Now that the Philippine President is over with lobbying with the Abu Sayyaf, Filipinos must be ready for the escalating civil war in the region. Hoping that it will not go beyond that. Here’s the full story:
The life and prosperity of residents in places like Basilan are at stake in the Duterte administration’s efforts to destroy the Abu Sayyaf
In recent days, we’ve heard more aggressive rhetoric against the Abu Sayyaf from President Rodrigo Duterte.
After hearing about the beheading of a teenage hostage, he ordered the military to “destroy” the terrorist group. The military lost no time in complying with his order. Thousands of soldiers are being deployed to Sulu, bastion of the Abu Sayyaf.
Duterte’s visits to military camps in Basilan and Sulu, from where the group actively operates, allowed me to peek into what it’s like to live under their shadow.
Though stringent security measures surrounding a presidential coverage and time constraints allowed me only limited exposure to these places and the people who live there, I was able to ask the vice mayor of the Basilan city of Lamitan how things are in his hometown.
Lamitan is a 5th class city deemed a “hub” in Basilan because those from the southern towns pass through it to get to the port city of Isabela, Lamitan Vice Mayor Roderick Furigay told me in late July.
The city of around 74,000 residents is described as “generally peaceful” by Furigay, whose wife, Rosita, is the current mayor.
But military operations against the Abu Sayyaf in the southern, more mountainous parts of Basilan have forced some residents there to move to Lamitan.
Urban terrorist groups
Though Lamitan fares better compared to towns like Al Barka, where encounters between the Abu Sayyaf and military forces often take place, its residents continue to live in fear of the group’s deployment of urban terrorist groups (UTGs).
Vice Mayor Furigay said the UTG is a smaller group “created” by the Abu Sayyaf to extort Lamitan residents through terror attacks in parts of the city.
The Abu Sayyaf needs the UTG to do the dirty work so it can avoid getting caught by the military and police who know their faces.
“Karamihan sa kanila (Abu Sayyaf) hindi na bumababa dito (Most of the Abu Sayyaf don’t come down here), because they are known,” Furigay said.
He described UTG members as young people ordered by the Abu Sayyaf or ASG to plant bombs in vital places in the metro to extort money from people like businessmen or residents.
They are new, teenagers who are the ones planting the bombs. The orders appear to come from the ASG to the UTG.
In one incident, the UTG placed a bomb near an electric post of the Basilan Electric Company. They called the company and threatened to blow up the post if they are not given money.
The UTG would then just dial a number to detonate the bomb.
“This year alone, bale siguro 7 or 8 bombs na pumutok dito (some 7 or 8 bombs have already exploded here),” said Furigay.
Major Filemon Tan, spokesman of the military’s Western Mindanao Command, said military intelligence shows these UTGs may indeed be part of the ASG or receive orders from the ASG.
The monetary “rewards” the UTG and ASG gain from these criminal activities far outweigh any vestige of religious principle they claim to espouse in their war against the Philippine government, said the vice mayor.
“They are for extortion, they no longer use their principles as their motivation,” he said.