MANILA- In a bid to defend the extension of martial law in Mindanao, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday gave a 20-minute presentation to magistrates of the Supreme Court on actions taken by the military in southern Philippines.
The presentation, delivered by AFP Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence Major General Fernando Trinidad, included the military’s assessment on why military rule should be extended up to the last day of 2018.
The high court on Wednesday continued oral arguments on petitions challenging the legality of the extension of martial law in Mindanao.
Also present during the second round of oral arguments were AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Leonardo Guerrero and Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa.
Trinidad said despite gains by government forces during the past 7 months under martial law in the southern Philippine region, rebellion by various local groups, aggravated by the participation of foreign terrorists, persists.
He explained that prior to the Marawi siege, the military has already been battling various terrorist groups such as the Abu Sayyaf, the Maute Group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and the Turaife Group.
“This indicates that even before the Marawi crisis, there was already an ongoing rebellion by the Daula Islamiyah, whose intention is to establish an ISIS (Islamic State) territory, and by the communist rebels whose ultimate goal is to overthrow the government. Apart from this, the BIFF also intends to secede from the Philippines,” Trinidad told High Court justices.
BANGSAMORO ISLAMIC FREEDOM FIGHTERS
The BIFF, a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that has been active since 2008, “continues to inflict violence and sow terror in Mindanao,” the AFP said.
While it has further splintered into at least two factions, the BIFF, under a climate of martial law in Mindanao, has perpetrated 66 violent incidents, which formed part of its total number of 116 violent incidents in 2017. These include road attacks in Maguindanao and North Cotabato.
Trinidad explained that the BIFF continues to "coddle and provide support" to their relatives and comrades under the group of vice-chairman for internal affairs Abu Turaife.
“Being among the primary targets for disbandment by the AFP, they will likely continue these hostile operations in a bid to retaliate and fight for relevance and demonstrate its (BIFF’s) resiliency,” Trinidad said.
ABU SAYYAF GROUP
The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), composed of 4 subgroups based on geography namely, Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, Basilan, and Zamboanga, remains as the predominant local terrorist group in the southern Philippines, according to the AFP.
To date, the group’s manpower is at 519 fighters, with 503 firearms, 66 controlled barangays, and 345 personalities under a watchlist.
The high court magistrates were told that the group has engaged in 13 kidnapping incidents since January 2017, victimizing 37 individuals. To date, the ASG continues to hold 11 victims: 7 foreigners and 4 locals.
In these incidents, a total of P61.2-million in ransom landed in the hands of the ASG, Trinidad said.
He added that despite relentless government offensives, the ASG has been able to recruit and replenish its ranks, and would continue to attempt to stage abductions outside its area of operations, thereby putting public safety "at greater risk.”
Further, “the death of [ASG leader Isnilon Hapilon] may serve as a catalyst for the merging of the ASG Sulu and Basilan to serve a common purpose,” Trinidad stressed, referring to the erstwhile ASG Basilan leader slain during firefights in Marawi City.
AFP intelligence show ASG Sulu and Basilan may join forces to stage bombings using an improvised explosive device (IED) in urban areas in Isabela and Lamitan in Basilan, Zamboanga, and nearby areas.
Hapilon’s demise has thrust into the spotlight several possible replacements to lead the ASG Basilan group.
The AFP said the selection includes Ismael Abdul Malik aka Abu Turaife/Toraype, leader of the Turaife group and BIFF leader; Mohammad Reza Kiram, who, via “The Solid Edifice” Daesh video, called on extremists to join jihad in the Philippines and beheaded an Arab; and Abu Walid, former member of an Indonesian Islamist group who called on foreign fighters to come to the Philippines if they cannot go to Syria.
MAUTE GROUP A.K.A. DAULA ISLAMIYAH
Daesh-affiliate Daula Islamiyah or Maute Group has intensified its recruitment activities after the five-month Marawi siege, thereby increasing by “more or less 400” its number of fighters, according to the AFP. This is roughly the same number of fighters that started the siege that erupted on May 23, 2017.
The continuing recruitment is attributed to the region’s “clannish culture” and the intent of surviving members to “avenge their killed relatives and parents during the Marawi operations.”
The group is offering a “financial gain” of P15,000 to P50,000 to each recruit, the AFP said.
The new recruits are trained in tactics, marksmanship, and bombing operations in several training camps in Lanao del Sur, with “recruits with high potential” undergoing training for IED-making and urban operations from foreign terrorists.
“Daula Islamiyah members will attempt to replicate the siege on Marawi in other cities and areas in Mindanao… they will attempt bombings not only in Mindanao but Metro Manila and urban populated areas,” Trinidad said.
Along with the other terror groups, this group may also resort to “lone wolf” attacks, according to the AFP.
Manila, the seat of power, and Davao City, President Rodrigo Duterte's hometown, are possible targets, Trinidad explained.
The “influx of suspected foreign terrorists capitalizing the porous maritime boundaries in southern Philippines” has further complicated the situation in the region, the AFP pointed out, with these terrorists entering the country disguised as tourists and businessmen.
The AFP said a total of 48 fighters were monitored during the Marawi siege. Ten foreigners attempted to enter the main battle area to augment terrorists fighting state forces in October 2017, while 15 Indonesian Daesh-inspired terrorists also entered the southern Philippines in November of the same year.
On December 4, 2017, 4 suspected Indonesian terrorists attempting to travel to Sulu via boat were intercepted in Sabah.
This January, an “unidentified Egyptian Daesh figure” was monitored in the Philippines.
The AFP explained that this influx of suspected foreign terrorists to the Philippines was due to the terror campaign’s shift to Southeast Asia after the fall of the ISIS in the Middle East.
The Marawi siege “shifted the international spotlight of terrorism from the Middle East to Southeast Asia,” the AFP said, with its intelligence agencies maintaining that the influx “will persist.”
THE NEW PEOPLE’S ARMY
In 2017, NPA members in Mindanao launched 422 attacks on the island alone, representing 64 percent of its atrocities nationwide, based on AFP records.
The same records bare that 47 state troops died and 75 others were wounded in these attacks, while 31 civilians were killed and 10 were wounded.
A total of 59 arson incidents were also allegedly launched by the communists in the region, while their alleged extortion activities totalled P2.6 billion.
The rebels also infiltrated and politicized several urban areas and established a “shadow government” in others, the military said.
“The rebels in the Mindanao Commission are also now capable of reinforcing cadres in Northern Luzon,” Trinidad said.
He explained that there has been a significant decline in communist atrocities under the Mindanao martial law, but this “prompted [their] leadership directive to intensify tactical offensives.”
“It shall continue to exploit issues for its propaganda activities. The CPP-NPA will continue to intensify the conduct of tactical offensives,” Trinidad stated, citing the assessment of the AFP in so far as the communist rebels are concerned.
“The fate of Mindanao now rests in our hands: the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary, and the security sector alike. As responsible citizens of this country, we need to address the rebellion that continues to hamper the peace and prosperity of our people,” he said, as he ended his presentation.
The High Court heard oral arguments on four petitions against the year-long extension of martial law in Mindanao in two consecutive rounds this week, with petitioners arguing that there was no factual basis to prolong military rule in the region for the lack of actual firefights in the area.