DAVAO CITY, Philippines – As the government tightens the noose on the Abu Sayyaf, reprisals can be expected from the terrorist group, and the nation must be prepared to make sacrifices, President Duterte warned yesterday.
Authorities said the Abu Sayyaf most likely carried out last Friday’s bomb attack in this city in response to a military offensive launched against the bandits since last week.
Duterte stressed he wanted to end the Abu Sayyaf threat, but warned of consequences.
“I am calling on the nation to prepare for reprisals. There will be sacrifices to be made, but we have to address this problem once and for all,” he said.
Duterte said last Friday’s bomb attack served as the proverbial last straw.
At least 15 people were killed and another 70 were wounded in the explosion. Sixteen of the injured are in critical condition.
Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said Duterte believed the Abu Sayyaf was behind the blast.
“The Office of the President texted and confirmed that it was an Abu Sayyaf retaliation. On the part of the city government, we are working on that – that – that it is an Abu Sayyaf retaliation,” the President’s daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Abu Sayyaf had struck back after suffering heavy casualties on its stronghold in Jolo.
“We have predicted this and warned our troops accordingly but the enemy is also adept at using the democratic space granted by our constitution to move around freely and unimpeded to sow terror,” Lorenzana said in a statement.
Duterte, who was in Davao City at the time of the attack but not near the market where the explosion occurred, told reporters before dawn Saturday that it was an act of terrorism, as he announced extra powers for the military, placing the entire country under a “state of lawlessness.”
Andanar stressed that since the government is in a war against illegal drugs and terrorism in Sulu and Basilan, the “terrorists will always find a way to retaliate.”
“It is what they do – to terrorize people. And for us, the citizens, (we have) to ensure that we are not cowed by the terrorists, we continue with what we do because if we stop what we’re doing it would appear that the terrorists won,” Andanar said.
“We are facing a faceless enemy, and the best way is to get our acts together as a government and as one people…so, this is the fight of everyone. This is not just a fight of government. This is the fight of the entire country,” he added.
Persons of interest
Downplaying the possibility that illegal drug syndicates are behind the Davao bombing, Andanar said it is only about 15 percent probable.
“We cannot deny the fact that we also have enemies in the drug lords. And we cannot deny that these drug lords are also well funded, and they have their own nefarious interest to protect. So, it’s part of the menu of suspects that we have. But in the scale of one to 100 percent, we’re looking at about 15 percent (that drug personalities) may be responsible for the bombings, about 80 percent could be attributed to terrorists and bandits and only five percent for other groups,” he said.
Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa said investigators are looking into three “persons of interests” – two women and a man — who might give a clue as to who carried out the bombing attack.
He said witnesses have identified the three who could have left the improvised explosive device or triggered the explosion.
Dela Rosa added the IED was made out of a mortar round, adding that it was specifically made to kill the huge crowd milling at the night market during weekends.
Dela Rosa though refused to give further details but said they are cross-matching the descriptions of the three persons of interest to known terrorists.
One of them could be Manap Mentang, the primary suspect in the Valentine’s Day bombing in Davao City in 2005, who is still at large, he said.
Dela Rosa however did not say if Mentang is an Abu Sayyaf member.
The attack came as security forces were on alert amid an ongoing military offensive against Abu Sayyaf in Sulu, which intensified last week after the militants beheaded a kidnapped villager.
The Abu Sayyaf threatened to launch an unspecified attack after the military said 30 of the gunmen were killed in the weeklong offensive.
The Abu Sayyaf had claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was meant to knock sense into the President’s head when he vowed to crush the militant group.
Duterte became well known for bringing relative peace and order to Davao with hardline security policies, while also brokering deals with local Muslim and communist rebels.
In recent weeks, Duterte pursued peace talks with the Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the two main Muslim rebel groups, which each has thousands of armed followers. Their leaders have said they want to broker a lasting peace.
However the Abu Sayyaf, a much smaller and hardline group infamous for kidnapping foreigners to extract ransoms, has rejected Duterte’s peace overtures.
In response, Duterte deployed thousands of troops onto the small and remote island of Jolo to destroy the bandit group.
Duterte said he was left with no choice.
“You (Abu Sayyaf) started this. I wanted to talk to you but you leave me with no choice,” Duterte said during a meeting with security officials at the Matina Enclaves Residences in Davao City late Saturday.
“There’s no other option. These people are like germs which must be eliminated,” he said.
Duterte stressed his resolve to run down the Abu Sayyaf even if it means calling for outside help.
“If I have to hire the Gurkhas to help us fight the Abu Sayyaf, I am willing to do it,” Duterte said, referring to the elite Nepalese soldiers serving in the British Army.
A state of violence
Immediately following last Friday’s bomb attack, Duterte declared a state of lawlessness and violence, calling on the military to help the police in maintaining peace and order in the country.
Duterte, who inspected the scene of the bomb attack at a night market in downtown Davao City, said his declaration did not amount to an imposition of martial law.
He said it would allow troops to be deployed in urban centers to back up the police in setting up checkpoints and increasing patrols.
Andanar said the draft of the proclamation was finalized late Saturday but is yet to be signed by the President.
Andanar stressed that even with the declaration, civil rights are not curtailed.
He said the proclamation simply calls on the military to help the police in enforcing the law and maintaining peace and order in the country.
Chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo said the declaration of a state of lawlessness is not a precursor of martial law and does not entail the suspension of civil rights.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II also said the declaration is only a precautionary measure to allow the President to protect the citizenry.
Aguirre added the DOJ is conducting a parallel investigation to pinpoint the persons who should be charged in the attack.
Lawyer Romulo Macalintal said the proclamation is constitutional.
Macalintal said the Supreme Court in 2006 ruled that “whenever it becomes necessary,” the President may call on the Armed Forces to “prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion.”
Andanar said the Cabinet members) have not received further directives from Duterte since the intention to declare a state of lawlessness was announced.
“It is understood that we in the Cabinet, we just move on and work hard…it is apparent that terrorism and terrorist acts will happen and they happen during the most unsuspecting times. So we just really have to be careful,” he said.
Lawmakers expressed support for Duterte’s declaration but wanted him to spell out the details of his actions.
Senators wanted Duterte to convene the National Security Council (NSC) and the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) to involve lawmakers in addressing the nation’s pressing problems.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said Duterte’s declaration must be respected as he as extensive access to intelligence information.
“Let’s all just help him (Duterte) anyway that’s just a declaration to put notice the Armed Forces and the entire nation that he’ll start using the military to put an end to lawless violence that what it means,” Pimentel said.
He said Congress will continue to have its oversight functions and anyone can report possible abuse.
Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto said the President should convene the NSC.
“If he (Duterte) is looking for a template in shaping policy, then his expert handling of the NSC provides the best example,” he said.
Recto said the NSC allows for a multi partisan discussion of the issues.
“Everybody wants to help. This is not the time to point fingers but to offer a helping hand,” he said.
Recto said another “productive sounding board” is to convene the LEDAC, which had served three presidents as a forum to discuss cures to the nation’s ills.
The House of Representatives, for its part, issued a resolution condemning the Davao City attack.
Vice President Leni Robredo visited the victims of the blast and went to condole with the families of the 15 fatalities.
Robredo condemned the bomb attack urging the people to unite against terrorism.
“In this difficult time, we must not allow violence and fear to divide our nation. Rather, let us all come together in fighting against the scourge of terrorism,” Robredo said.