THE Moro National Liberation Front has asked President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to postpone a scheduled trip to Jolo, Sulu to meet with MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari because peace spoilers may take advantage of the visit and endanger the life of the incoming leader.
MNLF spokesman Reverend Absalom Cerveza made the remark as three more members of the Abu Sayyaf group were killed while scores of others wounded when the military overran two bandit camps in Sulu.
Cerveza said the MNLF poses no threat to the president-elect because Misuari and Duterte are long-time friends, but the separatist group only wants to ensure Duterte’s safety his visit to Sulu.
“I asked him not to go yet because he has not even taken his oath. Although no one will do anything wrong to him, one never really knows,” Cerveza said, referring to a meeting with Duterte in Davao City two weeks ago.
Cerveza said they are are not discounting the possibility that some disgruntled security personnel may try to hurt Duterte because of internal and external security policy pronouncements.
“I said, I’m not afraid that you will be betrayed by the MNLF because nobody will betray you. But you cannot be sure of the soldiers, the police. If he is shot there, they may try to blame Misuari,” Cerveza said.
Cerveza quoted Duterte as advising Misuari to just stay cool in Sulu. “Tell the chairman [Misuari] not to make any move and just stay there.”
But Cerveza said Duterte and Misuari will likely come be a productive meeting since they have known each other for years until Misuari was detained in Laguna over the rebellion charges against him.
Meanwhile, three more Abu Sayyaf members were killed while scores of others wounded when the military overran two big bandit camps in Sulu.
Major Filemon Tan, spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command, said an encounter between elements of the 32nd Infantry Battalion against more than 200 bandits occurred Tuesday afternoon at Barangay Pansul in Patikul town.
“The encounter lasted for about 1 hour and 30 minutes, after which the ASG members scampered towards separate directions. The said encounter resulted in the deaths of three ASG members and the wounding of 10 others, while 16 soldiers were wounded in said encounter,” Tan said.
According to battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Flores, fresh troops were inserted in the area to continue the “cat-and-mouse” operation against the fleeing bandits.
A day before the encounter, on Monday, elements of the 45th Infantry Battalion discovered two abandoned camps in Barangay Sinumaan, Talipao.
“Said camps can accommodate approximately 150 persons and have running trenches with potable water within the perimeter. Also found in the area were hammocks, water container and other personal belongings of the Abu Sayyaf members,” Tan said.
At least 11 brigades, or 5,500 soldiers, have been deployed in Sulu to go after only an estimated 200-man ASG that recently beheaded two Canadian hostages, John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, after their families failed to deliver the P300-million each for their safe release.
Still in the hands of the bandits were Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and Hall’s Filipina girlfriend Marites Flor. All the victims were abducted in September 2015 at a resort in the Island Garden City of Samal and brought to Sulu.
Aside Sekkingstad and Flor, other hostages still in the hands of the bandits are Ewold Horn, a Dutchman birdwatcher, and four to five other hostages.
Incoming security officials and experts including some political quarters are supporting calls for President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law in Sulu and Basilan and other parts of Mindanao where lawless groups and terror groups such as the ASG and the Maute group in Butig, Lanao del Sur operate.