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‘Emergency powers for Rody vs Sayyaf’

A human head believed to have belonged to Canadian Robert Hall was found outside the Mt. Carmel Cathedral in Jolo, Sulu hours after the deadline for delivery of the ransom for his release expired last Monday. AP

Ping: Kidnap them back or kill them

MANILA, Philippines – With the nation still in shock after the beheading by the Abu Sayyaf of one more of its foreign hostages, incoming senator Panfilo Lacson said granting emergency powers to president-elect Rodrigo Duterte would help his administration neutralize the terror group once and for all.

A human head believed to have belonged to Canadian Robert Hall was found outside the Mt. Carmel Cathedral in Jolo, Sulu hours after the deadline for delivery of the ransom for his release expired last Monday.

On his Twitter account, Lacson – a former national police chief – said Congress should grant Duterte emergency powers so he can deal more effectively with the terror menace as well as with the other serious problems besetting the country like illegal drugs and heavy traffic. He said authorities should match the Abu Sayyaf’s brazenness and brutality with severe countermeasures.

“No better time to address the Abu Sayyaf problem than under President Duterte. Kidnap them back or kill them. It may need very good intel work though,” Lacson said.

Then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared a state of emergency in Maguindanao following the massacre in November 2009 of 58 people allegedly on orders from then governor Andal Ampatuan Sr.

Hall, fellow Canadian John Ridsdel, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, and Filipina Maritess Flor were snatched from a Samal Island resort by the terrorists in September last year. Ridsdel was beheaded last April 25 after the P300-million ransom demanded for his release was not delivered.

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A Duterte spokesman expressed confidence he would undertake measures to stop beheadings, kidnappings and other criminal acts, especially those perpetrated by terror groups.

“Since the president is a very strategic thinker, I’m sure he will be able to do something or a series of actions that will drastically reduce similar activities,” Ernesto Abella, one of the spokesmen for Duterte, said.

Abella said Filipinos can look forward to a “more peaceful nation” under the next administration.

“Kidnappings and beheadings are always gruesome and brutal things that should not be ensued,” he added.

Another Duterte spokesman Salvador Panelo reiterated that the next president is bent on suppressing crime.

“I’m sure president-elect Duterte will solve that kind of problem. He has solved other problems of equal magnitude. I don’t see any problem of him doing that,” Panelo said.

“I’m sure he will respond to the situation... Since he is against all forms of criminality and illegality, he would be outraged by that (beheading).”

Martial law

For the next chief of the Philippine National Police, placing certain areas in Mindanao under martial law might do the trick. “If it (martial law) would solve the problem, then we better do it,” Chief Superintendent Ronald dela Rosa said in Filipino. Dela Rosa is Duterte’s personal choice to replace PNP chief Director General Ricardo Marquez.

Incoming AFP chief, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya has submitted a report to Duterte detailing his plans on how he intends to run the affairs of the military in troubled areas, including placing Sulu under martial rule.

“It’s about time! If you want solution to this security problem, that’s the best action,” said one of the senior officers favoring a limited military rule.

Placing Sulu under martial law, they said, would effectively cut the lines between the Abu Sayyaf bandits and their civilian contacts as the military would be directly taking control of provincial and local governments in the province.

One officer even suggested that in the entire duration of military rule, civilian travels in and out of the province must be restricted.

“Nobody should be allowed to just leave the island province without prior clearance from the military’s designated authorities,” he said.

Another officer complained that soldiers pursuing the bandits could not penetrate communities where the terrorists and their families live.

“They just hide their weapons and mingled in civilian communities. These civilians, mostly relatives, have been providing Abu Sayyaf members sanctuaries and are even helping them in keeping and hiding the hostages,” he said.

In one incident, troops witnessed the payment of ransom right inside the residence of a political warlord in the province.

“All our efforts were merely confined to monitoring the activities of the political warlord because the very strict government restrictions prevented us from taking direct action due to the presence of civilians at the place,” he said.

But putting any region under martial law should be in accordance with the conditions set by law, according to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).

CHR chairman Chito Gascon said they are prepared to monitor the situation in areas where it would be implemented.

“The security forces – military and police – are mandated to protect the country and its people from all threats to their safety and security,” Gascon told The STAR yesterday.

“In order to be able to effectively perform this, they can employ all means and methods that they are lawfully entitled to do,” he added.

