POVERTY LINK

New Straits Times - - Opinion - The writer is a Kuch­ing-based journalist, who views de­vel­op­ments in the na­tion, the re­gion and the wider world from his van­tage point in Kuch­ing, Sarawak

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.

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