Editorial posted to the Philippine Star (Feb 11): Alive and well
Remember the Abu Sayyaf? Six of the bandits were killed by Marines during a raid in Talipao, Sulu over the weekend, the Armed Forces of the Philippines reported. But the bandits are still holding eight hostages, two of them Europeans kidnapped way back in 2012. The raid was meant to flush out the kidnappers.
Will the nation ever be freed of this threat? Since the 1990s, the Abu Sayyaf has pillaged villages and even city centers in Mindanao, torched churches and kidnapped missionaries, and blown up a ferry in Manila Bay. The bandits have snatched teachers, raping and beheading many of their captives, disrupting public education in the provinces where they operate. They have raided private resorts as far as Palawan, grabbing hostages, and taken into custody tourists kidnapped in Malaysia.
Abu Sayyaf atrocities have been among the biggest setbacks to development particularly in the provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. The entire Philippine tourism industry has been affected by their activities. Yet the group survives, managing to continue its principal fund-raising activity, ransom kidnapping.
The military cannot eliminate this problem alone. Effective local government can deprive troublemakers of sanctuary in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. In recent years, however, there have been reports of local officials themselves being in cahoots with Abu Sayyaf members in ransom kidnapping.
Development will also deprive the Abu Sayyaf of sanctuary, but this has not happened in the provinces where the group operates. This has led to speculation that there is no political will to eliminate the Abu Sayyaf, which was reportedly created by state forces originally to infiltrate genuine Islamic threat groups. In the past years, the Abu Sayyaf has been much weakened by the loss of its founding members and many fighters. Surely the government can neutralize what’s left of the group.