President Rodrigo Duterte has brushed aside a purported plan of terrorist group Islamic State (IS) to assassinate him, saying that he will not be intimidated by “mere” threats and has been living a “dangerous life” for a long time.
“I will stick to what destiny has given. If I go tomorrow, then I go,” the President told reporters over the weekend after returning from a commemorative summit between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and India.
“Assassination? If it’s my time, it’s my time. So I should not be deterred. I should not be discouraged by just mere threats. I’ve lived with it. I’ve been a prosecutor for nine years doing trial work. I live with a—it was a dangerous life then as it is now,” he added.
Mr Duterte, who was responding to queries from the media following a report by an Indian news outfit that he was a target of the terror group during his visit to India, has repeatedly warned against the possible retaliation of IS after the Philippine troops defeated IS-linked militants who laid siege on Marawi City for five months in 2017.
On tackling the threat posed by IS in the region, he added that Indonesian and Malaysian troops were free to enter the Philippines in pursuit of terrorists.
All Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur needed to do was to inform the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that they were pursuing terrorists, he added.
“Me, I will allow troops of Indonesia and Malaysia to come in if they are pursuing a lead…and they would think that they are able (to defeat terrorists). Just inform the Armed Forces about it,” he said.
He added that Philippines was also willing to join the foreign troops.
“Or we can be of assistance. If it is joint operation, you bring along my soldiers because that’s what I’ve been saying. Hot pursuit in the seas,” he said, reiterating a point he had made in late 2016 following discussions with his Malaysian and Indonesian counterparts.
“I said if it’s terrorist, my advice to them is just blow them up,” he said, adding that blowing up terrorists was no problem “because they wanted that life anyway.”
“They know that it is very dangerous,” he added.
As far as Asean was concerned, he said that he had suggested that the regional grouping “comes up with a format” on how to effectively combat terror.
“It’s like this, we have been talking about economics. And leaders meet almost every year to talk about Asean and what is good. But it is geared towards more of the economic problems,” he said.
India-based The Print, quoting a security agency source, had said last Thursday (Jan 25) that there were intelligence inputs that “the IS has its people and is planning to strike” against Mr Duterte.
The President’s agenda to militarily wipe out Islamist extremism from the state of Mindanao—along with the killing of Isnilon Hapilon, leader of Abu Sayyaf and ‘emir of the IS’ in Southeast Asia in the city of Marawi—has provoked the group to mobilise sleeper cells based in Indonesia, it added.
Philippines Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana described the threat against Mr Duterte as “normal” but assured the public that security measures were in place to ensure the President’s safety.
“The President is aware of it and his security is doing their job as they should assisted by the PNP (Philippine National Police), AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and all government security forces specially on intel,” he added.
In a separate statement, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said Mr Duterte knew all along that he was a target of IS but added that the President was not demoralised.
“After PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte) smashed them in Marawi, that’s the least they could do to their nemesis. Threaten him. But we know that. PSG (Presidential Security Group) knows that,” Mr Esperon said.