The Philippines government may want to believe that the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Saayaf group is now a “crippled” force after a US-backed offensive killed several of its top leaders.
However, the group is also determined to show that they continued to be a force to be reckoned with. This they did by a signature act of terror – kidnapping and beheading six road workers and a fisherman. Their heads were later delivered on Thursday (19 April) to various military outposts in South Philippines by civilians. The bodies of these seven victims were later found in an isolated village in Sulu.
The beheadings caused an outrage throughout the Philippines. President Macapagal-Arroyo said in a statement, “The beheading of the seven captives in Sulu once again demonstrates the Abu Saayaf's ruthlessness and only strengthens our resolve to neutralize them.”
What is of graver concern is the apparent signs of growing cooperation between a renegade faction of the Moro National Liberation Front and the Abu Saayaf. A commander of the MNLF, Habier Malik, had earlier shelled a Philippines Marine camp, killing two Marines and a civilian. Intelligence officers speculated that the beheadings might have been part of a move to divert the military’s attention from pursuing Malik.
The various Islamic leaders in the Philippines were swift to condemn the beheadings. The lead convenor of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy (PCID) said, “It just proves that the Abu Saayaf Group is un-Islamic and should be eliminated.” The Deputy House Speaker of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) also emphasized that the actions were un-Islamic. Sultan Yahya Tomawis, the executive director of the Office on Muslim Affairs (OMA) stated that the Muslim community in the Philippines should not be blamed for these actions. The ARMM Islamic clerics also delivered an agreed uniform sermon to all the mosques in the Autonomous Region, reminding, “Life is considered to be too precious to be taken away ... Terrorism is evil, indiscriminate.”
The United States and Australia have already issued travel advisories on Friday (20 April) to their citizens warning of further terrorist attacks in Southern Philippines. The US advisory was issued two days after two people were killed in bomb explosions in the city of Cotabato, 930 km south of Manila.
However, not all acts of terrorism are conducted by the Abu Saayaf nor are these acts confined to the South. Instead, the Philippines has also been swept by waves of political killings. In Laguna, (in the Luzon province), the incumbent councilor of San Pablo city and a vice mayoral candidate, Councilor Edgardo Adajar was shot by unidentified gunmen. He was lucky to survive. Not so for Reynald Jumamil, a ward leader in nearby Tangub city. He was found dead in a suburban village on Tuesday.
A news reporter with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Delfin Mallari Jr. was also shot, though he survived. Mallari had been described as a ‘hard-hitting’ journalist who had highlighted the insurgency problem in the countryside, illicit drug trade, and illegal gambling. He insisted that the attempt on his life was politically motivated as a gubernatorial candidate Representative Rafael Nantes had earlier threatened him.
In the light of these spates of killings, Arroyo’s assurance of action seems to be hollow. She asserted, “Our record is clear: The Philippines has zero tolerance for terrorists within and even beyond our borders.” Unfortunately, the only clear record of the current Philippines government is its failure to tackle both terrorists within and without. (23 April 2007)
Anakpawis Leader, Laguna Bet Escape Slay Attempts (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 23 April 2007)
Independent Probe of Attack on Inquirer Man Sought (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 22 April 2007)
Muslim Leaders Condemn ASG Beheadings in Sulu (Manila Bulletin, 21 April 2007)
Beheadings Outrage Arroyo, Islamic Scholars (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 21 April 2007)
Bandits Told Sulu Folk to Bring Heads to Military (Manila Standard, 21 April 2007)
Philippines Increases Efforts Against Rebels (The International Herald Tribune, 21 April 2007)
Illonggo Folks Shocked Over Abduction (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 21 April 2007)
US Warns of Terrorist Attacks in the Southern Philippines (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 20 April 2007)