Philippines says extending martial law in Mindanao an ‘option’ after recent Daesh attack
Ellie Aben MANILA: Following the explosion in Sultan Kudarat on Tuesday night that killed two and injured 37 others, a Malacanang official on Wednesday said extending martial law in Mindanao is very much an “option.”
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said the incident was not a good sign. “We’re trying to make it as easy as possible ... But if things like this still happen, what shall we do? Are we just going to sit around?” Medialdea said to reporters in an interview after the hearing for the 2019 budget of the Office of the President at the House of Representatives.
“Lives are in danger. There’s an explosion during a festival? How would you feel?” he said.
Asked if there’s a need to extend further the implementation of martial law in Mindanao in the light of the Sultan Kudarat explosion, the Malacanang official said: “It’s an option.”
Martial law in Mindanao was declared on May 23, 2017, after the Marawi siege broke out.
Meanwhile, authorities believe the Turaife faction of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), led by Esmael Abdulmalik, alias “Abu Turaifie,” was behind Tuesday’s attack.
The BIFF Toraife, is a Daesh-inspired group. Daesh Philippines, also called “IS Philippines Province,” which comprises several groups including remnants of the Maute Group and defected factions of the notorious Abu Sayyaf Group.
The blast occurred at 8:34 p.m. at a crowded night market along the national highway in Isulan town, which was celebrating the 61st anniversary of its founding.
Killed in the explosion were a 52-year-old woman and a seven-year-old girl, while those injured include two army troopers and a government militiaman.
Amaq news agency said that Daesh targeted the Philippines Army in this blast.
However, Brig Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of 6th Infantry Division, said that local Daesh affiliates could have perpetrated the bombing.
“They say Daesh has claimed responsibility of the attack but as far as we are concerned ... we already have a lead. We are continuously validating. But the likelihood of Abu Sayyaf or the ‘Daulah Islamiyah’ Turaife group is very high,” Sobejana told reporters.
“Anyway, we are here on the ground. We are trying our best to bring back normalcy in the area,” he added.
Sobejana added that they already have several witnesses, noting that the bomber was seen in plain view.
The incident comes almost a month after what is said to be the first suicide bombing in the Southeast Asian nation, carried out by an alleged Moroccan Daesh soldier in Lamitan City, Basilan, which killed 11 people.
The attacks were perpetrated amid stringent security measures as martial law remains in effect in the Mindanao region.
Meanwhile, Department of National Defense spokesperson Arsenio Andolong acknowledged that the threat of terrorism persists in the island despite losses suffered by groups linked to Daesh during the Marawi siege last year.
Andolong said this when asked to comment on a United Nations report released this month. It says Daesh-linked groups behind the Marawi siege are “regrouping, reactivating training camps and recruiting, attracting hundreds of followers both inside and outside the Philippines.”
“About the training camps I cannot confirm at this time ... But they’re trying to regain their lost footing in Mindanao,” Andolong told Arab News.
On Mindanao being a magnet for foreign fighters, Andolong said: “That is true. We stated that before and if you remember during the Marawi rebellion, no less than Daesh itself called for their members to proceed to Mindanao.
“Of course, we will not say there are no more activities (from these groups); there are still bits and pieces of them working. They’re trying to penetrate our security network in Mindanao and that’s part of the problem because (with) the porous borders we have down south, it is not far-fetched that there may be elements of them still lurking around,” he added.
Andolong added that the government was actively working to secure Mindanao, but the terrorists were also not sitting idly and seemed to continuously find ways to breach security. “So it’s an ongoing thing,” he said.
Asked what makes Mindanao a magnet to extremists, Andolong cited the “environment,” which he said is ripe for finding people who are sympathetic to their cause, which is to create a caliphate; the porous borders which help them come in and go out as they please; and the high poverty level.
“So all the ingredients are there. Like in Lanao province, we all know the poverty level is really very high, so it’s quite easy to lure in the young and gullible to join their ranks. The terrorists see this and they know this is something they can exploit. But of course we are doing our best to curb it,” said Andolong.