Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte admitted to regional outlet Rappler that he has cousins who are members of radical Islamic groups, including the Islamic State.
In a December 30 interview, Duterte lamented that “ISIS seems to be everywhere,” listing numerous terrorist acts within his nation, including bombings of churches. He did not provide corroborating evidence linking the Islamic State to some of the terror attacks mentioned, which police had yet to officially tie to any group. He admitted, however, that being from southern Mindanao, home to most of the nation’s Muslim minority, that he knew of relatives who participated in radical Islamic terrorist activities.
“To be frank, I have cousins on the other side, with MI [Moro Islamic Liberation Front] and MN [Moro National Liberation Front]. Some, I heard, are with ISIS,” he told Rappler. The outlet adds that Duterte “said sorry in advance” to his relatives for any actions he may take against them as commander in chief of the Philippines’s armed forces.
“You are you and I am I, and I said, if we meet in one corner, so be it,” he concluded.
The Islamic State has infiltrated parts of the Philippines’s Muslim population, according to Duterte himself. In August, he warned that “white people” (Middle Easterners, as opposed to Moro Filipinos) had come to the Philippines as “missionaries” for “indoctrination” into Islam. “We have problems with Muslim insurgency, and we have to address them before they get contaminated by the ISIS disease,” he warned.
Duterte has predicted that the “ISIS disease” will strike the Philippines when the group suffers significant losses in the Middle East. “Once the terrorists of the Middle East are deprived of the land area, the real estate area where they can sleep… They will wander to other places and they will come here and we have to prepare for that,” he warned in November. He repeated the warning a month later, citing the fall of Aleppo:
The ISIS, the extremists, they’re fighting it out in Aleppo and Mosul in Syria and Iraq. Once they lose a landbase and move back close to the sea, they will leave, and they have this dream of a caliphate, a kingdom that would comprise Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the related National Liberation Front are longtime Islamic groups operating out of Mindanao and are calling for independence from Manila’s majority Catholic government. The groups had initially expressed support for Duterte given his status as a southerner and his campaign promise of eradicating drugs, with the groups even amassing and burning heaps of marijuana as an act of solidarity with the president. In exchange, Duterte attempted to establish a dialogue with all Islamic groups in the south, including Islamic State-linked groups like Abu Sayyaf and the Maute group.
Abu Sayyaf rejected the call to dialogue, resulting in Duterte threatening to “eat you in front of people” if his police catch Abu Sayyaf terrorists alive: “If you make me mad, in all honesty, I will eat you alive, raw.”
Manila is currently facing the renewed threat of Islamic terrorism in the face of one of the largest prison breaks in history. Over 150 inmates, many connected to breakaway groups associated with MILF, are at large following an attack on the North Cotabato District Jail in southern Kidapawan, reportedly by another 100 armed terrorists. Only eight escapees have been caught so far.