‘Bomb them all’: Rodrigo Duterte orders troops to blast militants and their kidnapped hostages
Philippine president also backtracked on earlier promise not to impose martial law, indicating he could do so if drug problem becomes ‘very virulent’
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he has ordered his troops to bomb extremists who flee with their captives in a bid to stop a wave of kidnappings at sea, calling the loss of civilian lives in such an attack “collateral damage”.
Duterte has previously stated that he had told his Indonesian and Malaysian counterparts their forces can blast away as they pursue militants who abduct sailors in waters where the three countries converge and bring their kidnap victims to the southern Philippines. He said in a speech to members of a chamber of commerce in the southern city of Davao late on Saturday, that he had given the same orders to Filipino forces.
He said he instructed the navy and the coast guard that “if there are kidnappers and they’re trying to escape, bomb them all”.
“They say ‘hostages’. Sorry, collateral damage,” he said in a speech to business people in Davao, his southern hometown.
He said such an approach would enable the government to get even with the ransom-seeking militants.
“You can’t gain mileage for your wrongdoing, I will really have you blasted,” he said.
His advice to potential victims? “So, really, don’t allow yourselves to be kidnapped.”
Duterte’s remarks reflect the alarm and desperation of the Philippines, along with Malaysia and Indonesia, in halting a series of ransom kidnappings primarily by Abu Sayyaf militants and their allies along a busy waterway for regional trade.
On Saturday, ransom-seeking Abu Sayyaf gunmen freed a South Korean captain and his Filipino crewman who were abducted three months ago from their cargo ship.
The gunmen handed skipper Park Chul-hong and Glenn Alindajao over to Moro National Liberation Front rebels, who turned them over to Philippine officials in southern Jolo town in predominantly Muslim Sulu province.
The Moro rebels, who signed a 1996 peace deal with the government, have helped negotiate the release of several hostages of the smaller but more violent Abu Sayyaf, which is blacklisted by the US as a terrorist organisation for kidnappings, beheadings and bombings.
Duterte’s adviser dealing with insurgents, Jesus Dureza, said he was not aware of any ransom being paid in exchange for the freedom of the sailors. At least 27 hostages, many of them foreign crewmen, remain in the hands of different Abu Sayyaf factions, he said.
There have been persistent speculations, however, that most of the freed hostages have been ransomed off.
Without a known foreign source of funds, the Abu Sayyaf has survived mostly on ransom kidnappings, extortion and other acts of banditry.
A confidential Philippine government threat assessment report seen last year said the militants pocketed at least 353 million pesos (US$7.3 million) from ransom kidnappings in the first six months of 2016.
The militants have mostly targeted slow-moving tugboats in the busy sea bordering the southern Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Duterte also indicated he would impose martial law if the drug problem became “very virulent”, just a month after dismissing as “nonsense” any suggestion he might do so.
Duterte has made a brutal war on drugs a central pillar of his administration since he took office in the middle of last year. Since July, more than 6,000 people have been killed in the anti-drug campaign, in both police operations and unexplained killings by suspected “vigilantes”. More than 1 million drug peddlers and users have been arrested or have surrendered to authorities.
Duterte said he has sworn to protect the country against all threats, including drugs, which he said has affected about 4 million people.
“If I wanted to, and it will deteriorate into something really very virulent, I will declare martial law,” he said. “No one can stop me. My country transcends everything else, even the limitations.”
The Philippines endured a decade of martial law from the early 1970s and memories of campaigns to restore democracy and protect human rights are fresh in the minds of many people.
Last month, Duterte appeared to rule out any possibility he might declare martial law.
“That’s nonsense,” he said. “We had martial law before, what happened? Did it improve our lives now? Not at all.”