“Son of a b****, if your name is there, you have a problem; I will really kill you,” said the Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte early this year. He has made public a list of what he claims are thousands of narco-politicians and has warned mayors involved in drug trade to either resign or die. Over 8000 alleged drug users and dealers have been killed in the war on drugs since Duterte took office in June 2016. Dutertes anti-drug campaign known as Operation Double Barrel has allegedly been a spree of extrajudicial killings of suspected drug dealers and users in Manila and other cities.
Human Rights Watchs (HRW) investigations into various incidents have revealed police involvement in extrajudicial executions. Witnesses in HRW investigations have said that armed assailants in civilian clothes with their faces covered would bang on doors and barge into rooms, but would not identify themselves or show warrants. Family members have reported hearing beatings and their loved ones begging for their lives. The shooting could happen instantly, behind closed doors or on the street; or the gunmen might take the suspect away, where minutes later shots would be heard and local residents would find the body; or the body would be dumped elsewhere later, sometimes with hands tied or the head wrapped in plastic. No evidence so far, however, shows that Duterte has planned or ordered specific extrajudicial killings. But the Philippines Presidents repeated calls for killings as part of his anti-drug campaign could prompt law enforcement to commit murder.
Although the White House has consistently condemned the allegedly extrajudicial killings in the name of war on drugs, the U.S. appears somewhat reluctant to take stronger actions for fear of jeopardizing geo-strategic priorities in the region.
The alleged extrajudicial killing of thousands of suspected drug dealers and users in the Philippines and Dutertes repeated death threats against drug dealers and users offer several legal grounds for which he and his top subordinates could be incriminated in the Philippines or by a court abroad. Dutertes statements instigating the general population against suspected drug users could also incite violence in the country. The killing spree is also likely to have adverse effects on public health. Punitive drug enforcement can lead to drug users going underground, choosing not to avail critical health services. This can trigger the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis C among people who have used drugs and may discourage people with drug dependence from seeking effective treatment.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the country’s military to go “full force” to wipe out the Islamic State (IS)-linked Abu Sayyaf terrorist group.
While President Duterte, who swept into office in May on a pledge to eliminate criminals, had initially called on the Abu Sayyaf Group to lay down their arms, he quickly adopted a tough stance when his overtures were rejected. Sources have reported that an additional 2500-strong force is being deployed to back up thousands of soldiers who are already stationed on the islands of Jolo and Sulu.
Abu Sayyaf was founded in the early 1990’s to fight for an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines, which is a Catholic-majority nation. For years, the militant group has eluded Philippines security forces, which had the support of US military logistics, as its militants carried out some of the country’s worst terrorist attacks, including a ferry bombing in 2014 that killed at least 100 people. The militants, who are believed to number around 500, have also kidnapped dozens of foreigners and Filipinos for ransom, in a business that has netted them millions of dollars, which they then use to carry out their operations. The militants are believed to be currently holding at least 23 hostages, including a Dutch birdwatcher who was kidnapped in 2012 and a Norwegian man who was abducted from a beach resort last year. Abu Sayyaf militants also beheaded two Canadian hostages this year who had been held for several months. Australian adventurer Warren Rodwell was held by the group for fifteen months after he was kidnapped from his home in a coastal town on 2011. A ransom of about US $100,000 was secured for his release.
While last year, Abu Sayyaf claimed allegiance to IS, analysts believe that the group has been mainly focused on kidnappings. Southeast Asian leaders however have expressed their concerns that regional militants, who have been fighting alongside IS fighters in Syria and Iraq, may return and seek sanctuary amongst Abu Sayyaf – further bolstering its strength with hardened fighters.
Unidentiﬁed gunmen have kidnapped three foreign nationals and a Filipina from a resort on the Island Garden City of Samal in the restive southern Philippines.
Authorities have provisionally identiﬁed the kidnap victims as Robert Hall and John Ridsel, both Canadian citizens, Kjartan Sekkingstad, a Norwegian resort manager and an as yet unidentiﬁed Filipino woman. The four were abducted at around 11.41 pm last night during a raid on the Holiday Oceanview Resort near Davao city, the largest city on Mindanao island. Two more holidaymakers, Steven and Kazuka Tripp, narrowly avoided capture after successfully ﬁghting off the gunmen who attempted to board their yacht. While no group or individual has come forward to claimresponsibility for the incident, one of the resort’s employees is reported to have discovered a note at the entrance of the hotel which reads: “Justice for our commander: NPA.” NPA stands for New People’s Army, an insurgent group connected to the Communist Party of the Philippines. However, the region’s mayor has questioned the note’s authenticity, saying that the NPA “have no means of pulling off such kidnapping”.
Sources say that the kidnappers spoke English and Tagalog and that their choice of targets- yachts belonging to the hotel’s guests – suggests that from the outset their intended victims were foreign nationals. After a botched intervention by two Japanese tourists, the gunmen took their captives and ﬂed aboard two motorised outriggers. Filipino naval vessels, backed by two helicopter gunships, formed a blockade around Samal to prevent the kidnappers from reaching Basilan Island, but even after giving chase were unable to prevent their escape. Ground units in southeastern Mindanao were also alerted to the incident and have been patrolling possible landing sites ever since. However, at the moment of publication, the kidnappers remain at large and the hostages have not yet been rescued.
Ofﬁcials from the Philippine National Police Anti-Kidnapping Group say that kidnappings in Mindanao tend to be perpetrated by individuals or groups who are members of or allied to known terrorist organisations such as Abu Sayyaf and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). These groups see kidnapping as a way of funding their operations, which is why foreigners are often targeted. By contrast, in Manila and other areas north of Mindanao, kidnappings tend to be criminal rather than ideological in nature.
