Military to obey any order to save hostages
Roel Pareño (The Philippine Star) - June 19, 2016 - 12:00am

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – The military is ready to implement any changes in the offensive against the Abu Sayyaf to rescue the remaining hostages held by the bandit group.

Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesman of Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said the troops would abide by whatever policy will be adopted in the effort to save the victims.

Tan, however, said they have not been advised of any changes in the military operation in Sulu.

“If there are talks of some changes, as long as we are conducting operations and we are not told to stop... the military is there to conduct focused military operations. (If) there are talks, then it is beyond our control already,” Tan added.

“The decision of the national leadership is strategic. If we’re told to do something then we will implement,” he added.

The Abu Sayyaf on Wednesday threatened to behead another hostage, citing in particular Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad.

The bandits warned Sekkingstad might face the same fate as fellow captives Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall.

Ridsdel was beheaded in April while Hall was executed last Monday after their government junked the ransom demand of P600 million.

The two Canadians, along with Sekkingstad and Hall’s Filipina girlfriend Marites Flor, were snatched from Samal Island resort last September and taken to Jolo island.

President Aquino himself flew to Jolo on Wednesday to check on the military operations to rescue the remaining hostages.

Aquino ordered “refinements” in the military operation against the Abu Sayyaf.

The President though refused to elaborate, citing operational security.

Aquino earlier admitted he was planning to implement extreme measures such as placing Sulu and Basilan under martial law to contain the Abu Sayyaf.

In the last ditch-effort to prevent another beheading, the incoming Cabinet security cluster members of president-elect Rodrigo Duterte had a meeting to help the government solve the worsening hostage crisis.

Duterte himself has a lot of Muslim friends and supporters in Mindanao whom he could count on to help address the problem with the Abu Sayyaf.

Duterte met with leaders of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Davao City on Friday and mentioned the security threat of the Abu Sayyaf.

MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar confirmed Duterte mentioned the problem posed by the Abu Sayyaf during their meeting.

“He (Duterte) mentioned that and it’s really a big problem but no details were discussed,” Jaafar said.

Asked if the MILF is ready to help in efforts to free kidnap victims Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and Filipina Marites Flor, Jaafar said there are existing mechanisms in the peace process to address threat groups.

“We have an existing agreement with the government. We have the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG),” Jaafar said.  

“In the past, we cooperated (with the government) and this resulted in the release of many victims,” he added.

AHJAG is a mechanism in the peace negotiations that was formed to isolate and interdict lawless groups and terrorists.

Pressed if the AHJAG would be tapped to secure the release of the remaining hostages, Jaafar said the matter has to be discussed first by negotiators from both sides.

“The MILF is ready to perform its obligations,” he said.

Jaafar did not give a categorical statement on whether the MILF would help ensure the safety of the kidnap victims. He, however, said his group backs the incoming administration’s campaign against crime and drugs.   

Martial law option

Mindanao congressmen urged Duterte to place the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) under martial law so he could effectively run after the Abu Sayyaf.

“He should put the ARMM region, particularly Sulu and Basilan, under martial law so government forces can find, fight and finish off the Abu Sayyaf and other bandit and terrorist groups,” Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said.

He said the incoming administration should try martial rule, since other means of neutralizing the bandits and kidnap-for-ransom groups have failed.

Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles said it is legally possible for Duterte to place some parts of Mindanao under martial law.

“That is the president’s prerogative. I think that was done in 2009 by then president (Gloria Macapagal) Arroyo after the Maguindanao massacre,” he said.

But representative-elect Makmod Mending of party-list group Anak Mindanao opposed the imposition of martial law in any part of Mindanao, saying the incoming administration should first use all the available government resources to address the Abu Sayyaf problem.

Mending said he could not accept the proposition that the government, the police and the military, with all their might, cannot neutralize the bandit group that has been operating in Sulu, Basilan and some parts of Mindanao for years.

For his part, ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman said the government should just launch an all-out offensive against the Abu Sayyaf.

He warned that imposing martial law could create more problems like human rights violations.

“There are better options that will not trigger human rights abuses. Martial law is not necessary at this time. All we need is well coordinated, intensified and participative operation against the Abu Sayyaf,” he said.

He said the civilian government in ARMM could help the police and the military in finding and neutralizing the group of bandits.

Hataman said ARMM could issue an order authorizing its agencies to gather civilians in evacuation centers and attend to their needs while the police and military are flushing out and finishing off the Abu Sayyaf in their communities.

Collusion

Authorities are trying to find a way of containing the Abu Sayyaf despite the heavy presence of government troops in Sulu and Basilan where the bandit group operates.

Aquino noted the Abu Sayyaf is being helped by some locals in Jolo who are benefiting from the kidnapping activities of the bandit group.

Tan also said some residents and relatives living in the island are helping the bandits.

There were reports that some from the military are in collusion with the bandits for ransom money.

Jolo mayor Hussin Amin said the government should investigate some military officers who had supposedly been coddling the Abu Sayyaf and using them as assets.

Tan denied the reported collusion of some soldiers with the Abu Sayyaf for a cut in the ransom.

Tan challenged Amin to present evidence to initiate an investigation and filing of charges.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the accusations made by Amin were serious and could not be taken hook, line and sinker because there was no evidence presented.

“Our ready answer is investigation. It is not fair to (make the allegations without proof) because the government has been doing what needs to be done and we are exerting maximum efforts to resolve the (Abu Sayyaf) problem,” he said.  – Aurea Calica, Jess Diaz, Jess Diaz, Alexis Romero

 

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