Duterte: I see a very dangerous time ahead

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MANILA, Philippines — “Dangerous times” are on the horizon, with a possible spillover of the suicide attacks in Sulu late last month, President Duterte warned on Tuesday as he cited the urgent need for stronger military and police forces to confront terrorism.

“I see a very dangerous time ahead. And I hope that we will be able to contain whatever there is… Lumalabas nga ‘yung pawis sa kamay ko (My hands get clammy) just thinking about if it would go awry outside of Sulu and Basilan islands,” Duterte said in a speech at an appreciation dinner hosted by the women of the 17th Congress for former House speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at The Manila Hotel.

Duterte said he wants the Armed Forces of the Philippines to be fully modernized before the end of his term in 2022.

“I’d rather that I leave with a strong military and police equipped to challenge the enemies of the state, especially terrorism,” he said.

Terrorism by extremist groups and other enemies of the state continues to plague the country and, unless addressed decisively, will continue to bedevil succeeding administrations, he said.

“We have acquired so many armaments,” he said as he expressed hope that Congress would help the executive procure a few more – “kakaunti na lang – to complete the instruments that we need in dealing, especially with terrorism.”

Duterte expressed optimism that the new 18th Congress would be able to help him achieve his goal to enhance the capability of security forces.

“I hope that by the time I make my exit, nandiyan na lahat ‘yan (everything will be in place) because I am not belittling the events to come or the person coming in to be the next president. Hindi ko alam kung sino (I don’t know who),” he said.

Beefing up the defense and fighting capability of security forces, he said, is part of his mandate to “protect the Filipino people and preserve” the country.

“When Madam Arroyo was president, she envisioned to make sure the Philippines (would be) a ‘Strong Republic.’ That’s also my sloganeering. I always said that my oath of office, reduce it in a very simple term, is that: I swore to protect the people and preserve the Republic of the Philippines,” he said.

“So that I said, I must be prepared. And nabili ko na ho ‘yung mga kailangan (I’ve bought what is needed), but there are still a few things that I must have for my Armed Forces and the police,” he said.

The President met with top military and police officials at a joint command conference last Monday at Malacañang. Officials did not disclose the details of their meeting.

Suicide bomber, Filipino

Meanwhile, the military and the police have confirmed that one of two suicide-bombers behind the June 28 attacks on an Army camp in Indanan, Sulu was a Filipino militant.

At a joint press briefing at Camp Aguinaldo yesterday, military spokesman Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo and police spokesman Col. Bernard Banac said that DNA samples taken from one of the suicide bombers, 23-year-old Norman Lasuca, matched 99.99 per cent with those of his mother Vilman Lasuca and brother Alhussin Alam Lasuca.

Mrs. Lasuca claimed and buried the decapitated head of her suicide-bomber son Norman last week.

Tissue samples were taken from Lasuca’s remains before they were released to his mother.

“Hence, it can be concluded that one of the alleged suicide bombers is the son of Vilman (not Vilma as earlier reporter) Alam Lasuca,” the Philippine National Police (PNP) Davao Regional Crime Laboratory Office (RCLO 11) said in a report.

On the other hand, the identity of the second suicide bomber is still being determined as both the military and the police continue to look for family and friends of the slain suspect for DNA matching.

Lasuca and an unidentified militant-companion detonated one after the other improvised explosive devices (IEDs) they were carrying, inside and outside the compound of the Army’s 1st Brigade Combat Team (1BCT) headquarters in Barangay Kajatian, Indanan, Sulu at around noon of June 28.

It was Lasuca who blew himself up at the front gate of the Army camp and at the height of the confusion, the second bomber was able to enter the camp where he detonated an IED amid a hail of bullets from responding soldiers.

The blasts also killed three soldiers and three civilians. More than 20 others – soldiers and civilians – were also wounded in the attack, the first ever in the country by local suicide bombers.

A senior anti-terror official said that Lasuca’s direct participation in the suicide attack in Sulu has exposed another facet of the terrorism problem in the country – the influence and even presence of foreign terrorists in Sulu.

Asked to confirm claims made by anti-terror analyst Rommel Banlaoi that an Egyptian couple is now in Sulu plotting another round of suicide bombings targeting two Catholic churches in Jolo, he said he could only say the threat is real but could not tell if Egyptians were involved.

“Marami na sila (foreign terrorists) dyan sa loob,” he said, referring to the foreign terrorists now being hosted by the Abu Sayyaf.

He added that security has been beefed up at government key facilities to thwart possible spillover of the Sulu attacks.

“It happened in Sulu and we are now looking at a possibility that this could also happen in other areas, because apparently the Abu Sayyaf group have already leveled up and could now send their own fighters to launch suicide bombings elsewhere,” he said.

While it was the group of Abu Sayyaf leader Hajan Sawadjaan that was tagged as the brains behind the suicide bombing of a Catholic cathedral in Sulu, the military and the police said it was an Indonesian couple that carried out the attack in January that left 23 soldiers and churchgoers dead.

The military also said it was a Moroccan who detonated a powerful improvised bomb at an Army checkpoint in Lamitan, Basilan in July last year.

In Zamboanga City, Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), vowed to “relentlessly” pursue Sawadjaan’s group.

“We further commit to pursue relentlessly the mastermind of this inhuman act and give justice to the victims,” Sobejana said.

Sawadjaan is known to have pledged allegiance to the Middle East-based Islamic state (IS) and provided refuge to a number of foreign militants in Sulu.

With the identification of the suicide bomber as Filipino, Sobejana has called on civilians and stakeholders to unite in the fight against all forms of terrorism.

“All of us should unite in our fight against all forms of violence. We need to protect our country and our people from the evils of terrorism,” Sobejana said. – With Edith Regalado, Jaime Laude, Roel Pareño, Emmanuel Tupas