Perhaps one of the reasons President Rodrigo Duterte is so popular is that he hails from Mindanao, an island that has been war-torn and poverty-stricken for decades.
Under his leadership people hope that the Mindanao problem could, once and for all, be solved. Residents could start looking forward to a foreseeable future instead of just trying to survive from one day to the next.
During his first months in office, Duterte showed his willingness to talk peace not only with the Moro Islamic Liberation front but also the Moro National Liberation front and other stakeholders in Mindanao.
We took this as a good sign, especially since the previous administration of Benigno Aquino III only spoke with the MILF and nearly ignored all the others who stood to gain—or lose—from the peace process in Mindanao.
These days, the ugliness of conflict manifested itself all over again in the battle between the military and the Maute group which has occupied at least two villages in Butig town, Lanao del Sur. The organization is also responsible for the bombing in Davao City in September.
Unfortunately, President Duterte was initially conciliatory to the Maute group, which he had earlier said was driven by “Moro nationalism.” On Tuesday he said he was open to “befriend” them to avoid conflict.
One day later, Mr. Duterte, speaking just five kilometers from Butig, advised the group to abandon their cause and talk with the government. Despite telling the Maute group not to provoke him to go to war, he said he wishes he could find a middle ground with it.
But what middle ground is there when this organization has declared allegiance to international terror group ISIS and has reportedly flown the IS flag in the areas it has occupied?
His own Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has advised him to wage an all-out war against the terror group which has been committing crimes with impunity.
We understand the President wants inclusiveness in pursuing peace, perhaps realizing the cost of war. Perhaps he thinks he cannot wage two wars at the same time—the other on illegal drugs, which he and his men have been enforcing with zeal—too much zeal, others believe.
Mr. Duterte, however, should be reminded that there is a line between genuine advocacy and the plain intent to sow terror. That he should engage unthinking terrorists—even plain bandits out to serve their own purposes—in conversation should not be an option. That would be doing peace a disservice.