AMONG the many peace and order problems facing the country today, the one posed by the Abu Sayyaf continues to pose a big challenge to the new administration of President Duterte.
He has already made great strides in dealing with the decades-long Communist rebellion of the New People’s Army (NPA), with peace talks now underway in Oslo, Norway. The President has been in contact with Nur Misuari of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). The leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are hopeful that the move for a federal form of government for the Philippines will lead to the establishment of Bangsamoro as one of the federated regions with greater autonomy than is now enjoyed by any part of the country.
The Abu Sayyaf, however, appears to be totally apart from these other groups. It does not appear to be interested in any peace initiative of the government. Last Wednesday afternoon, they beheaded another captive, Patrick Jhames Almodavar, after his family failed to meet its demand for a P1-million ransom. His decapitated head was delivered to a barangay of Indanan, Sulu, four hours later.
Still in Abu Sayyaf hands are a number of other hostages, notably Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, one of four persons kidnapped from a resort on Samal island in the Davao Gulf in September, 2014. Canadian John Ridsdel was beheaded in April, 2015, followed by fellow Canadian Robert Hall in June. Filipina hostage Marites Flor has been released but the fate of Norwegian Sekkingstad remains unknown.
There have been other hostages in recent months, including Indonesian sailors taken off fishing vessels in the Sulu Sea. Some have been released, but many others remain in captivity. The Armed Forces and the police have kept up their operations to get the group but they have not had much success.
President Duterte has renewed his order to the military and the police to step up their operations against the Abu Sayyaf, which has been linked to the jihadist Islamic State movement in the Middle East. After he learned of the beheading of Almodavar, he said he had issued new orders to seek out the enemies of the state and destroy them.
Every time the head of a beheaded victim is delivered by motorcycle-riding men to some barangay in Sulu, new fears are stirred among the people of that province. Many of the victims have been foreign visitors – Canadians, Norwegians, Indonesians, Malaysians, etc. – and the fate that has befallen many of them – beheading – has brought condemnation by the rest of the world and questions about our government’s ability to maintain its authority in certain remote parts of the country.
The new administration is moving swiftly to solve many continuing problems of the country – drugs, crime, traffic, corruption, inadequate power for industry, underproduction, lack of jobs, etc. The latest beheading in Sulu should move the officials concerned to focus on this old problem and give it their fullest attention as it poses a direct challenge to the government’s authority.