PH military keeps eye on ISIS-linked groups amid NPA clashes

MANILA, Philippines – Armed Forces chief General Eduardo Año said the "destruction" of local groups with links to the international terrorist organization Islamic State (ISIS) will remain the priority of the military.

This, despite the expected resurgence of fighting with communist rebels, after the termination of a ceasefire.

"We have specific units that would address these specific threats. We have a strategy that we'll follow. Covered natin lahat (We got everything covered.) Of course, our main priority is the destruction of the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Maute Group," Año said in an interview after his confirmation hearing at the Senate this week. 

"Secondly is, of course, we're back on war with the CPP/NPA. We have enough forces to confront the NPA," Año added.

President Rodrigo Duterte ordered focused attacks on groups linked with ISIS, fearing the spread of extremist ideology in the Philippines. 

The military said the Basilan-based Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon has joined the Maute Group in Central Mindanao upon orders of the ISIS leadership in the Middle East to find a suitable area to establish a caliphate in Mindanao. 

Operations against the local terrorists in Central Mindanao saw the deployment, for the first time, of the air force's brand new FA-50 fighter jets

Reviving Año's strategy vs the NPA

The military has resumed its war against the communist New People's Army (NPA) after the 5-month-old ceasefire collapsed. 

Duterte also scrapped the talks although various camps are hopeful negotiations may still be revived.

Año said they will continue the military strategy adopted during his term as Army chief.

"We will reduce their capacity to fight and their will to fight. Ang ginagawa namin (What we were doing) before the ceaseife last year, we continue it now, but with more vigor," he said. 

Año vowed there will be no collateral damage. 

War on drugs, West Philippine Sea 

President Rodrigo Duterte also sought military involvement in his controversial war on drugs and suggested the revival of the Philippine Constabulary (PC) as a 4th service under the military. 

Año said only a small group of soldiers are involved in operations against the illegal drug trade, which remains the main function of the police. He said he doesn't expect the proposed revival of the PC to happen during his term because "it has to undergo legislation."

The security sector is also watching developments in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana was quoted as saying he fears the Chinese will build on Scarborough Shoal despite warmer relations between the two countries. 

"Right now there is no construction going on. There is no reclamation going on in Scarboough. We monitor some presence of Chinese Coast Guard ships but there is no alarming development," Año said. – Rappler.com