Duterte’s public support.

Perhaps his strategy should be multi-pronged. In other words, treat the ASG as both criminals and terrorists. Their elimination as a threat to Philippine national security needs to be priority No. 1. No matter how one looks at these tragedies, these are criminal acts done by terrorists.

Use all aspects of the law to go after them. This means greater police, law enforcement, and even perhaps military coordination.

Lately some officials from Duterte’s Cabinet have hinted in enacting martial law in  Sulu which is infested with ASG. Depending on one’s position on martial law, this may or may not be appropriate. This is especially so in the collective memories of Filipinos who lived through the Marcos martial-law era.

However, Marcos used martial law as a pretext to controlling his political opponents in order to consolidate his power. Possible use of martial law to foster stability in Basilan and Jolo comes from a legitimate threat to the Philippines. Whether to impose martial law or not in a limited sense in Southern Philippines to finally destroy the ASG should at least be publicly debated.

Some may say that the ASG are just mere street thugs who claim minor connection to ISIS or Al Qaeda from years past. However, in a recent interview with National Public Radio (NPR) this month, Asia-Pacific senior analyst, Sydney Jones stated that ASG (Philippine ISIS supporters) while controlling territory in Basilan could turn the area into a regional terrorist training center.

Sydney Jones is the director of Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict in Jakarta, Indonesia.

According to the same NPR report, the Philippine armed forces had an armed battle with the ASG in April.

At least 19 Philippine soldiers were killed. There were also ASG casualties. Not all were Filipinos. They include a Moroccan, Indonesian, and Malaysian who were killed during that battle. This likely means that ISIS members from other countries are either stationed or at least training with the ASG.

This makes the ASG more lethal in that they can be considered ruthless criminals but also ISIS trained militant Islamic fundamentalists. ISIS fundamentalists are training with them.

As concerned Filipinos living in the U.S., we have a clear role in making sure our elected Philippine leaders hear our voices on this. The Philippines needs to provide strong national security for the entire archipelago. Most importantly, we need to also apply our Christian principles in protecting the innocent from this butchery and evil acts by Abu Sayyaf.

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