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Is Du30 confused, or confusing ASG?

IS PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte just trying to confuse the enemy – or is he himself now confused on how to deal with the Abu Sayyaf group that is sowing terror in the South while claiming allegiance to the Islamic State advancing across Muslim areas?

Before he assumed office last June 30, Duterte was saying he did not consider the Abu Sayyaf an enemy, that it is a link to achieving peace in Mindanao. He offered it the choice of talking or fighting.

But four months ago, he ruled out talks with the terrorist group, telling a crowd at Malacañang: “I will not deal with persons with extreme brutality, there is no redeeming factor or reason for me to sit down and talk with criminals.” (We agree – fdp)

To magnify its being a force to contend with, the Abu Sayyaf is now claiming links to the Islamic State, the self-proclaimed caliphate attempting to establish by force its political and theological authority over the world’s Muslims starting with those in Iraq and Syria.

Displaying violence to catch the eye of IS, the Abu Sayyaf has made a big show of displaying IS flags and beheading kidnap victims (another hostage was executed IS-style last August) that they originally abducted just to collect ransom.

The well-known Duterte “kill ‘em” approach apparently having failed to scare the Abu Sayyaf, the President seems to have decided to shift to being more conciliatory, announcing last Friday that he was now open to start peace talks with the terrorists.

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He explained to the press in Zamboanga City the shift: “I can be nasty and I can be a bad boy, but I am talking about a nation. Kung mag-full blast ako diyan invasion, ipadala ko talaga mga sundalo pati bomba na.

“But I cannot do that because there will be huge losses pati civilians which is really what matters most. If you can really stop it for a while, while we talk pati Abu Sayyaf, I’m ready to talk to them.”

The Commander-in-Chief said he was willing to open the talks himself: “Wala man rin silang makukuha kung patayin nila ako.”

We have not heard of any Abu Sayyaf response to the President’s invitation to dialogue – we think not because his urong-sulong antics are confusing the terrorists.

• IS flag flew over Lanao town hall!

IT IS disconcerting to see on TV the Islamic State flag, instead of the national colors, flying even for a short while at the old town hall of Butig, Lanao del Sur, where members of the Maute jihadist group hid Saturday morning when pursued by government troops.

The soldiers were chasing the heavily armed group of about 200 led by Abdullah Maute, a Jordanian-trained terrorist who had organized the jihadist Dawlah Islamiya.

While it was reassuring that the municipal building and other structures were recovered, with at least 11 Maute fighters reportedly killed, the fragile security situation in the area where the terrorists have relatives is cause for concern. A reassessment is obviously needed.

Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, AFP spokesman, said in a radio interview: “We launched the operation with the aim of capturing the leader of the group sowing chaos in parts of Lanao, Maguindanao and Cotabato. They are also responsible for the recent bombing in Davao City.”

The fight in Butig flared up after the military captured in June the group’s Darul Iman stronghold. The Maute band fled to Butig as the military pounded their old lairs with artillery and air strikes.

Fighting began around 10 a.m. Saturday when troops from the 49th Infantry Battalion engaged Maute members for some 45 minutes at barangay Bayabao Poblacion, after which the terrorists withdrew.

As they escaped, the terrorists took time to hoist what looked like an IS flag at the abandoned town hall and positioned themselves in the nearby national high school and mosque. The flag was taken down shortly after by government troops.

TV viewers also noted the risks being taken by the media, especially TV crews who had to be on-the-spot to capture and report the fast-moving scenes. In such situations, bombs and bullets would not discriminate between combatants and news reporters.

One wonders if media owners have provisions for ensuring the safety and care (in case anything untoward happens) of their personnel.

Major Filemon Tan, Western Mindanao Command spokesman, said Maute had renamed his group Dawla Islamiya to impress foreign terrorists and get funding. He blamed the group for the Davao bombing last September that left 14 people dead and wounded 70 others.

He said many Maute members are also with the Alkhobar kidnapping syndicate which used to be led by former lieutenants of Moro Islamic Liberation Front chieftain Hashim Salamat who broke away from the MILF after he died.

Lanao del Sur officials reported yesterday that they were providing relief to some 2,000 displaced villagers. They said food rations were distributed last Sunday, with promises of more to come.

Local officials and barangay leaders said no fewer than 17 members of the Maute group had been killed and that the rest had been driven away. It was not clear who did the body count and gathered the corpses.

They said retreating terrorists took farm animals with them, although it seemed difficult for fleeing fighters to be pulling slow-moving livestock.

One problem of media in situations like that one in far-away Butig is their usual inability to secure timely first-hand information and their usually having to rely on reports of authorities and local folk.

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