MANILA, Philippines – After seeing the carnage and damage wrought by the bombing at the Jolo Cathedral, President Rodrigo Duterte made one thing clear: he is hell-bent on destroying the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).
In his speech in Jolo, Sulu, on Monday, January 28, Duterte appeared to blame the ASG and the influence of international terror group Islamic State (ISIS) for the twin blasts that killed 23 and injured over a hundred people. The death toll rose as of February 4.
"I ordered you to destroy the organization. I’m ordering you now: pulpugin ninyo ang (crush) Abu Sayyaf by whatever means," he told an audience composed of Jolo residents, military, and police officials.
In the aftermath of the Jolo Cathedral blasts, Duterte also said he will use all his powers against the Islamic State (ISIS).
"Iyong ISIS, kayo rin ang humingi. Uupakan ko talaga kayo. Gagamitin ko lahat." (This ISIS, you asked for it. I will really hurt you. I will use everything I have.)
The military earlier announced that they are looking at an Abu Sayyaf faction, the Ajang-Ajang group, as a suspect in the bombing. Authorities are looking at 6 persons of interest, based on CCTV footage and prior intelligence.
Appeal, warning to Sulu residents
Duterte also asked for the help of Sulu residents in cracking down on terror groups in their midst. He appealed to them, saying they suffer from violence because they live with members of such groups. He warned that the Abu Sayyaf are feeding off of innocent civilians, depending on them for protection.
"Pero alam ko na hindi ninyo gusto kasi ‘pag nandiyan ‘yan, posible talaga pati kayo madadali.... Pagka may meron kayong nakatira diyang Abu Sayyaf, paalisin ninyo o isumbong ninyo. ‘Pag hindi, ‘pag nahulog ‘yang bomba sa ulo ninyo, inyo ‘yan," said Duterte.
(I know you don't want this because when the violence happens, you get affected...When there is an Abu Sayyaf member living near you, drive them out or tell the authorities. If not, the bombs will fall on your head. It's on you.)
The appeal was also a warning. The President said he wanted government troops to "bomb" hideouts of the ASG and the civilians living in or near those places have to be ready for the attack.
He likened terrorists with communist rebels who hide in villages of civilians thinking the military would not touch them for fear of hurting innocent people.
"I-bomba muna ninyo lahat...Ngayon kung may inosente mamatay, iwasan ninyo. Iwasan hanggang ano – Pero kung sabihin mo lang takot ka mag-attack kasi makapatay ka ng inosente, putang ina talo ka. Eh kung nandiyan ‘yan sila palagi? Ganun ‘yang NPA. Pupunta doon lang makikipag-fight tapos babalik doon sa barangay, parang doon sila nakatira," said Duterte.
(You bomb everything...Now if innocents die, avoid it. Avoid it until – but if you say you are scared to attack because you will kill innocents, son of a bitch, you will lose. What if they're there all the time? That's what the NPA do. They'll go there just to fight then they'll go back to the village and it's as if they live there.)
Duterte floated a plan of gathering all the civilians in a single place where government would provide for their needs, so that the military would be free to bomb terrorist strongholds or hideouts.
"I'll take all the innocent people. You come here, I'll feel them. I'll make sacrifices. I'll look for the money. Then crush their (ASG's) territory." said Duterte in Filipino.
He also made a point of stressing that Sulu should never be allowed to separate from the Philippines, saying that if this were to happen, "we have failed in our mission to preserve the territory of the Republic of the Philippines."
His parting words to his audience were: "Jolo is part of the Philippines. It cannot be anything else."
Duterte made no mention of martial law in Mindanao or the plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Organic Law in his speech. He, however, mentioned Moro National Liberation Front leader Nur Misuari and Moro Islamic Liberation Front chairman Murad Ebrahim.
He described both of them as rebels who were fighting for territory, something the government could negotiate with them on.
"Okay lang ito si kay Nur, okay si Murad. Ang habol lang nila territorial, lupa na mabigyan sila. Nabalewala sila," said Duterte.
(Nur and Murad are okay. They are only after territory. They were being ignored.)
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.