ARMM government supports military offensive vs Maute, Abu Sayyaf groups

Nation

Posted on December 01, 2016

DAVAO CITY — Military offensive, rather than dialogue, is the best option at this point to rein in extreme ideologists such as the Maute and the Abu Sayyaf groups, according to the leader of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Pabor ako na i-intensify pa rin ’yung (I favor intensifying the) law enforcement operations against terror groups,” said ARMM Gov. Mujiv S. Hataman in an interview with the media Tuesday evening.

“Not an all-out war,” he clarified, but confined to the small pockets within the ARMM where these groups have managed to set up strongholds.

In Butig town in Lanao del Sur province, an intense military operation has been ongoing since the weekend against the Maute, a group that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

As of Monday, 13 soldiers have been injured in the fighting and at least 19 militants killed, according to the military.

More than 70% of Butig town’s approximately 16,600 residents have been displaced by the fighting. The Department of Social Welfare and Development reported that as of Tuesday, there were 2,450 families composed of 12,250 persons who have been forced to evacuate due to the clashes.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte, who visited Lanao del Sur yesterday (See related story on https://goo.gl/6w1KSX), told reporters in an interview in Nueva Ecija province on Tuesday that he remains open to a dialogue with the militants.

Mr. Hataman, on the other hand, said experience has shown that dialogue is a difficult course to take among those who have been influenced by extremists or are posturing to become part of the international network of terrorists.

Intensified military operations, upon the order of the President, have also been ongoing in the island of Sulu, another province under the ARMM, where the kidnap-for-ransom Abu Sayyaf are mainly based. The Abu Sayyaf also claim to have pledged allegiance to the ISIS.

“There should be (military) pressure at the same time if they (militants) are open to dialogue,” he said.

ACTIVATING LGUS
In both the law enforcement operations and opening avenues for talks, Mr. Hataman said the participation of local government units (LGUs) is crucial.

He pointed out that military troops who come in, no matter their number, are “foreigners” on the land and would need local involvement to counter the extremists.

The ARMM regional government is aiming to make the LGUs, particularly at the barangay and municipal levels, functional in terms of security support, alongside the delivery of social services.

“They are at the frontline,” Mr. Hataman said, noting that this is one of the main points of discussion during the two-day 3rd ARMM Local Government Unit Summit that started yesterday.

With community involvement against the spread of extremism, Mr. Hataman said, terror groups would be hard pressed expanding their network even in remote areas.

At the same time, development projects such as infrastructure would have to be rolled out and good governance measures strengthened among local leaders.

“It would have to be a combination of development, governance… education. Extremism is not just a political or an economic issue, it’s ideology.”

The Muslim leader said, “I am convinced that they are misoriented about Islam.” — Marifi S. Jara