From the Philippine Star (Apr 17): Palace: Sayyaf on the run
“We have ongoing operations against the Abu Sayyaf and they are on the run. They are fighting hard but we are giving them a very hard fight as well,” Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Undersecretary Manuel Quezon III said over radio dzRB. Philstar.com file
Malacañang yesterday confirmed that government security forces are relentlessly pursuing the Abu Sayyaf bandits, but refused to comment on the alleged kidnapping of four Indonesian sailors in the waters between Sitangkai in Tawi-Tawi and Lahad Datu in Sabah, Malaysia on Friday.
The bandits reportedly wounded one of the sailors.
“We have ongoing operations against the Abu Sayyaf and they are on the run. They are fighting hard but we are giving them a very hard fight as well,” Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Undersecretary Manuel Quezon III said over radio dzRB.
The Department of National Defense or Foreign Affairs will provide information when necessary, Quezon said, referring to the Indonesians’ kidnapping.
“The Armed Forces is pursuing the bandits with vigor and valor and we should not assist the enemy in terms of spreading any disinformation or rumors that have not been verified by the authorities,” he said.
The large-scale operation in Sulu was meant to locate and rescue the hostages held by the Abu Sayyaf, as the military is taking seriously the bandits’ ultimatum on the four hostages.
“Lives are at stake and we are not lowering our guards,” said Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesman for Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom).
In a video recently uploaded on social media, the bandits gave the families and governments of Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and Filipina Marites Flor until April 25 to pay ransom.
The kidnappers said they would harm one of the victims should their demand not be met.
The four were seized in September last year from a resort on Samal Island off Davao del Norte and were believed taken to the jungles of Sulu.
The Abu Sayyaf reduced the ransom to P300 million from P1 billion for each of the foreign captives.
The military said the spate of kidnappings have brought to 29 the number of captives including two Canadians, a Norwegian, a Dutch, a Chinese, 14 Indonesians, four Malaysians and six Filipinos.
Tan said they could not confirm whether all the victims are being held in Sulu, noting there were only two instances when they were shown on video together with their captors.
He said there could be other pirate groups operating in the Sulu waters that could be behind the recent kidnapping of a Malaysian and Indonesian.
Meanwhile, the number of slain bandits killed in the continuous military offensive has climbed to 37 as government troops were closing in on their targets in the hinterlands of Tipo-Tipo, Basilan.
The latest figure came after the recovery of the remains of five bandits, who have been validated and identified on the ground, Tan said.
The five were killed after the troops overran the bandits’ training camp in Barangay Baguindan in Tipo-tipo town and an encounter in Barangay Amaloy in Ungkaya Pukan town on Wednesday.
“We can have better results before the weekend,” he said, adding reports had it that Abu Sayyaf leader Furuji Indama, who was critically wounded, could have died from injuries.
Meanwhile, more than 3,000 villagers have been displaced in the military offensive.
The social welfare office of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) said the 700 families from Tipo-Tipo town were provided with relief assistance.
The town is greatly affected by the military operation that has been running for a week now.
ARMM Social Welfare Secretary Rahima Alba said the families came from the villages of Baguindan, Silangkum and Bohe-Piang.
At least 260 sacks of rice had been distributed to the families by the regional government.
The fighting broke out on April 9 in Baguindan when elements of the Joint Task Group Basilan caught up with a group of bandits led by Indama, Isnilon Hapilon and Moroccan bomb expert Mohammad Khattab.
Khattab was killed in the encounter.