Friday, May 13, 2016

Tackling Jihad in the Philippines

"I think Duterte is the best choice not only for the hostages but to bring together Christians and Muslims to end decades of conflict. As a Mindanaon president, he will be in a unique position to end decades of militantism and to stamp out terrorism."
"For those reasons, [Muslim ties on his mother's side] he understands the peace process better than any of the other candidates."
"He has been given a strong mandate, but it will not give him carte blanche to do everything that he said he would do."
"If he over-reaches and uses extra-judicial killings of suspected criminals, as he said he would, he could face a violent way ahead."
Richard Heydarian, political analyst

Now that the Philippine election has concluded and the rude and crude Rodrigo Duterte is the president-elect he has indicated he is prepared to negotiate with Islamist and Communist rebel groups in his country to reach a peace agreement. Since both rebel groups will claim their message of autonomous power that would of necessity relate a matched surrender of sovereign authority on the part of the government to achieve a peace agreement agreeable to its adversaries.

It should be interesting to see how that goes down. Of more immediate interest to the government, however, will be the potential it has in the promise of those negotiations to convince the Abu Sayyaf Islamist group which has associated itself with ISIL in Mindanao, to surrender the 20 hostages it has in its clutches, awaiting ransom. One Canadian, John Ridsdel, was sacrificed to the jihadists' demands for a ransom never delivered, through a grisly beheading.

Another, Robert Hall, along with his girlfriend Filipino Marites Flor and the Norwegian operator of the resort from which they had all been abducted, Kjartan Sekkingstad, are still awaiting release. This is a release that comes with a costly pricetag; no less than $8 million demanded for each head, still attached to living bodies. Government troops have been searching for them in the mountainous forested terrain, to no avail. But if they did come close, it would likely be to discover their corpses.

This is a man who was given a mandate to govern a country beset with problems, not the least of which is that it is a poor country striving to make its way into a more robust economy, with tourism being one of its best assets, threatened by the abduction of foreigners, held for ransom. Duterte had sworn during his raucous campaign to end political corruption and to establish law and order, based on his success in both areas as mayor of Davao. And he is prepared to give restive areas some degree of autonomy.

He uses his successful mayoral rule of Davao as a template for the whole of the Philippines. The city of 1.45 million is more attuned now to law and order after Dutarte's relentless crackdown on crime. Army checkpoints are everywhere, with troops armed with automatic weapons commonly seen. Even so, a handful of Abu Sayyaf jihadis snatched Ridsdel and Hall in a bold abduction on Samal Island, a few kilometres across from Davao.

And when the first alert of the abduction came in to Davao's 911 exchange as a emergency command and control centre, the call was transferred to national authorities because Davao had no jurisdiction on Samal Island, and the national authorities then contacted local police on the nearby island. Obviously, by the time a response was launched, the Abu Sayyaf jihadis had disappeared with their prey.

Lines of authority that might in some circumstances intersect might be a good starting point.

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