The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), an armed Islamist guerrilla group, has stolen and burned hundreds of marijuana crops in a show of solidarity to President Rodrigo Duterte and a goodwill gesture to show their commitment to abiding by an ongoing peace accord.
The Philippine Star reports that MILF leaders seized the crops and burned them over the weekend, issuing repeated assurances that the theft did not violate an agreement they signed in 1997 that prevents them from engaging in criminal activity lest the government take military action against them. The marijuana burning was the culmination of an extended hike into the fields on southern Mindanao island.
Duterte, who served as mayor of Mindanao’s Davao City for 22 years before being elected president, has developed a friendly relationship with the Islamic group in the hopes of encouraging them to transition out of armed resistance and into the political realm. Duterte’s longtime presence in Mindanao, where much of the nation’s minority Muslim population lives, has helped him establish ties with the group. As candidate in June, Duterte met with MILF leaders in what the group described as a “brother-to-brother meeting.” MILF and its allied group, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), issued a joint statement of support for Duterte.
“We are inspired by his being positive on the peace process. We will reciprocate with honor and vigor,” a MILF leader said of Duterte in July, after he had been inaugurated. “No one will understand better the Moro issue but a Mindanaon.”
Duterte, on his part, has warned MILF to steer clear of jihadist groups, particularly the Islamic State affiliate in the country, Abu Sayyaf. “I want to hear from the MILF and MNLF that they no longer have connection with the Abu Sayyaf because the firearms of the Abu Sayyaf were also their firearms,” he said in a recent speech to soldiers. Abu Sayyaf has been responsible for multiple beheadings of foreigners in the past year.
MILF, meanwhile, have warned police that the Islamic State is looking to expand its presence in their territory, both as a way of engendering trust within the government and combatting the potential of a rival Muslim group taking over their turf.
The marijuana burning stunt is a nod of support to Duterte’s main campaign promise: the eradication of drug crime. Duterte has given police free reign to kill drug traffickers and violent drug users and encouraged civilians to manually capture or kill drug criminals. He has also threatened to kill any drug addicts who do not surrender to police, while expanding rehabilitation facilities. Over 600,000 drug addicts have surrendered to police since Duterte took office.
Duterte’s open encouragement of extra-judicial killing has alarmed the human rights community and the United States in particular. “We believe in rule of law. We believe in due process. We believe in respect for universal human rights,” State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said of the drug war in the Philippines this week. “We are concerned by these detentions, as well as the extra judicial killing of individuals suspected to be involved in drug activity in the Philippines.”