MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte offered a bounty Wednesday for the capture of Muslim extremists behind a foiled attack on a central resort island, and said he ordered the navy to bomb militants who travel by boat in search of kidnap victims.
The tough-talking leader told reporters during a visit to central Bohol province that he was considering to arm civilians there so they can help the government fight terrorists and drug suspects, adding he prefers outlaws dead than alive.
"I encourage civilians also to kill because these are wanted dead or alive with a reward, but I prefer them dead because if they're alive I would have to feed them ... and that's very expensive," Duterte said.
His visit came a week after troops, backed by airstrikes, battled Abu Sayyaf fighters, leaving four militants, three soldiers, a policeman and two villagers dead. Troops are hunting several extremists who escaped.
The 1 million peso ($20,000) reward is for information that would allow the military or police to capture the fleeing militants, Duterte said. He said that informants' identities would be kept confidential.
Military officials said the extremists traveled far from their jungle bases in southern Sulu province to carry out kidnappings for ransom and bombings for the first time in Bohol, a popular tourism destination for its white-sand beaches, waterfalls, caves and wildlife.
Asked what could be the specific target of the militants, Duterte said they might be plotting to disrupt a two-day meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which started in Bohol's resort island of Panglao on Wednesday and "create a disaster for all of us."
Duterte inspected several areas in Bohol and gave assurances the province is secure, saying, "We have more than enough officers to fight for one year, if need be, so you are safe."
The president warned the militants the government would now try to track them, including by satellite, to prevent them from venturing far from their southern island and create trouble elsewhere.