Abu Sayyaf spokesman Muammar Askali has declared that his group was responsible for the terrorist bombing of Davao city night market on September 2 which killed 14 people and injured 67 others.

In response, President Rodrigo Duterte declared the entire country in a “state of lawlessness” — not martial law — while Davao city mayor Sara Duterte sacked the city police chief and offered a P2 million reward for information that will bring culprits to justice.

Aside from putting police and armed forces on full alert across the country, the president also wondered if there is a need to bring in a group of mercenaries to hunt down the pesky Abu Sayyaf members who keep on kidnapping foreigners and Filipinos — and even beheading some captives — for the sole purpose of exacting large sums of money in ransom.

Agriculture Secretary Manny Pinol, a close friend of the president, said today that the Abu Sayyaf problem won’t go away and needs to be dealt with “once and for all” because they stage other atrocities like attacking prisons across Mindanao to free captured members.

So, what should the government really do to try and put an end to the banditry and atrocities that the Abu Sayyaf group continues to perpetrate?

There are several things that the government can and should consider to deal more effectively with the Abu Sayyaf:

1] USE MORE GUERRILLA THAN CONVENTIONAL WARFARE.  Abu Sayyaf members always use terrorist tactics so pouring more soldiers and trying to engage the bandits in conventional warfare are unlikely to work. Hit-and-run tactics are often used by the Abu Sayyaf members. Result? They ambush government forces repeatedly. The government should revamp its strategy and fight the Abu Sayyaf in their own game — guerrilla warfare, not conventional which will hardly work. Large numbers of soldiers won’t catch up with enemies who melt away in the jungles or in the civilian population.

2] SET UP GUERRILLA UNITS COMPRISED MAINLY OF MUSLIMS WHO KNOW LOCAL CULTURES, LANGUAGE AND TERRAIN. Guerrilla units know very well the tactics used by guerrilla adversaries. Mindanaoans, Muslims or non-Muslims, can be set up and trained into Scout Ranger units and take the lead role in hit-and-run attacks against Abu Sayyaf targets. These units can also be used to identify targets and direct regular armed forces strikes against static Abu Sayyaf targets. Because of their knowledge of the local language, culture and terrain, Mindanaoan-led guerrilla units will be a much better alternative to pouring large numbers of soldiers in areas with perceived presence of Abu Sayyaf members. The combination of Mindanaoan-led guerrilla units, supported closely by regular armed forces who are on stand-by for close-in support, should be deployed to strengthen the fight against Abu Sayyaf guerrillas.

3] RECRUIT AND PLANT SPIES IN THE MIDST OF ABU SAYYAF. Planting spies in the ranks of the adversary is easier said than done. But this strategy has always been resorted to even during World War II or earlier. The Israelis are one notable example of doing this. The Israelis can be engaged for consultancy and advisory on how to use guerrilla tactics and planting spies in the ranks of the enemy. Having spies will go a very long way in destroying one Abu Sayyaf after another, while collecting vital information to tr and avert bombing attacks or minimize damage from them. Recruiting spies is never easy. But with unemployment very high in many parts of Mindanao and scores of young people hungry for “action” or “exciting things to do”, recruitment of spies who will be compensated generously for dangerous work is attainable.

4] INTENSIFY INTELLIGENCE GATHERING. Lack of advance information into Abu Sayyaf terrorist strikes and kidnappings is clearly a fatal weakness and shortcoming on the part of the armed forces. As a result of this glaring intelligence failure, police and armed forces can only wait for the next bomb to explode or an ambush. An intelligence network should be set up comprising barangay tanods and captains, and even civilians, and a compensation scheme can be set up to encourage informants to gather useful information that can prevent bombings and ambushes.  Key members of different communities can be given training in intelligence gathering for the protection and well-being of their respective communities. Paying off civilian spies for useful information costs a lot less than repairing damages inflicted by terrorist attacks, aside from lives lost or maimed.

5] STRIKING FEAR IN THE HEART & MINDS OF ABU SAYYAF LEADERS. Identifying leaders of different Abu Sayyaf groups is fairly easy as they speak to the media or address and lead their groups in attacks and other atrocities. Family members of kidnap victims still held by the Abu Sayyaf continue to agonize over the fate of their kin. Family members of victims, foreigners and Filipinos, who had been beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf will never forget what befell their kin. Abu Sayyaf leaders should clearly take responsibility for all the horrific pains and atrocities perpetrated by members. Since leaders are easily identified than ordinary members, different types of pressures on the leaders should therefore be exerted. Leaders have weaknesses and these have to be identified, and these weaknesses should be exploited to undermine and even derail their leadership.  “Pressures” can be exerted on loved ones of Abu Sayyaf leaders, including their parents or wives if they have more than one wife or even children. The kin of Abu Sayyaf leaders are not direct protagonists in the ongoing “dirty war” but they somehow have a moral obligation to dissuade key family members from leading and participating in Abu Sayyaf atrocities.  A teen-aged daughter or son or the key wife or parent or grandparent of an Abu Sayyaf leader can certainly appeal to the sense of humanity of the latter to put a stop to Abu Sayyaf atrocities. Exerting “pressure” on an Abu Sayyaf leader’s most valued kin isn’t necessarily a pretty suggestion. But the nightmares inflicted by the Abu Sayyaf on the kin of victims who were beheaded or who remain captive are a lot more bitter and painful.

Prospects that the Abu Sayyaf may be receiving large sums of money from drug trafficking syndicate leaders further add urgency to the critical and immediate need to eliminate the menace of this bandit group. Huge sums of money collected from kidnappings for ransom are the sole reason why Abu Sayyaf groups continue to operate in various parts of Mindanao, mainly in the Sulu area. Abu Sayyaf members don’t fight for ideology or religion, it’s all about money.

And with drug offenders, lowly pushers and leaders, now being killed in the government’s unrelenting campaign against dangerous drugs, it is not entirely impossible for drug lords to pay huge sums to Abu Sayyaf leaders to stage bombing attacks in a bid to ease attacks on the drug trade. As shown by the indiscriminate kidnappings by Abu Sayyaf bandits, they will kidnap and extort anyone and everyone as long as they earn huge sums in the process.

As Pinol — echoing Duterte’s view — has stated this morning in an interview with radio station DZRH, it is high time to put a stop once and for all to the Abu Sayyaf menace.

And my unsolicited recommendations above can, in my view, help significantly in more effectively eradicating the Abu Sayyaf menace.



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