By Genalyn Kabiling
President Duterte has voiced confidence the Islamic State would never gain a foothold in the country amid the military’s recent achievements in combating the Abu Sayyaf Group and other lawless elements.
The President lauded the government troops for their bravery, promised to provide P500 million for their medical needs, and sustain the military’s modernization program during the commemoration of the Araw ng Kagitingan in Jolo, Sulu late Tuesday.
“As the entire country commemorates the gallant stand of the thousands of Filipino who defended Bataan in 1942, we also honor and acknowledge our troops today for their relentless efforts against lawless elements that continue to threaten the security of our nation,” Duterte said during his visit to a military camp in Jolo.
“I am especially pleased with our military’s recent accomplishments against the Abu Sayyaf Group. Your efforts have brought us even closer to our ultimate objective of totally crushing the violent extremism at its roots,” he said.
“With this, I can confidently declare that ISIS will never gain a foothold anywhere in the Philippines,” Duterte added.
As he promised to look after their welfare and upgrade their equipment, he said government troops must continue the fight to thwart the threat from Islamic State-linked elements. “There is the ISIS that we have to worry here in — well in this part of Sulu, up and down Basilan. We’ll just have to fight and fight,” he said.
The President earlier skipped the annual Day of Valor rites in Mt. Samat, Bataan and decided to commemorate the historic event in the south.
Duterte explained that he wanted to mark Araw ng Kagitingan in Jolo mainly to express his gratitude to the government troops for their “enduring patriotism in the face of adversity.” The Filipino nation, he said, is eternally indebted to the country’s soldiers.
“Lahat ng Pilipino deserves the title kagitingan. But here in Jolo, ‘yung pinaka — ang pinaka nandito. Kaya to the gallant men of Jolo, you have my everlasting gratitude for what you are doing to our country,” he said.
The commander-in-chief also said he salutes the valiant soldiers who were injured or who gave their lives during the recent operations in Sulu.
He promised that the government would continue to prioritize the welfare of the soldiers and their families, particularly pour more funds for them. He said education assistance will also be given to the soldiers’ children.
He noted that he released P500 million to provide for the medical needs of the soldiers during the war against terrorists in Marawi City. “I will continue to release 500 more and 500 more millions to my soldiers who do something for their country,” he added.
Apart from improving their benefits, Duterte vowed to continue to implement the modernization program of the military. But he asked the military to give him enough time to find money for the acquisition of modern equipment including high-speed boats.
“We are doing everything to ensure that our military personnel will be able to perform their mandate efficiently and to the best of their ability,” he said.
“We will, therefore, continue to implement the AFP Modernization Program even as we remain committed in looking after the welfare of our men and women in uniform,” he said.
Duterte acknowledged that it was his job to take care of the government troops.
“I’m very happy. I’d like to embrace you. I really love you as a human being,” he said, admitting that his day is ruined whenever he learns about casualties of troops in the field.
“That’s part of my job to worry about you. All you have to do is just to worry about your personal safety,” he said.
At the same event, Duterte remembered the valor of Filipino troops who defended the country’s liberty and democracy more than seven decades ago.
He said he hopes the nation will be inspired by the shining example of the forefathers to triumph against terrorism, corruption, illegal drugs and criminality. He noted that these problems have hampered the country’s growth for so long.
“And while we may no longer face the same enemy that the heroes of Bataan faced 77 years ago, we must nonetheless be as strong as they were able in facing overwhelming odds,” he said.
In the same speech, the President highlighted that most of his Cabinet members came from the military. He admitted that he has a “special fondness” for the military since they are “fundamentally honest at industrious.”
He said he has faced many failures in the bureaucracy since some civilian officials have been involved in corruption and inefficiency.
“The very best and the very brightest of you na tumulong sa akin magpadala ng bayan natin. Hindi ko man kaya kung ako lang mag-isa [who are helping me lift the country. I can’t do it alone]. There are so many things to do and I function through Cabinet members,” he said.
Also present in the Kagitingan event in Jolo were Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista, Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Benjamin Madrigal, and Defense Undersecretary Ricardo David Jr.