The Government of the Philippines finds itself in a quagmire these days. What is a quagmire? Well, the definition of a quagmire is a difficult, precarious or entrapping situation. Unfortunately, that is where the Government of the Philippines sits at this time when it comes to the situation in Mindanao. Of course, as I often say, the great majority of the Island of Mindanao is a safe place, but in selected areas, the island is very dangerous. Right now, the dangers are amplified.
After years of relative quiet on the kidnapping front, Mindanao has once again become a hot spot for kidnapping. It seems that people of all kinds are being kidnapped now too. Foreigners, Filipinos, even people of relatively little means.
The culprits when it comes to the recent spate of kidnappings are once again the Abu Sayyaf Group. You may remember some time back I wrote a series of articles about “The Dangers that Lurk” and said at that time that the Abu Sayyaf were the premier serious threat in the Philippines. Unfortunately, my words are proving themselves to be true again.
The Abu Sayyaf is a group of terrorists who has been active for a little over 20 years now, but has become an extreme threat in the past decade or so. The big-time threat from the Abu Sayyaf started back at the end of the 1990’s when they kidnappend a large group of people, mostly foreigners, who were staying at a diving resort in Sandakan, Malaysia, and then took the kidnappees to Mindanao and held them for months. This was the first time that the Abu Sayyaf gained a huge payoff in exchange for hostages. Since then, there have been a number of kidnappings engineered by the Abu Sayyaf Group against foreigners and Filipinos alike. Many of these kidnappings have resulted in payments of millions of dollars to the terrorist group.
You know, when you give payments to terrorists in exchange for hostages, it only leads to additional hostage taking incidents whenever more money is needed by the terrorists. And, of course, that is what has happened with the Abu Sayyaf. In recent years, the Philippine Government, with assistance from the US Government had gotten to the point where the Abu Sayyaf had been nearly eliminated. The group’s head had been killed several times over, only to be replaced continually be new leaders. There was a point when the Philippine government had said that the Abu Sayyaf Group had been whittled down to less than 100 people, and that they would be eliminated within months. The threat of kidnapping by the Abu Sayyaf had been virtually wiped out, with the group too busy running from troops to ensure it’s own survival, and without enough resources to mount a serious kidnapping effort.
However, in 2009, those days of having the Abu Sayyaf on the ropes and unable to take much action seem to be gone. Instead, the Abu Sayyaf has carried out a number of kidnappings in Mindanao this year. The most serious incident of kidnapping has been the case of three workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross who were ambushed and taken captive in Sulu in January. The ICRC hostages include one Filipina and two European men. The Abu Sayyaf group has now issued a deadline that one of the Red Cross hostages will be beheaded on either March 30 (today) or March 31 (the deadline date varies depending on the report) if the Philippine Government does not move troops away from the area where the Abu Sayyaf is holding it’s hostages. In addition to the ICRC hostages, the Abu Sayyaf independently holds at least three other hostages in Basilan Province, three Filipino teachers who were kidnapped in Zamboanga City in February. Over the past weekend, there were widespread reports that one of the kidnapped teachers had died in captivity, although the Abu Sayyaf denies this.
So, there is a quagmire. What is the Philippine Government to do? If they pull troops back, they are basically relinquishing to demands of the terrorists and giving them free reign of the area in Sulu where they are holding hostages. If they don’t pull back, one of the ICRC hostages may be beheaded. The threat of beheading should not be taken lightly, as the Abu Sayyaf has beheaded many captives in the past, and it seems to be their favorite way of showing they are serious.
Honestly, the Philippine Government has had plenty of opportunity to kill the beast called the Abu Sayyaf over the years. Unfortunately, they always play the same game that they play in almost every problem – when they have the beast on the ropes, they let up on it and focus on other issues instead of finishing off the problem.
At this point, in my view, there is only one thing that the Philippine Government can do, and that is an all out war against the Abu Sayyaf. If the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) cannot handle the problem, I am sure that the United States would be more than happy to assist in the elimination of the Abu Sayyaf.
But, if the Government goes forward with an all out attack on the group, won’t it result in the death of the ICRC captives? It likely will, and I feel bad about that, but it’s time to show some backbone. Get serious, once and for all. The fact is that these ICRC workers were warned not to go to to Sulu without military protection, and they refused it. So, they bear some of the fault for their situation. If the hostages die in the attack, there is nobody to blame except the Abu Sayyaf who is lawless and frankly sickening.
It’s time now to get serious. The government of the Philippines cannot back down and basically show terrorists that Mindanao is up for grabs by competing terrorist groups. The time to end lawlessness is now. Let’s get on with it.