PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte told security forces Sunday to finish off the Abu Sayyaf as another of the terrorist group’s sub-leaders was sighted in Negros Oriental province, and as the bandits beheaded another kidnap victim.
“Same instruction: Finish them off ASAP,” said Defense Secretary Delfin Lazaro after Duterte received a briefing from security officials.
Last week, Abu Sayyaf bandits planning a terrorist attack clashed with police and troops in Inabanga, Bohol, leaving nine people dead, including the leader of the operation, Abu Rami.
Intelligence officers, however, said another sub-leader of the group, Alhabisi Misaya, was spotted in Negros Oriental, constituting a threat to nearby Apo Island, Sumilon Island and Siquijor.
A spokesman for the Armed Forces, Brig. Gen. Resty Padilla Jr., said the all-out war on the Abu Sayyaf would continue.
In an interview, Padilla said the AFP’s Joint Task Force Sulu commanded by newly promoted Army Brig. Gen. Cirilito E. Sobejana, is the main unit tasked to track down some 300 Abu Sayyaf terrorists in Mindanao, mostly on the island of Sulu and nearby islets.
Contacted by telephone, Sobejana confirmed the directive of AFP chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Año on the unrelenting war against the Abu Sayyaf, which is still holding about 30 hostages.
Ground forces are supported by artillery of the Army, and planes and helicopter gunships of the Air Force.
The Navy has also intensified its sea patrol around Sulu and nearby Tawi-Tawi islands to prevent the terrorists from escaping.
Aside from kidnapping, the Abu Sayyaf is also engaged in drug trafficking to raise funds for their terroristic activities which must be stopped, Sobejana said.
He also said that Muammar Askali, alias Abu Rahmi, who was killed in Bohol last week following a gun battle with government forces, was the most notorious Abu Sayyaf member and is believed to have led the recent beheading of foreign hostages.
Rahmi slipped out of Sulu because of the intensified military offensive on the island and went to Bohol together with some of his henchmen but five of them, including Rahmi was killed.
Amid the Abu Sayyaf incursions into provinces with popular tourist destinations, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said the government is ready to thwart possible attacks by the bandits, who typically abduct tourists and behead them if no ransom is paid.
During the President’s meetings Arab leaders, Duterte discussed counter-terrorism efforts against threats such as the Islamic State, Esperon said.
In recent speeches, Duterte warned that ISIS could spread to Southeast Asia, particularly to the Philippines, if the jihadist movement falls in the Middle East.
On Sunday, military officials confirmed the beheading of another Abu Sayyaf kidnap victim.
Reports said Noel Besconde, a crew member of the FB Ramona, was beheaded by Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan near Patikul, Sulu.
Besconde was abducted with three other crew members along the waters of the Celebes Sea late last year. Military sources said Besconde was “very sick” before he was beheaded.
On Saturday, the Interior Department assured participants in the scheduled Association of Southeast Asian Nations activity on April 19-20 in Bohol would proceed as planned, despite the recent clash between the Abu Sayyaf and security forces in the province that left three soldiers, a policeman and six bandits dead.
Among those killed in the firefight was Abu Sayyaf leader Moammar Askali, an emerging hard-line leader who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.
In a statement, Interior Secretary and officer-in-charge Catalino Cuy said Bohol “might as well be considered a well-fortified and most secure place in the country right now.”
Cuy, a retired police general, added that the “military and the police are on top of the situation.”
“We would like to assure the delegates, tourists and residents alike that we are exerting our best efforts for Bohol,” he said.
Officials said that about 4,000 personnel from the Philippine National Police, AFP, emergency response units and various agencies will be deployed during the Asean Summit meetings, which are expected to draw around 200 delegates.
The Bohol meetings, which will include trade-related sessions, will be held at the Hennan Resort in Panglao town.
The province will be hosting many ministerial, senior official and technical working group meetings throughout the year.
Cuy echoed the sentiments of Bohol Gov. Edgar Chatto that the situation in Inabanga would not affect the rest of Bohol or the rest of the country.
Inabanga is about 80 kilometers away from the venue, Panglao Island, which is close to the capital Tagbilaran City.
Earlier, the Bohol governor assured the public that law enforcers have the province’s security under control and that the situation in Inabanga, where the intense firefight took place, had gone back to normal.
On April 26 to 29, Metro Manila will play host to the 30th Asean Summit, with the major summit on the last day to be held at the Philippine International Convention Center.
The Philippines currently chairs the Asean Summit 2017 and will also host the 31st Asean Summit on Nov. 10 to 14 in Clark, Pampanga. The country’s chairmanship coincides with 50th Anniversary of the 10-nation bloc. With PNA