MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday expressed fears that terrorism might spread in areas outside Mindanao, where government troops recently defeated Islamic State-inspired fighters aiming to build a stronghold in Southeast Asia.
Duterte admitted government troops might have a hard time containing violence if terrorists carry out simultaneous attacks in various places.
Martial law remains in effect in Mindanao despite the end of the five-month siege of Marawi City in October, with officials citing remaining security threats in the region.
“This is hypothetical, I don't want to scare you, but if you do it in the Visayas or Mindanao in three or four places simultaneously, mahihirapan po tayo. It's going to be bloody, very, very bloody,” Duterte said in a speech in Tarlac City.
The President also said he might consider arming civilians if the worst case scenario happens.
“If hell breaks loose, I’d have to consult the military and maybe I will allow you to own high-powered guns. That is a far-fetched idea. I hope the trouble will be contained in Mindanao only,” he said.
Duterte made this statement just as the military recently made arrests of individuals allegedly linked to the Islamic State, including a suspected sub-leader of the Maute group in Tondo, Manila.
The military has also said the Islamic State may have a new leader in Southeast Asia, following the death of its erstwhile regional leader, Isnilon Hapilon, during the 5-month Marawi siege.
Maj. Ronald Suscano, spokesperson of the Philippine Army's 1st Infantry Division, was quoted in reports Monday that Abu Dar, a native of Pagayawan town in Lanao del Sur, has succeeded Hapilon.
Abu Dar was reportedly a money courier during the Marawi siege. Suscano described him to be more radical than Hapilon and is known to have connections with foreign terrorists.
Armed Forces spokesperson Brig. Gen. Bienvenido Datuin said remnants of ISIS-linked terror groups pursued the goal of their predecessors, which is to establish a caliphate in the Philippines.
"He has the resources, he was able to bring that along within and of course, sabi ko, 'yung leadership skills niya, it may be possible that this may guide them into forming another group and plan another big event or big activity," Datuin told reporters.