PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday rejected suggestions that he seek emergency powers from Congress to quickly crush the Abu Sayyaf, which killed 15 soldiers this week in the largest single-day combat loss for the government.
Duterte, who welcomed repatriated overseas Filipino workers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Wednesday, echoed Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s assessment that there was no need to grant him emergency powers to deal with the terrorist group.
“No. It’s just a punitive police action by the security forces of the government. The magnitude of the trouble there does not warrant anything except the industry of the AFP and PNP,” Duterte said, responding to questions.
On Tuesday, Lorenzana played down the proposal of at least three senators to give Duterte additional emergency powers to deal with the Abu Sayyaf, which has been on a kidnapping and beheading spree.
“It’s not yet necessary at the moment, we can do it still even without emergency powers. The LGUs are joining our drive, including the community. There is no need [yet] for emergency powers,” Lorenzana told the Manila Standard in an interview.
Malacañang on Tuesday vowed to relentlessly pursue the Abu Sayyaf after15 soldiers were killed in an encounter in Sulu.
“It is unfortunate that a number of our troops have already lost their lives,” Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a press briefing.
“The President is focused on making sure that the threat from the Abu Sayyaf Group should be terminated as soon as possible,” he added.
Military sources told the Manila Standard Wednesday that most of the soldiers being deployed in Sulu now were “first-timers” with “no solid intelligence reports to work with.” In this situation, they said, they were operating “totally blind”—and more casualties were likely to pile up.
“Even if you flood the area with combat boots, the advantage will always be with the Abu Sayyaf. It doesn’t matter if there are many of you and you are fully equipped. If you are blind to the situation and the conditions inside the battle area, your casualties will grow,” a military officer who was once assigned in ASG areas said.
On Tuesday, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Ricardo Visaya acknowledged the difficult situation and conditions on the battleground.
“There may still be casualties along the way as we advance this solemn duty to eradicate these bandits and terrorists of 25 years, but we will not stop until we rid our country of the menace this ASG brings to the world,” Visaya said.
Duterte gave Visaya three to six months to eliminate the ASG, even though the AFP chief is set to retire in December.
In Camp Aguinaldo, military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the military and police and all other government law enforcement agencies are on “heightened alert” in the National Capital Region, Davao region and Cebu because of raw information coming out of possible diversionary attacks on urban centers by the ASG and their supporters.
“We are not relaxing. Intelligence agencies are on heightened alert, sharing information across all units,” Padilla said. “This has been going on for quite a while. It’s part of our standard operating security protocols.”
On Monday, members of the 35th Infantry Battalion encountered about 120 bandits led by ASG sub-leader Radullan Sahiron, with 15 soldiers and four terrorists being killed in the firefight, the military said. Some 17 soldiers were also wounded in the battle.
In Camp Aguinaldo, the military estimated there were 30 bandits killed since the military began its assault on ASG lairs in Sulu a week ago, but the official body count showed only six dead.
At present, two Army divisions augmented by support units from other branches of service are being used to hunt down the ASG in Sulu and Basilan.
Duterte has ordered the AFP to go “full force” and eliminate the ASG after they refused to stop beheading their hostages if no ransom money was paid.
The ASG last week decapitated yet another of its hostages after the ransom was not paid by the family of the victim.
Davao City was on heightened alert Wednesday to guard against possible ASG attacks.
Davao City Police Office director, Senior Supt. Michael John Dubria, said that they were taking Lorenzana’s warning seriously.
He added that they were on high alert since President Duterte stayed in the city most of the time.
“Skirmishes or intensive military operations in nearby regions and provinces always pose the possibility of spillover to Davao City,” he said.
Earlier, Lorenzana said that they had received reports that there might be terror attacks in major cities of the country, including Davao City, to divert the government’s attention from the ground war in Sulu and Basilan. With Funny Pearl A. Gajunera
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