Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte accused drug traffickers Wednesday of funding the Islamic State uprising in the nation’s south, where affiliates Abu Sayyaf and the Maute group are attempting to conquer the city of Marawi.
Duterte also accused jihadists of helping drug criminals escape the law when they fled to Muslim-populated areas.
“There was a time until now that the terrorism activities in the Philippines is funded and fueled by drug money,” Duterte said. “And for all… Christians and the Moro [Muslims], who were into shabu [methamphetamine] sought sanctuary amongst the terrorists for protection and to ensure the success of their business – so much so that even Manila was already flooded, and we have to put an apparatus to stop it.”
Collaboration between terrorist groups in southern Mindanao island, Duterte’s homeland, and drug traffickers had ensured that much of the south was in full criminal control, he argued, noting that some jihadist groups relied on Middle Eastern support from Islamic State terrorists there. He added, however, that his government has stymied the flow of resources from ISIS to groups like Abu Sayyaf and Maute, who have both pledged allegiance to ISIS “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“And in Marawi now, I’m sad to tell you that we have suffered tremendous losses,” he noted. “Because we are the invading force, and they have been set up there for a long time waiting for the soldiers of the republic to come.”
Duterte was speaking on the occasion of the founding of the Philippine Navy, according to the Philippine Star.
Marawi, the nation’s only official Muslim city, is largely under Maute group control following a failed raid last week on the suspected hideout of Isnilon Hapilon, the head of Abu Sayyaf. Military spokesmen insisted on Wednesday, however, that the Hapilon raid was not a spontaneous attack, but that Maute terrorists had set their sights on Malawi long ago. Maute terrorists had abducted Christians, flown the ISIS flag, and begun exterminating anyone who could not pass random Quranic prayer tests.
The chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, had accused drug traffickers of conspiring with jihadists in statements made Monday. “Even before July 1… we received information that majority of drug lords here in Metro Manila, Luzon and Visayas went to Marawi to hold a ‘drug summit.’ And they were protected by the Maute group and narco-politicians,” he stated. Drug money had gone to providing “financial and logistical support” to the Maute group in exchange for this protection, he added.
In remarks Wednesday, Duterte also accused some local police of corrupt ties to both terrorist and drug organized crime syndicates. He cited the infamous case of Superintendent Maria Cristina Nobleza as an example – the former deputy crime lab chief arrested for inappropriate ties to a local jihadist.
“She was not only in cahoots, but she was an active player in this terrorism business,” Duterte asserted. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana added at a subsequent press conference that police believe Nobleza received money from an Islamic State terrorist from Syria. “The lady was remitting money to Nobleza. They had been contacting each other through cellphone and through remittances of money from the Syrian woman to Nobleza,” he said.
Duterte made eradicating drug crime from the Philippines his signature campaign message as a candidate last year and has repeatedly used the presidential bully pulpit to threating to kill any drug criminals who do not surrender. As a native of the southern, more Muslim part of the country, Duterte has reached out to Islamic groups in the region while warning local authorities to keep an eye out for Islamic State infiltration.
A recent executive report to the Philippine Congress warns that the Maute group is seeking to overrun all of Mindanao. “These activities constitute not simply a display of force, but a clear attempt to establish the group’s seat of power in Marawi City for their planned establishment of a Daesh wilayat or province covering the entire Mindanao,” the report read. As Duterte refuses to live in Manila, Davao City, Mindanao currently functions as a second presidential palace, endangering the federal government.