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Mamasapano debacle: All about money

/ 12:15 AM January 31, 2016
SOLDIERS arrive in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province on Jan. 25, 2015, to help rescue Special Action Force commandos who were pinned down by Moro rebels following an operation to capture Marwan. JEOFFREY MAITEM

SOLDIERS arrive in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province on Jan. 25, 2015, to help rescue Special Action Force commandos who were pinned down by Moro rebels following an operation to capture Marwan. JEOFFREY MAITEM

THE HEFTY price tag of $5 million for the capture, dead or alive, of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, has caught the attention of the public in the aftermath of the tragic police operation to take him down in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, last year.

How the bounty influenced the overall conduct of the operation is not yet established. But using the experience with Marwan, a Jakarta-based think-tank urged a rethinking of the role of rewards in the drive against Southeast Asian terrorists.

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In its March 2015 report, “Killing Marwan in Mindanao,” which drew only little attention then, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (Ipac) noted that the momentum in the hunt for Marwan was “driven in part by the bounty, [and] in part by what appears to have been a single-minded focus on his death—not his arrest.”

Ipac added that these “may have militated against any serious effort to think about [the] impact” of the operation.

As with other terrorists, the bounty for Marwan’s capture was put up by the Rewards for Justice program of the United States government. The program was credited for aiding the downfall of key Abu Sayyaf leaders by encouraging the availability of information that led authorities to their locations.

As of 2012, the Texas-based intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting Inc. said, more than $11 million in bounties were paid in the Philippines by the program.

The program’s website listed as part of its success stories the capture of Philippine-based terrorists, all key figures of the Abu Sayyaf: Toting Craft Hanno, Khadaffy Janjalani (now dead), Abu Solaiman and Hamsiraji Marusi Sali. It paid $100,000 for Hanno, $5 million for Janjalani, $5 million for Solaiman, and $1 million for Sali.

“The huge bounties placed on the heads of foreign jihadis have helped to burnish their reputations as world-class terrorists, perhaps out of proportion to their actual roles. They encourage killing high-value targets rather than making any effort to arrest them alive,” Ipac said.

In 2008, a Brussels-based think-tank already warned about the distorting effect of monetary rewards in the drive against terrorists in the country. In its report “Counter-Insurgency vs. Counter-Terrorism in Mindanao,” the International Crisis Group (ICG) noted how military informants “equate amount of bounty with the importance of the individual concerned.”

It cited the case of then Philippine-based Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) operatives Umar Patek and Dulmatin. Dulmatin, who reports to Umar Patek, commanded $10 million in reward for his capture while his boss only fetched $1 million.

ICG also cited the views of an unidentified senior official of the Philippine National Police who said that the bounties “were leading to undue focus in individuals at the expense of more carefully thought-through strategies.”

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Today, the Rewards for Justice program lists four wanted terrorists in East Asia and the Pacific region whose capture will merit its bounty.

They are Isnilon Hapilon of Abu Sayyaf, up to $5 million; Radullan Sahiron of Abu Sayyaf, up to $1 million; and Indonesian JI operative Aris Sumarsono alias Zulkarnaen or Daud, up to $5 million. Abdul Basit Usman of the Maguindanao-based Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, who was killed last year, is still on the list, with a reward of up to $1 million.

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TAGS: Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, Mamasapano, Marwan, SAF 44, Zulkifli bin Hir
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