Dela Vega said the military can now focus on directly pinning down the Abu Sayyaf group now that the terrorists no longer have captives.
Miguel De Guzman, file
Westmincom to focus on Abu Sayyaf in Sulu
Roel Pareño ( - June 27, 2019 - 6:33pm

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines — The new leadership of the military's Western Mindanao Command will rest the weight of its campaign in Sulu, considered among the remaining problem areas in Mindanao, its outgoing commander Lt. Gen. Arnel dela Vega said.

Dela Vega, who opted for early retirement from the service, will be replaced by Maj. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana in a change of command ceremony on Friday.

Dela Vega said security concerns have already been addressed in most of Westmincom’s area of responsibility, including areas in Central Mindanao, Lanao del Sur, and Zamboanga peninsula, Basilan, and Tawi-Tawi.

"As of now we can say the remaining problem is Sulu. Basilan has become a template for good governance, development and security, the same thing with Central Mindanao like the area of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, North Cotabato and even part of Lanao del Sur," Dela Vega said.

"As of now we can say the remaining problem is Sulu," he said, citing the continuous threat of the Abu Sayyaf group.

He said the military can now focus on directly pinning down the Abu Sayyaf group now that the terrorists no longer have captives.

RELATED: New infantry division to help beat Abu Sayyaf in Sulu

Closer collaboration with Malaysia, Indonesia

Dela Vega said the new leadership will be trying to engage further with their counterparts in the security forces of Malaysia and Indonesia, saying most of the kidnappings in the past three years happened outside Philippine waters. The captives, though, were brought to the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu.

"So in that regard, we are trying to coordinate closely and collaborate with our Indonesian and Malaysian counterparts especially we have trilateral cooperative agreement with those two countries to prevent, if not stop, the kidnapping in their areas and eventually bring the victims in our area," Dela Vega said.

'Finish the fight against Abu Sayyaf'

Dela Vega said Gen. Sobejana intends to finish the fight against the Abu Sayyaf group through the implementation of National Task Force 70, which is based on Executive Order No. 70 directing the active participation local government units in directly combating extremism.

The EO 70 calls on local governments to engage in ending the local communist armed conflict and preventing and countering violent extremism.

"So we keep on telling our elected officials, especially the local chief executives that they really need to take the lead role and make use of the available security forces to form part of the overall campaign to neutralize and defeat the different threat groups," Dela Vega said.

"What I want it should be the local government units must lead and we will support especially in the formulation and implementation of peace and order and public safety plans."

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