On Wednesday, August 10, President Rodrigo Duterte told soldiers at an army base in Zamboanga del Sur that it is imperative to neutralize the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group. "Destroy them, that's an order," Duterte said.
The president's command is a far cry from what he had previously said about the terrorist group.
Last month, in a speech during the Hariraya Eid al-Fitr celebration in Davao City, Duterte stated, "I'm not including the Abu Sayyaf dito sa criminality. You've never heard me say that they are criminals.
An Inquirer report had quoted Duterte as saying that the members of the Abu Sayyaf resorted to violence because "they were driven to desperation."
Keep in mind that by this time, the Abu Sayyaf's beheading of Malaysian Bernard Then and Canadian nationals John Ridsdel and Robert Hall were still fairly recent. Then was beheaded in November 2015, Ridsdel in April 2016, and Hall in June 2016.
By contrast, the August 10 Reuters report said that Duterte "described Abu Sayyaf as terrorists and bandits who kill civilians for no apparent reason, and ruled out negotiations."
Duterte's attack order comes in the wake of reports that the Abu Sayyaf is strengthening its ties with international terrorist organization ISIS. On the other hand, an April 2016 TIME feature had quoted Rohan Gunaratna—an international terrorism expert at S. Rajaratnam School of Security Studies in Singapore—who said, "It's very likely that [Abu Sayyaf] will declare a satellite of the caliphate in the coming year."