Duterte announced on Saturday that he would call on troops of the Star Division, an infantry unit specialized in anti-guerrilla warfare, to prepare to help fight extremist groups in The Philippines.
The President also vowed to provide a new budget for the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, warning that Abu Sayyaf is now working to establish a caliphate in Mindanao and the rest of Southeast Asia.
“They are hungry for a fight to establish a caliphate in Southeast Asia,” Duterte said on Saturday.
In August, the Philippines government proposed a 2017 defense budget with a year-on-year increase to PHP134.2 billion (USD2.9 billion). Figures published by the Philippine Department of Budget and Management (DMB) in August show that the Philippine Army, with an allocation of PHP56.88 billion, will receive the largest portion of the funding, while the Philippine Navy and Air Force receive PHP20.59 billion and PHP18.89 billion respectively.
Last week at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte stated that he was considering shifting priority away from the United States for matters concerning acquisition of defense equipment. He announced that possible deals with Russia and China were “in the pipeline”, and committed to upgrading the nation’s armed forces to better address recent terrorist attacks. The US had recently offered F-16 jets to the Philippines, and had provided two warships, but Duterte said he would rather have smaller planes and bombers to ward off Abu Sayyaf more effectively. Nearly 75 percent of the Philippines’ weapons imports since the 1950s have come from the US.
He added that the government of the Philippines will not negotiate with Abu Sayyaf, unlike with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
This is a considerable pivot from Duterte’s initial month in office in July when he restarted peace talks with the country’s two major Muslim rebel groups, and pleaded for peace. He has now hardened his position against Abu Sayyaf and branded them as terrorists following the bombing of his hometown in August.
On 17 September, Abu Sayyaf freed a Norwegian man, Kjartan Sekkingstad, kidnapped a year ago in the southern Philippines along with two Canadians who were later beheaded.
“Under the intense pressure of focused military operations, the terrorist kidnap-for-ransom Abu Sayyaf group was constrained to release Sekkingstad, as holding him under custody slows down their continued movement,” said military spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo.
The southern Philippine island of Mindanao has experienced regular bombings since the 1970s by heavily-armed Muslim rebels seeking independence from the federal government’s rule. The 5th Infantry otherwise know as the Star Division, is one of the country’s biggest Army divisions.