Arms, Cells, Drugs, Clans (ACDC): Challenges in Annihilating the ASG

It has been more than 3 decades now since the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) has been in existence in the southern Philippines, yet, its forces have not been completely washed out to the present. ACDC: Arms, Cells, Drugs, and Clans. They all pose as challenges in tearing down the ASG.

Arms. In a study done in 2007 by the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, results showed that Sulu bears a culture of arms, that every house is said to be armed with a gun or a bladed weapon. While the reasons varied from self-defense to even offense especially for perceived personal or family enemies, the issue that stays unresolved is the control in ownership of arms which, by Philippine law, should be covered by the Philippine Firearms Law. The paradox lies on the inability to keep track of purchases in contrast to the registration of, and licensure to carry firearms.

Cells. As shown in past reports and narratives during police and military investigations, Sayyaf members opérate like cells: they get killed, and those left behind recruit more, that the numbers grow and the ideology is enflamed. Sayyaf members enjoin sons of dead members (called ‘yateem’) while young, and orient them of their cause as early as possible. The yateem (orphans in Islam) and close brothers and male relatives grow up with nursed vengeance and hatred. Sayyaf members ensure the dead ‘brothers of their cause’ in the cells are replaced. Sayyaf members strive to keep identities of their members extremely confidential which get revealed at times through deep penetrating military-serving agents. The yateem are nurtured, and when unnoticed, may be left to fend on their own to follow the footsteps of their dead fathers.

Drugs. The proliferation of prohibited drugs, most common among which is shabu (Methamphetamine) defeat efforts of combatting violent extremism beyond mere ideology. Drugs disable the sane mental capacities of the Sayyaf members, some of whom have been reported earlier to be maleducated or uneducated at all. Reports earlier showed that there have been Sayyaf members who have been schooled for some years, even up to a year or two in college. Former ASG spokesman Abu Sabaya had studied Criminology at a school in Zamboanga City.

The Philippine Marines has earlier reported on marijuana plants which they burned in Matatal, Maimbung town since these were used by the Sayyaf as prohibited drugs. Another Marine Battalion likewise took over a 15-hectare land with marijuana plants in Binuang, Talipao.

Clans. The closely-knit families of residents in Sulu are embedded in a clannish culture that even those in power and influence cover up family members and/or close relatives involved in violent extremism or in terrorism. While perpetrators of acts of terror and extreme violence are known to them, relatives in power act mum. The adage, ‘Blood is thicker than water,’ applies. Those in power get informed, and once they know, they also work out that the perpetrators are shielded, especially when the ‘mastermind’ is someone politically popular being a local government unit leader, and worse, a religious authority. The act of shielding is part of their culture, done by a misplaced raison d’etre that the clan’s honor ought not be stained.

Wives may be relatives by affinity but their loyalty and expected attachment to their husbands and sons need to be carefully studied—not in terms of the psycho-moral attachment, rather, in terms of the relations of affinity (example, as spouses of a Sayyaf member’s family members even distant relatives). On occasion, the relationship may hardly be identified but they attempt to “link up” simply because they have similar surnames.

ACDC. In electronics, this would have meant Alternating Current, Direct Current. In Filipino culture, the term refers to being by all means incongruous. An exact epitome would be a Janus-faced personality that openly speak peace, promote peace, and condemn acts of terrorism, specifically acts of the Abu Sayyaf. Yet, behind it all, such personality supports the ASG in any way: silence in the knowledge of a person’s involvement and the extent, logistical support vis-a-vis food, funds, and ride—be it a 2- or 4-wheeled vehicle, a speed or high-powered engine boat. The support may be through communications (the mobile phone and credits from any telecommunications network, including use of facilities (laptop, and modem with feasible Apps).

A careful and thorough review of their movements in the Zamboanga-Basilan-Sulu-TawiTawi geographical región indicate that the Sulu and TawiTawi archipelagos as well as the Basilan Strait and Zamboanga Peninsula afford opportunities of entry, exit, and escape—beyond imagination.

During the past decade, a contingent of visiting US forces led by well-qualified commanders who belonged to the 1st Special Operations Detachment-Delta, was even sent to Zamboanga City in southern Philippines for a dozen years (from 2001 to 2013). It had deployed a forward operations company in Basilan in the early years of the millennium, then in Sulu. Yet, despite their support and partnership, the goal of annihilating the extremely violent organization seems unlikely, unless a carefully studied plan, program and mission is set. [As an afterthought, while the visiting forces had the arms, they were not allowed to battle (openly, that is) against local enemies.]

And such must be politically willed from Malacañan to the smallest village or “barangay” in southern Philippines. (Maria Frencie Carreon, NoToViolence.PH)

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