Army officer urges communities to help fight terrorism

ZAMBOANGA DEL SUR, Philippines – As the military's ambitious 6-month plan to crush the Abu Sayyaf and Maute groups nears its 4th month, an Army official here said the fight against terrorism will never end without the all-out support of local government units (LGUs) and the public.

"Noong second lieutenant pa ako, ganito na ang problema. Ngayon malapit na akong mag-retire parang hindi matapos-tapos ang problema," said Colonel Cirilo Tomas Donato, Assistant Division Commander of the 1st Infantry Division (1st ID).

(When I was just a second lieutenant, we already had this problem. Now that I'm approaching retirement, it seems the problem will never be resolved.)

Donato's troops were engaged in a heavy firefight with the Maute Group in Piagapo, Lanao del Sur on Sunday, April 23. 1st ID spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-ar Herrera said the clashes began at around 5:45 am.

Residents in Iligan City woke up to the sound of aircraft flying past, going in the direction of Piagapo.

Donato said in an interview on Saturday, April 22, that if the help they get from LGUs, concerned agencies, and communities "continue to be haphazard, palagay ko talagang lalapit sila sa (the terrorists will remain in) urban centers."

He added, "Ang bombing nila sa urban centers, dadami and dadami pa 'yan (The bombing of urban centers will continue)."

Ongoing battle

A statement from 1st ID said "focused military operations" in Piagapo have been ongoing since Saturday after they received reports that the Maute Group, which earlier pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS), has moved to that area from Butig town.

"'Yung operasyon natin against Maute Group, hindi hihinto 'yan (Our operations against the Maute Group will not stop)," Donato said.

"Pero araw-araw iniisip ko, ano ba talaga ang solusyon sa problema natin? Ang nakikita ko, parang kulang ang ating pagtutulungan. Maraming gusto na matapos ang problema, pero sa aking sariling opinyon, marami pa ring ayaw matapos ang ating problema," he continued. 

(But everyday, I think about the solution to terrorism. What I'm seeing right now is lack of cooperation. Many want the problem to end, but in my opinion, there are still those who don't.)

He did not specify who he meant, but a lot of military officials have said terrorism will not thrive in unsympathetic places.

Donato recalled that during his assignment in Basilan, local government officials and residents were seemingly not bothered with bombings, killings, and kidnappings.

"May sasabog sa Isabela, may sasabog sa Lamitan, maraming patay, may kidnapping, parang wala lang nangyayari, parang okay lang sa kanila. Hindi ako magtataka kung magpupugad ang mga terorista doon," he explained.

(There would be an explosion in Isabela or Lamitan, many would die. There would be a kidnapping but people would act as if nothing had happened, like they're fine with it. I wouldn't be surprised if terrorists thrive there.)

He added that while intelligence gathering may be strong, "they have to be concerned in solving the problem, like what happened in Bohol" where Abu Sayyaf presence was reported by residents and local government officials acted promptly.

Until this happens in all other affected areas in the country, Donato said "the problem with terrorists will continue, kahit ilang Duterte pa ang dadaan (no matter how many Dutertes arrive)." –