The military plans a final push to end the reign of terror of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) acting on an order of President Rodrigo Duterte to finish the bandits who have been a scourge to the security and economy of Mindanao.
Mr. Duterte ordered the deployment of a military division in the island-province of Sulu where the main force of the ASG is operating.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will go to the extent of recruiting more troops to establish the new division that will fight the ASG.
A military division is composed of about 4,500 troops or nine battalions.
“We are going to create another division. We will have permanent presence in Sulu and eliminate once and for all the Abu Sayyaf,” Lorenzana said. “We are going to recruit more people for that division.”
ASG captives remain
Presently, the ASG is still holding several hostages, including foreign nationals, in Sulu and Basilan provinces.
The Defense chief said the goal is to destroy the backbone of the terror group and to disable them from carrying out terror missions in other parts of Mindanao which remain under martial law.
Just last week, three people, including an ASG rebel, were killed while three others were wounded in an encounter with troops in an island barangay in Zamboanga.
Col. Leonel Nicolas of Joint Task Force Zamboanga said the slain Abu Sayyaf bandit was a certain Abu Nibra, a known follower of the slain Basilan-based ASG leader Isnilon Hapilon and Abdullah Indanan.
Hapilon, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS), was killed in a gun battle with government troops in Marawi City in October 2017.
Operations to grow
Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Oscar Albayalde later on said the PNP expects ASG operations to intensify as election day nears. The PNP is now validating information regarding some politicians in Mindanao who are allegedly in cahoots with organized crime syndicates and the terror group to raise funds for next year’s midterm elections.
“Reports of this nature have been monitored in some parts of Mindanao, particularly in known areas of operation of kidnapping gangs,” Albayalde said. “We have not established that there’s collusion. That’s why we need to develop and conduct a case buildup.”
Kidnap for ransom trade
The ASG gained notoriety in early 2000 after pulling off daring raids on a posh Sipadan diving resort in Malaysia and the Dos Palmas Resort in Palawan.
More or less 40 hostages were taken during the separate kidnapping incidents, some of whom were killed, including Americans Guillermo Sobero and Martin Burnham.
Most of the hostages were freed after paying millions of dollars in ransom.
Burnham’s wife Gracia was rescued during an operation in 2001.
The military estimated the strength of the Abu Sayyaf Group at about 300 fighters, led by Radillan Sahiron in Sulu and Furui Indama in Basilan.
Lorenzana also reiterated the President’s issuance of Memorandum Order 32 was meant to counter threat from the terrorist New People’s Army in the Bicol region and the provinces of Samar and Negros.