DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Tuesday the government is preparing for any attacks that the Abu Sayyaf might launch in urban centers as diversionary tactics but played down the need for emergency powers for President Rodrigo Duterte to quash the terrorist group.
In an interview, Lorenzana said that they have received reports that there might be terror attacks on major cities.
“That’s what we are preparing right now. We know they might do diversionary tactics in Manila, Cebu, or Davao, metropolitan centers—that is what the President is fearing, the diversionary actions [that they might do] in urban centers,” Lorenzana told the Manila Standard.
Lorenzana also warned against paying ransom in exchange for any hostages being held, as this would only strengthen the terrorist group.
Lorenzana said with local government units joining the anti-terrorist drive, there was still no need to grant President Duterte emergency powers.
At least three senators—Panfilo Lacson, Paolo Benigno Aquino IV and Vicente Sotto III--have expressed support for granting Duterte additional emergency powers to stop the ASG after a series of kidnappings and beheadings in Mindanao.
Such powers would help Duterte deal more effectively with the terror menace as well as with other serious problems such as illegal drugs, the senators said.
Armed Forces chief Gen. Ricardo Visaya said they would not stop until the ASG is eradicated.
“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.
The Palace on Tuesday vowed to relentlessly pursue the Abu Sayyaf after 15 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.
Abella echoed the statements of Lorenzana that the government is going “full force” on the ASG, adding that the series of offensives against the Abu Sayyaf are “manifestations” of Duterte’s campaign against the bandit group.
On Tuesday, the military confirmed that at least 15 soldiers and four Abu Sayyaf members were killed in a series of encounters in Sulu on Monday after the Army’s 35th Infantry Battalion and 21st Infantry Batallion fought around 120 members of the ASG.
The firefight also wounded 10 soldiers, while the number of casualties on the Abu Sayyaf side had yet to be confirmed.
Maj. Felimon Tan Jr., spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said on Tuesday one of the slain was an officer.
He said the soldiers were conducting pursuit operations when they encountered the ASG’s main body led by sub-leader Radullan Sahiron.
All the slain and wounded soldiers were recovered and suffered no mutilation by the terrorists.
He said not a single gun or bullet was lost to the terrorists.
Tan said casualties on the side of the ASG were undetermined.
Those who died in the Monday encounter in Sitio Kan Jaiul, Barangay Maligay were 2nd Lt. Ernan Gusto, 33, a resident of Isabela; Staff Sgt. Ruel Catubay, 39, of Zamboanga Sibugay; Sgt. Jay Erwin Almohallas, 38, of Lanao del Norte; Cpl. Omar Raddulan, 41, of Lanao del Norte; Cpl.
Ronald Galoniga, 33, of Lanao del Norte; Cpl. Elid Ismael, 49, of Sulu; Cpl. Salik Mandangan, 31, of Lanao del Norte; Private First Class Nestor Bacaling, 26, of Lanao del Norte; PFC Jison Falcasantos, 28, of Zamboanga City; PFC Gerald Yubal, 29, of Zamboanga Sibugay; PFC Dhendo Dujo, 32, of Zamboanga Sibugay; PFC Roselito Arnoco, 29, of Zamboanga del Sur; PFC Glend Rasma, 24, of North Cotabato; PFC Rogelio Vincoy, 28, of Zamboanga del Norte; and PFC Jonas Lumayan, 23, of Zamboanga del Sur; all members of the 35IB.
Those wounded in the same battle were Cpl. Edgar Andales, Cpl. Ahmad Nuroh, PFC Vinjie Colaljo, PFC Relindo Paglinawan, PFC Rogen Revira, PFC Sabeniano Bercasio, PFC Juvelito Bulhano, PFC Efren Espenesin, PFC Jemar Maictin, and PFC Johnrel Alalag.
On the same day but in a different firefight in Barangay Kutong, Talipao, Cpl. Greggy Jinggoy Banog and Cpl. Joel Laman were also wounded.
Last week, the military stepped up operations against the ASG on orders by President Rodrigo Duterte to eliminate the terrorists.
Duterte has expressed exasperation over the beheadings that the ASG has inflicted on their hostages once their families fail to pay the ransom.
The military said the first series of firefights last week killed at least 21 ASG terrorists, although only six bodies were recovered.
Thousands and thousands of soldiers poured into Sulu and Basilan with the objective of finishing off the ASG scourge.
Duterte has ordered Visaya to finish off the ASG in six months.
In Camp Aguinaldo, the military said they mourned the death of their fellow soldiers and placed the flag at half-staff in their honor. With PNA
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