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Saturday, April 13, 2024

PNoy: I considered martial law in Sulu

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PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III said  Wednesday  that he considered declaring martial law in some areas of Sulu about three weeks before the deadline set by the Abu Sayyaf for the payment of P300-million ransom for Canadian national Robert Hall’s release.

Speaking to the press in Jolo, Sulu, two days after Hall was beheaded, Aquino said he did not declare martial law because he would need to deploy so many forces there with no guarantee of positive results.

“There might even be negative results. There might be additional sympathy [for] our enemies here,” Aquino said.

“The operations continued, however, the enemies were able to escape. Even seen in the areas were lighted cigarettes and warm food left by the Abu Sayyaf who just escaped,” he said.

PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III

Aquino was in Jolo to confer with top security officials from the Armed Forces and the Defense Department in Camp Teodulfo Bautista, two days after Hall was beheaded.

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Hall’s head was found near the Jolo Cathedral at about  8:45 p.m.  Monday, the military’s Western Mindanao Command earlier said.

Hall’s execution came after the  3 p.m.  deadline imposed by the Abu Sayyaf Group for the payment of a P300-million ransom expired.

At the meeting  Wednesday  were Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Armed Forces chief Lt. Gen. Gloriosio Miranda, and Col. Custodio Falcon, commander of the 2nd Marine Brigade.

A Palace official who requested anonymity said the President prohibited the Army from pulling out troops from ongoing military operations against the Abu Sayyaf to boost his security while he was in Sulu.

The President earlier condemned the Abu Sayyaf for beheading Hall and vowed to bring the al-Qaeda-linked bandits to justice.

Hall and his three companions were kidnapped from a posh resort in Samal Island in September 2015.

The Philippine and Canadian governments both maintained a “no ransom policy.”

Another Canadian who was held captive, former mining executive John Ridsdel, was executed by the group in April.

A Norwegian man and a Filipino woman are still being held hostage.

On Wednesday, Aquino said a lack of police and military personnel and budget was one reason the government has been unable to eliminate the Abu Sayyaf.

“In 1986, the population was about 50 million. Now it is more than 100 million. You are asking the same number of policemen and military to guard double the population,” he said.

Second, he said, there was sympathy for the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu, and the bandits had knowledge of the terrain.

He also said government forces were also engaged in other tasks, such as dealing with the territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea.

Aquino said he had no knowledge about whether some parties had paid ransoms to the bandits.

“I have no personal knowledge. Can we say that other people who paid? I don’t know,” he said.

But Aquino said the movements of the Abu Sayyaf have been restricted to two barangays in Basilan.

Aquino also said he was able to apologize to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by phone for the death of two Canadians and thanked him for standing firm on the no-ransom policy, since payments would only make the problem worse.

Aquino said they learned that a separate group was kidnapping victims for the Abu Sayyaf.

“That is their expertise. Then they turn over the hostages to the Abu Sayyaf for safekeeping,” he said.

“There have been arrests made, and others have been identified by witnesses. Cases have been filed against them. We are waiting for the warrants for the arrest of the other suspects,” he said.

Asked about how Hall’s head was delivered without an arrest being made, Aquino said security forces could not search everyone carrying a bag.

“People here still have freedom,” he said. “It’s difficult to specifically point out which person had the bag which contained the head…. What is important is that our forces must strengthen their pursuit against them,” he said.

“I understand the difficulty. The forces are casing the barangays which are influenced by the Abu Sayyaf, who have relatives there. They grew up there. They know the terrain. It’s not easy here. There are also those who are sympathetic to the Abu Sayyaf. There are also those who are in cahoots with them. It’s not easy to find informants here,” Aquino said.

He said huge rewards for the Abu Sayyaf have not worked, possibly because the bandits share their ransom earnings with the people in the area.

Senator Vicente Sotto III  on Wednesday  said he supported a proposal to declare martial law in parts of Mindanao as part of efforts to neutralize the Abu Sayyaf.

Incoming police chief Ronald dela Rosa has said he would support such a move as a way to address terrorism and the insurgency in Mindanao.

Sotto described the beheading of Hall as an act of cowardice, adding that there was nothing courageous about killing a person who was tied up.

Sotto added he believed incoming President Rodrigo Duterte already has a plan to stop the Abu Sayyaf, which had taunted him with Hall’s beheading.

Maj. Filemon Tan, spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command,  on Wednesday  acknowledged that numerical superiority did not guarantee success because the Abu Sayyaf had mastery of the territory and was getting support from the community.

At present, roughly 5,500 soldiers are reportedly deployed in Sulu alone with the recent arrival of the 45th Infantry Battalion from Maguindanao.

The military estimates there are about 200 Abu Sayyaf fighters in Sulu and about the same number operating in nearby Basilan.

Still in the hands of the ASG in Sulu are Norwegian hostage Kjartan Sekkingstad and Marites Flor, Hall’s Filipino girlfriend.

Tan said there are seven ASG hostages remaining in Sulu, including Sekkingstad and Dutch bird watcher Elwood Horn, but the military has been unable to pinpoint where they are being held.

A priest who heads the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP), Benjamin Alforque, said  Wednesday  some corrupt government and military officials were getting cuts from ransoms paid.

“Why has this problem not been solved?” he said in Filipino on Church-owned Radio Veritas. “In the experience of the priests who helped in the negotiations, it’s not just the Abu Sayyaf, but their cohorts in the government and the military who get a cut of the ransom money. This makes the whole thing complicated.” – With Florante S. Solmerin, Sara Susanne D. Fabunan, PNA


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