Gascon said the Constitution provides for conditions before the country or any part of it is placed under martial law.

“All needs to be done is these be complied with,” he said, referring to the conditions set by the law. “The CHR is prepared to monitor.”

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives, meanwhile, were cool to the proposal.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said he is against the imposition of martial law even if it would be limited to Abu Sayyaf-infested parts of Mindanao.

“I believe the strong leadership of president-elect Duterte, particularly in his own part of the country, would suffice (in addressing the Abu Sayyaf),” Belmonte said.

Anak Mindanao party-list Rep. Makmod Mending described the proposal as premature, saying Dela Rosa should try countering the Abu Sayyaf with the current powers and resources of the PNP.

“For all we know, it is the leadership of a General Bato that can solve this,” Mending said, referring to Dela Rosa’s moniker.

Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza said he would support the imposition of limited martial law as long as the executive branch can justify it before Congress.

But even before the release of official findings confirming Hall’s execution, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has issued a statement condemning the “inhuman and cruel act” of the Abu Sayyaf.

“We are deeply outraged by their continued attempts to sow fear and terror in our country,” the DFA said.

“This inhuman and cruel act, carried out by the Abu Sayyaf group, reveals that their criminal activities are driven purely by financial motives,” it added.

The DFA also extended its condolences to Hall’s family and loved ones.

“We strongly reiterate that the Philippine government does not tolerate, nor does it negotiate with, terrorists. We reiterate our utmost opposition to terrorism in all its forms,” the DFA said. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it was “likely” Hall had been killed.

In a statement, Trudeau said that Canada “will not give into their fear mongering tactics and despicable attitude toward the suffering of others.”

Catholic prelates also condemned Hall’s execution but stressed the government should stick to its policy of not paying ransom. Marbel South Cotabato Bishop Dinualdo Gutierres said Hall’s death should not be reason for authorities to give in to the demands of terrorists. “It will just encourage criminals,” he said, referring to paying of ransom.

He added the beheading of Hall is “against love, God and human dignity” and that it tramples on the rights of civilized society.

He urged the people to pray and work toward preventing another atrocity.

The South Cotabato prelate also said the government should help in securing the lives of its citizens.

He proposed that travel to certain parts of the country be restricted.  “No ransom, no hostage-taking. No visitor, no hostage,” he said.

Cubao Bishop Honesto Ongtioco, for his part, admitted getting furious on hearing  news of Hall’s execution. “But as Christians we pray for those who were responsible for this horrendous act. Love will melt and destroy evil,” he said.

No findings yet

PNP spokesman Chief Superintendent Wilben Mayor said a decapitated head believed to be that of Hall’s was turned over to Trauma Station Hospital, Kampo Heneral Teodolo Bautista (KHTB) for proper identification.

Mayor said the PNP has also expressed condolences to the family of the slain kidnap victim.

“Further, may I appeal to the members of the media to respect the mourning of the family and let us not highlight such kind of unlawful activity that might add to the sorrow of the bereaved family and his countrymen,” Mayor added.

He said the brutality of the terrorists usually directed at innocent people deserves the condemnation of all peace-loving people.

The spokesman said the PNP – in cooperation with the Armed Forces of the Philippines – is doing its best to eliminate the terror group and thwart further threats to peace and security.

Chief Superintendent Emmanuel Aranas, director of the PNP-Crime Laboratory, said elements of the Special Action Force – in coordination with the Explosives Ordnance Division (EOD) of the Army’s 35the Infantry Brigade (IB) – retrieved the head inside a plastic bag dumped outside Mt. Carmel Cathedral.

“The decapitated head was transported to Zamboanga City via Huey PAF helicopter midnight of June 13,  arrived at 1 a.m. About 2:30 a.m. on June 14, the PAF C-130 carrying the decapitated head reached the Villamor Airbase at 4:30 p.m.,” he added.

He added a SOCO team from Camp Crame examined the remains, took samples, and documented the procedure.

As of press time, the Crime Lab chief said it was still premature to conclude the head belonged to Hall.

“It would be better to establish the identity of the victim, because this is a beheading, we do not treat this case as an ordinary one, so we need to stick to procedures to identify it,” he said. - With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Paolo Romero, Jaime Laude, Pia Lee-Brago, Janvic Mateo, Evelyn Macairan

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