President Duterte is in the mood for eating kilawin again. The President, in a meeting Wednesday with local officials in Davao del Sur, showed a mobile phone with photos of two Vietnamese hostages decapitated by the Abu Sayyaf. This was hours after the bodies of Hoang Thong and Hoang Va Hai were found by villagers in the town of Sumisip in Basilan.
“I will eat your liver if you want me to. Give me salt and vinegar and I will eat it in front of you,” Duterte said, addressing the Abu Sayyaf. “I eat everything. I am not picky. I eat even what cannot be swallowed.”
The President had issued a similar warning in April, saying he could be 50 times more vicious than the Abu Sayyaf, after the terrorists clashed with government forces in Bohol. The Armed Forces of the Philippines, which has seen dozens of its members decapitated by the Abu Sayyaf, does not have the appetite for ceviche a la Duterte. But the beheading of the two Vietnamese ship crewmembers is a reminder to the AFP about the continuing threat posed by the Abu Sayyaf in conflict zones outside Marawi.
The Supreme Court, in its ruling upholding the validity of the President’s Mindanao-wide martial law Proclamation 216, has linked Abu Sayyaf attacks together with depredations committed by other terrorist groups to the rebellion that the SC deemed as sufficient justification for declaring martial law. The response to the rebellion should not overlook the threat posed by the Abu Sayyaf in the island provinces of Basilan and Sulu, where the group is still holding other hostages for ransom, most of them foreigners.
Security officials have admitted being surprised by the ferocity of the Maute fighters in Marawi. AFP resources are focused on the battle to rid Marawi of Maute terrorists and find the Abu Sayyaf’s Isnilon Hapilon, reportedly the Islamic State commander in the Philippines, who is believed holed up in the ruined city.
The beheading of the Vietnamese could be a diversion to reduce pressure on the terrorists still in Marawi. But it is also a reminder that government forces cannot ease up on the Abu Sayyaf in other parts of Mindanao. AFP members must make good on the threat of their commander-in-chief to eat the Abu Sayyaf alive.