Can Duterte Fight Fire with Fire?
By admin June 30, 2017

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has been criticized for his brash, unfiltered, and borderline vulgar commentary when addressing sensitive domestic issues. Since his landslide victory in the 2016 election, Duterte has inaugurated hardline counter-drug and crime programs. His policies have human rights groups watching closely as persistent corruption and extrajudicial killings led Human Rights Watch to characterize his first year in office as a “human rights calamity.”

Duterte’s strong opinions and harsh policies have spilled over into his counter-terrorism policy as the country deals with increasing incidences of terrorism and the growing threat of ISIS-inspired violent actors. On May 23, militants affiliated with the Islamic State initiated fighting in Marawi, located on the southern island of Mindanao, that left 400 combatants and civilians dead. Just this week, retrieval teams recovered 17 more bodies believed to be villagers killed in an area of Marawi that has since returned to government control.

The continued fighting in Marawi has showcased the lack of defense planning and preparation, capacity, and overall weakness of the Philippine military and government in handling crises. With the reputation of being relatively lawless and chaotic, the Philppines’ standing as a regional liability has only intensified with citizens returning from Marawi with the same radical ideas and violent skillsets as those coming back from Syria.

At the ASEAN Trilateral Terror Meeting in Manila last week, representatives from Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore expressed grave concern over the situation in Marawi, noting the real possibility of the formation of an ISIS stronghold in the Philippines. Analysts do not predict that terrorist-related chaos will spread to more stable neighboring countries, but Duterte is intent on eradicating the threat immediately to restore regional trust and domestic peace.

Duterte declared martial law and has issued orders to troops specifying, “if he carries a gun, he is not a soldier, he is not a policeman, just kill him.” The President has also articulated little regard for the civilian lives lost in the crossfire, asserting “it is the duty of the civilians to flee or seek cover.” Though this military strategy is receiving a bulk of international attention because of human rights concerns and the extreme nature of Duterte’s statements, strategic partnerships and foreign aid are also included in the President’s plan.

The President mentioned having no knowledge of American technical assistance in the fight against terrorism in the Philippines, opting to seek help from allies in Asia and Europe. On Wednesday, a Chinese shipment of assault and sniper rifles and over six million ammunition arrived in the Philippines. The delivery is the first example of Chinese military aid since Duterte threatened to pivot away from Manila’s alliance with Washington, opting instead for closer relations with Beijing. France is also providing support through intensified intelligence sharing.

Duterte’s fanaticism, though inappropriate in most diplomatic and political situations, may prove beneficial in combatting terrorism. Fighting fire with fire can be dangerous, but thus far the President has successfully formed stronger relationships with stable governments in Europe and Asia and has maintained high approval ratings among its constituents.

Read More:

Philippines Country Profile

Profile: Duterte the controversial ‘strongman’ of the Philippines

France assures support, sharing of intelligence with PH gov’t in worldwide war on terrorism

What Did the ASEAN Trilateral Terror Meeting Achieve?

China donates weapons to Philippines in battle against terrorism

Philippine leader tells troops not to fear civilian deaths

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