Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Military historian: Watch Sulu, Central Mindanao too

From CNN Philippines (May 24): Military historian: Watch Sulu, Central Mindanao too

Military historian Jose Custodio warns that the AFP must stay vigilant for possible coordinated attacks the Maute Group might have with Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

All eyes are on Marawi City, but a military historian warned on Wednesday that possible coordinated attacks among the Maute group and other militant organizations across Mindanao are also possible.

These include the Abu Sayyaf Group in the Sulu Archipelago and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Central Mindanao.

"We have to watch out in areas like the Sulu Archipelago… or Central Mindanao, what the BIFF will start to do," historian Jose Custodio told CNN Philippines' The Source.

The crisis in Marawi broke out after a clash between the Maute Group and the Armed Forced of the Philippines (AFP) on Tuesday afternoon. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that the encounter cost at least three military and police lives, while hundreds of residents make their way out of the city for sanctuary.

Related: Three gov't troops killed in Marawi clash - Defense Chief

The turn of events prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law in Mindanao and cut short his visit to Russia.

Related: Duterte declares martial law in Mindanao

Custodio said that the government now "has to devote resources to Marawi to defend [and] protect it."

"You have to have physical presence there so people will not feel threatened anymore. But the problem is the assets that you're going to put there, you will strip from other areas," said Custodio. "If that happens, then whoever is there… they'll start making problems also."

Custodio observed that these groups tended to "interact, coordinate, [and] link up" with each other.

Authorities also called the Maute Group's entry into Marawi a "diversionary tactic" as they were supposed to serve an arrest warrant to Isnilon Hapilon, a rebel leader who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS). Experts noted the Maute Group is trying to get the attention and recognition of ISIS.

Custodio noted the military calling the attack a diversionary tactic was "very telling" because it "means that the other side can sense what are the weaknesses on the government's side."

He also advised to keep an eye on the New People's Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which has also been known to operate across the Philippines.

Custodio even said that the declaration of martial law "is music to the ears of the CPP-NPA."

"Martial law for them is a step closer to what they feel is the beginnings of a possible repressive state," he said. "If you go back to history, martial law for the NPA was their greatest recruiter."

Custodio added the declaration may "send a strong signal to the population that the government is on top of everything," but he also said the "AFP… is overstretched."

"It has to move quick, at the same time it has to move in a rational manner," said Custodio. "It has to be vigilant against other groups that will take advantage of this."

More military presence on the ground could be expected following the declaration, he added.

"There will be punitive operations conducted against suspected personalities, and because this is done under the ambit of martial law, they have to be very careful," said Custodio. "If you move out constitutional guarantees, then the possibility of abuse exists."

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