by Michael Adams
The Philippines are embroiled in a national crisis following the bombing of the Roxas night market in Davao city on Friday night. The attack on the hometown of President Rodrigo Duerte has killed at least 15 people and injured dozens more.
While the perpetrators of the Roxas market bombing are still at large, it is widely believe the attack was organized by the Filipino terrorist group Abu Sayyaf. The organization reportedly claimed responsibility for the strike through their spokesperson, but later disavowed the statement, laying blame at the feet of their allies, Daulat Ul-Islamiya. Abu Sayyaf asserts the bombing was a show of support from their partners in militant Islamism after a government-led assault on the group’s stronghold in Sulu left 30 members dead. Abu Sayyaf has made headlines in recent years for their alliance with ISIS and their practice of kidnapping foreigners for ransom, though their ranks have thinned significantly in the last decade following increased retaliation from the government. Now with somewhere around 200 members operating from the small island of Sulu, recent attacks are tinted with an air of desperation.
President Duerte—a native of Davao city, where his daughter succeeded him as mayor—is known for an emotional style of governance, but seems to have taken this most recent bombing especially personally. Duerte has declared a nationwide “state of lawlessness,” calling on the military to intervene in the fight against Abu Sayyaf. In a particularly candid moment, the furious Filipino President vowed to eat the terrorists alive. Doubling down on the comments, in his usual outlandish style, Duerte threatened further, “I will really carve your torso open. Give me vinegar and salt and I will eat you.”
The situation on the island of Mindanao has deteriorated in the past week. In addition to the Davao City bombing, two more bombings were reported, targeting a transmission tower and the house of the vice mayor of Polomolok respectively. Three schools in Davao City have also received bomb threats. In the wake of the attack on the Roxas market, Mayor Sara Duerte-Carpio has sacked the chief of police of Davao city and announced a reward of 2,000,000 Philippine pesos for anyone who delivers the perpetrators alive.
The Flag of ISIS, Adopted by Abu Sayyaf in 2014
The emergency measures President Duerte has undertaken following the attack have not come without opposition. Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangillinan has asked for formal statistics to justify the state of lawlessness, noting that the National Police have stated the crime rate has dropped nearly 50% during the first few months of Duerte’s administration. Duerte himself has made more than a few enemies during his ignominious presidency, which is to be expected from a man who can list among his accomplishments the killing of 2,000 people in the country’s war on drugs. The president also came under fire earlier this week for calling President Obama the “son of a whore,” when asked whether or not he thought Obama would question the death toll over the first two months of his term. The comments resulted in President Obama calling off a planned talk with Duerte, who in a rare moment of humility actually said he regretted the insult.
The thought that Rodrigo Duerte, a man who does not blink twice at the concept of citizens murdering drug users, might have actually been holding something back these past few months is nothing short of terrifying. While Abu Sayyaf represents a significant threat to the safety of Filipinos and just about everybody else living off the coast of Southeast Asia, a violent and unrestrained response to the bombing in Davao City may wind up doing more damage to the nation in the long run. For what it’s worth, Duerte’s approval ratings are still hovering around 90%, as his constituency views the man as the iron-fist they need to win the fight against the insurgencies and criminal organizations that have plagued the Philippines since its independence from the United States at the end of World War II.
Little other context is needed to describe the state of the country than the fact that the leader whose every action is a punchline in Western nations is universally beloved in his homeland. It may seem absurd from the outside, but the man is making things happen. Whether or not the impact of his administration will prove positive, however, is a question for the history books.
Featured Image: Rodrigo Duerte Speaking on the Trade Network of Drug Syndicates, Holding a Chart Illustrating the Topic, Source: Public Domain