The siege that has continued for over a week in the city of Zamboanga, on the Philippines’ southern island of Mindanao, appears to reaching a conclusion following some dramatic developments in the past 24 hours.
Last week, forces of a rebel faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) arrived by boat in the city with the intent of raising their flag above the town hall. Clashes began with security forces that saw the rebels occupy numerous civilian districts in the town. A robust response from the authorities saw security forces rapidly surround and besiege the rebels, and a naval blockade was put in place to prevent MNLF reinforcements from arriving. The siege has brought the city of one million to a standstill. Reports indicate many of the MNLF fighters were lured into the operation with financial inducements for a supposedly peaceful rally, and were surprised to be given guns and forced to fight.
The incident has been complicated by the presence of large numbers of civilians in the areas occupied by the MNLF, who began to be used as hostages and human shields by the group. Over 100 civilians have been held captive by the group over the past week; though there was originally some ambiguity about how many were actually being held hostage, and how many were trapped by the fighting.
The government began a major assault to take back ground from the rebels, which involved the usage of helicopters, over the weekend. As of today, the military says it has taken back 70% of the areas held by the rebels. Television reports showed exhausted hostages being taken away from the front line after their week long ordeal. A military spokesman said that at least 123 civilians had been rescued in the operation so far, but it remains unknown how many civilians remain captives of the MNLF.
In a late development, the Zamboanga police chief Jose Chiquito Malayo and his two escorts were seized as they attempted to negotiate with some of the rebels. Malayo was released six hours later on condition that the cornered rebels were granted safe passage to a military camp where they could formally surrender. 10 rebels gave themselves up after this, however an estimated 50 rebels remain entrenched and sporadic fighting continues in the city. The death toll is now approach 100, with at least 86 insurgents, 9 members of the security forces and 3 civilians confirmed dead since the siege began on September 9th. While the siege has been on-going, there has not been much related terrorist activity throughout the rest of Mindanao – two small bombs in Davao city yesterday wounded 5 people, but it is not known who the perpetrators are and whether it relates to the siege in Zamboanga.
Mindanao has been scarred for decades by separatism and insurgency, which successive peace deals have failed to solve. Despite the establishment of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARRM), factions of the MNLF are unhappy about being side-lined in the on-going peace process between the government and another insurgent group (and splinter faction of the MNLF), the MILF, which has itself spawned splinter factions vowing to continue their campaign for independence.
Following armed clashes with the military yesterday, a serious security incident is on-going, as it appears members of a rebel faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) have taken an unconfirmed number of individuals hostage in the town of Zamboanga, on the southern island of Mindanao in the Philippines. Mindanao has been subject to insurgency and unrest for the past several decades and despite some broadly successful peace efforts in the past remains extremely unstable. MNLF founder Nur Misuari recently declared a commitment to an independent state in the region in an attempt to derail the on-going peace process with other separatist factions.
Zamboanga, the commercial and industrial centre of the Zamboanga Peninsula, is a predominantly Christian area and not part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the autonomous province created following a 1996 peace deal with the MNLF. The incident began yesterday, when MNLF members arrived by boat on the coastal city, reportedly wanting to raise their flag of independence above the city hall. Clashes began with security forces that saw at least 6 people killed, 4 of whom were civilians. A robust response from the police and military has seen the MNLF fighters surrounded in the Rio Honda district, a busy area close to the city centre, as well as in other locations on the coast.
Reports indicate The MNLF fighters have taken over 30 civilians hostage as a stand-off with the military has developed, with up to 180 caught in the stand-off in some form. It appears MNLF fighters may have moved into their communities to use them as human shields, though Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said many were not actually bound or being intentionally held captive, instead being trapped by the incident. Negotiations overnight saw 5 hostages released. The exact numbers of individuals concerned, and their exact status as hostages or not, currently remains unconfirmed.
Security forces appear to have the situation largely under control, with large numbers of elite troops rushed to the city and a naval blockade put in place to prevent MNLF reinforcements from arriving. A curfew is in place and thousands of residents have been displaced, with commercial flights in and out of the city cancelled. The incident remains on-going, though the government is reportedly prepared to negotiate. A broadly peaceful resolution seems likely, with the rebels allowed to leave the city if the civilians are unharmed. Nevertheless, the situation retains the potential to deteriorate extremely rapidly. While security forces throughout the rest of Mindanao are on alert, no other incidents have occurred thus far.
Mindanao has been scarred by extreme unrest and various insurgencies over the past decades. Muslim separatists the MNLF concluded a peace deal with the government in 1996 that led to the establishment of the ARMM, though the MNLF rapidly splintered following this. The largest splinter faction, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, has recently begun to conclude its own peace deal with the government, a process that has led factions of the MNLF to renew their campaigning for full independence due to fears of being side-lined. There are currently numerous armed groups operating in Mindanao, ranging from kidnapping gangs to the local Al Qaeda affiliate, Abu Sayyaf. There is also an on-going communist insurgency in addition to Islamic separatism. Bombings and kidnappings are a favoured tactic and extremely common, though Zamboanga has remained relatively peaceful in recent years. Human shields have been used by rebels in the region in past incidents.
The security situation in the southern Philippines remains very complex and fractious. This poses a serious danger for visitors, and an extremely high degree of security awareness should be maintained at all times. In addition to terrorism, violent crime and kidnap for ransom remains a very high risk. Public transport links and places frequented by foreigners throughout the island are particularly vulnerable. All but essential travel to the entirety of Mindanao, and all travel to the ARMM, should be avoided.