Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte warned Wednesday of “white people, I suppose they are Arabs” looking to “indoctrinate” local populations in his country into radical Islam, and possibly working on behalf of the Islamic State (ISIS). Duterte announced a pay raise for all soldiers, ordering them to “destroy” Abu Sayyaf, a native jihadist group that has pledged allegiance to ISIS.
“Some parts of the islands of Mindanao, there are white people. I suppose they are Arabs, and they are here as missionaries,” Duterte said in a speech to the military Wednesday, referring to his native Mindanao, a southern island home to most of the nation’s Muslim minority. “They are not armed, but they are here for indoctrination, that’s what I’m afraid of.”
“We have problems with Muslim insurgency, and we have to address them before they get contaminated by the ISIS disease,” he added. He predicted that, without significant pushback today, the Islamic State could establish a Caliphate in the Philippines, and the military’s job now “is to prevent the ISIS disease from contaminating the Moro [Muslim ethnic minority].”
To that end, Duterte announced the eventual deployment of 20,000 men to areas sensitive to Islamic State indoctrination. “Like communists, if they have established their influence, then that’s the time their political officers come in,” he noted, demanding the Philippine army work to ensure that Islamic radicals are unable to establish a foothold in Mindanao.
Duterte also referenced Abu Sayyaf, a jihadist group active in Mindanao that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State: “Destroy them, that’s an order. I see a looming problem, in three to seven years from now, we will have a problem with ISIS.”
Abu Sayyaf has been increasingly active in the past year, focusing its efforts on abducting foreigners and asking for ransom. Its members beheaded two hostages this year, and allegedly planned to abduct Manny Pacquiao, who is a Philippine senator, boxing champion, and vocal Christian.
Philippine news outlets note that Duterte’s assertions that the Islamic State is recruiting in the Philippines contradict past police reports indicating there is no direct presence of Islamic State recruiters in the country. Local police chiefs have denied claims that ISIS is operating in their area, even when coming from local city officials or the local Muslim community.
In March, before Duterte took office, members of the Islamic group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), warned in a public statement that ISIS had begun to deploy recruiters into their territory, though at the time, they had not “succeeded in establishing a stronghold in Mindanao.” While MILF is an Islamic separatist group, it maintains friendly relations with Duterte, as he is the first president from the region in decades, and has made gestures of good will in support of Duterte’s war on drugs.
Duterte has personal reasons to combat the spread of the Islamic State: reports that his enemies, notably those accused of drug trafficking, have reached out to ISIS jihadists looking to assassinate him. According to Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Ronald dela Rosa, at least one mayor in Mindanao accused of harboring drug traffickers has reached out to Islamic State jihadists in an attempt to negotiate a deal to assassinate Duterte. “We are seriously looking at this threat,” dela Rosa asserted on Philippine television station ABS-CBN.
Duterte’s defining campaign promise was to eradicate drug crime from the Philippines, as the nation finds itself trapped by an unprecedented epidemic of methamphetamine addiction, reportedly affecting millions. Methamphetamine, or “shabu” as it is locally known, has become the nation’s most prized drug market, which Duterte says has for years been enabled by police, military, and public servants willing to overlook crime in exchange for kickback payments.