Twenty-one years after some 200 armed men raided Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay and burned the town, Presidential contender Rody Duterte assured Zamboangueños last week that there will be no repeat of the bloody raids and he will end kidnapping in the Southern Philippines.
Speaking before a mixed crowd of Muslims and Christians who filled the town’s public gym, Duterte said that ending the conflict and the kidnap-for-ransom activities of armed groups in the Southern Philippines will be among his top priorities as President.
“If God allows me to be President, I will not only address criminality and drugs but I will put an end to the kidnappings and bloody raids,” he told the residents of Ipil who responded by chanting his name repeatedly.
It was a statement which gave comfort and assurance to the townsfolk who have not forgotten the bloody April 3, 1995 attack by an armed group later known as the Abu Sayyaf.
The group killed 53 residents of the town, including the town’s police chief, ransacked business establishments and banks before burning the town.
About 40 of the attackers were snared and killed by pursuing government troops in the mountain villages of the province but it was a nightmare that the people of the peninsula have not forgotten.
Zamboangueños relived the horror when heavily armed men led by Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) commander Habier Malik raided Zamboanga City on Sept. 8, 2013 and terrorised the city for over two weeks resulting in the death of over 200 people, including the raiders, soldiers and civilians.
Duterte also assured Zamboangueños that with the expected derailment of the move to pass the controversial Bangsamoro Basic Law which aims to create a highly autonomous Moro State, he will present the Federalism option.
Under the Federalism proposal which Duterte has been espousing, the provinces in the Zamboanga Peninsula including Zamboanga City, will be under one Federal State distinct from the two other states proposed for the Bangsamoro Provinces in mainland Mindanao and the island provinces in the Western Part of the Southern Philippines.
Like his advocacy against drugs and crime, Duterte has focused on ending kidnapping which for so many years has become a money-making activity of armed groups in the Southern Philippines.
Members of a kidnap gang operating in Metro Manila who brought their victim to Davao City where she was forced to withdraw money from a bank, were all killed by police forces led by Duterte himself in July of 2013.
But while Duterte had been successful in his campaign against kidnapping and extortion, Abu Sayyaf members raided a resort in the Island Garden City of Samal late last year and abducted three foreigners and a Filipina.
The four are still being held captive reportedly in Sulu and a ransom of P3-billion is demanded by the kidnap gang.
Samal is not part of Davao City but as chairman of the regional peace and order council, Duterte initiated efforts to determine the whereabouts of the kidnap victims.
He has publicly asked the kidnappers not to hurt the hostages.
Duterte has earlier said that he will raise the salaries of policemen and members of the armed forces to boost their morale and make them effective in the campaign against drugs, criminality and kidnapping and prevent bloody raids by armed groups.
He said efficient intelligence gathering would effectively prevent a repeat of what happened in Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay and Zamboanga City.