Saturday, September 3, 2016

Duterte be warned--War in Jolo could precipitate regional Jihad

Sometimes, fighting firepower with more firepower could lead to a worsening of a situation.

My prayers are for the residents of Davao City which was a subject of another bomb attack by elements of a new Islamic group, an ally of the Al Harakatul Al Islamiya or the Abu Sayyaf.  I have relatives in Davao, and I could only pray for their safety.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has deployed 9,000 personnel and resources in the battle-scarred island of Jolo. Abu Ramie, the spokesperson of the group says their leaders have anticipated this confrontation “long before” and their forces are also ready for a “jihad”.

And it seems that our President is equally desirous to do battle against this group which has been in existence since the time of former president Fidel Ramos. How many Philippine presidents had declared an “all-out war” against the ASG? From the time of Estrada to Duterte, many have tried and failed, precisely because this group continues to have the support of their fellow Muslims, who silently agree on what they are fighting for.

Credit to this too to the failure of the Local Government Unit (LGU) to provide the peoples of Jolo with the government concern they truly deserve? The problem of Jolo is bigger than anything, even bigger than the fight being waged by Maguindanao-ans and Maranaos, because the Tausugs are fighting for independence from the clutches of their traditional colonialists who consider Jolo their own when it is not.

It is advised not to engage the ASG in this “last war,” in Patikul, as what the ASG themselves describe it. This so-called “war of attrition” will backfire and will cause the end of Mr. Duterte’s administration.

First, an intensified war in Jolo would transform this island from a local insurgency area into a regional flashpoint. The ISIS is losing its war in the Middle East and surely, it’s leaders are now looking for another area of conflict, a place where they can again marshall their forces into and fight state forces with even a modicum of success.

This “war” in Jolo was obviously provoked by the actions of the ASG and there is always a reason for this. Duterte should not underestimate this group. The ASG, through the help of its allied organisations outside Jolo, can engage the AFP in a protracted war.

If Duterte makes this mistake, he risks turning Jolo and the rest of continental Mindanao into an area of vicious conflict which could be exploited by external forces and could eventually lead to it becoming a regional arena of jihad. This has international implications, bigger than the ego of Mr. Duterte.

IN such wars, nothing can be achieved by fighting fire with fire, because the arena of battle is not in the soddy soil that these combatants trample but in the mind. Those who fight the Philippine government are convinced that they are fighting a monster who causes them misery and an unfulfilled life.

No amount of fire power can convince an Islamist to surrender his beliefs. For a Muslim, dying for God’s cause is more worthy than anything being offered by this world.

Make no mistake about it, but what is happening in Jolo is larger than previously thought. Ramie’s pronouncement of a “unity” of Islamic forces in the Philippines is indicative of a very serious security threat, a sign that IS elements in the region is getting stronger or has achieved operational superiority.

Mr. Duterte, this case of Jolo is not as simple as it looks. Do not toy with it.  Do not even make the mistake of underestimating this. The effects of war in that area could eventually spill over other areas of the country.  Do not sacrifice the lives of these soldiers without having a strategic plan.

Second, instead of deploying your dogs of war, consider deploying economic resources into the island. Dismantle the traditional political families dominating or exploiting the poverty of the people. Authorize bringing back the barter trade system, the economic system which had provided economic opportunities for Tausug families for generations. Instead of allowing Zamboanga to be the center of barter trade in the region, bring it back to Sulu.

The Muslims of Sulu does not care whatever you call their governance model for as long as it adheres to the precepts of Islam—the bedrock for which this Tausug civilization had been created. For centuries, the Tausugs have been fighting this war, and always emerged from it victorious.