this week, too. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte travelled all the way to Moscow and barely had time even for a scheduled meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, before making a hasty return to Manila, as troubles in his home island of Mindanao appear to crest.
Insurgents from the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group laid siege to the predominantly Muslim city of Marawi, burning and ransacking parts of it and hoisting flags of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) around town. The Abu Sayyaf leader is said to be in hiding in the city, after probably earlier deserting his jungle hideouts in Sulu that had been pounded by the Philippine military.
A decisive phase in the battle to root out the Abu Sayyaf group may have finally arrived. Duterte declared martial law over the whole of Mindanao before leaving Moscow.
Martial law has an understandably chequered history in the Philippines owing to its inextricable association with the excesses of the years under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.
But if Duterte had the makings of a new dictator, he makes a rather lousy one in threatening loudly and repeatedly martial law instead of surreptitiously imposing it as a real dictator would.
In a hastily rescheduled meeting with Putin before departing, the Philippine president made a somewhat poignant appeal for Russian arms, presumably to better deal with his country’s terror threats by mercilessly wiping them out.
Sarawak and Malaysia, as a whole, had dealt with the communist insurgency. Brutal and draconian steps were taken. War is never pretty. We licked the scourge by the 1970s.
The Philippines’ various insurgencies lingered to this day despite Marcos’ martial-law regime, also in the 1970s.
They need to be ruthlessly dealt with once, and for all, and Duterte appears to be the leader to do it. Despite charges of human-rights abuses over his war against illicit drugs (or maybe because of them), his popularity remains high.
Poverty remains endemic in the Philippines (and particularly in Mindanao) most likely because peace has been elusive. Poor governance plagued the country and the rule of law superficially followed even after the return of democracy.
Perhaps the legion of Duterte’s supporters may be forgiven for succumbing to a belief that the ends (of peace) justify whatever means.