ARMED boys, some no older than 12, guard hostages while entire communities collude to prove a safe haven for the ruthless Abu Sayyaf bandits, a member of the incoming administration’s peace panel said Tuesday, citing the experiences of freed hostage Marites Flor.
Incoming presidential adviser on the peace process Jesus Dureza was instrumental in obtaining the release of Flor, who was abducted with her Canadian boyfriend Robert Hall, another Canadian John Ridsdel and a Norwegian, Kjartan Sekkingstad, in September 2015.
The Abu Sayyaf beheaded Ridsdel and Hall after the bandits did not get the ransom they demanded. Sekkingstad is still being held by the bandits.
“Marites said, ‘Sir, there are even children who would guard us with guns, some of them are 12 years old,’” Dureza told GMA News.
“They don’t have schools there, they don’t have facilities, they’re just poor,” Dureza said, adding that they were helping the bandits to gain a small share of the ransom they earn from the hostages.
Even the community would provide perimeter security for the bandits, making it more difficult for government security forces to obtain accurate intelligence.
“The members of the community will even provide them with a security cordon to protect these hostages and also the hostage takers,” Dureza said.
“Most of the community members also benefit [from the ransoms paid]…. In other words, it has been a source of livelihood for the community,” he said.
“They are just in it for the money. They find this a very lucrative way of earning money,” Dureza added.
Dureza said to combat the Abu Sayyaf, the government must maintain a presence in the far-flung areas that they have neglected or even abandoned.
He said while the problem required a military solution, the government must also deal with the environmental factors that have allowed the bandit group to survive despite sporadic government crackdowns.
“We cannot deal with this situation just because the people are saying that you should attack them at once. There is a community around it and you have to address the reasons why they are also involved in that way,” Dureza said.
“They are isolated. They are very poor. They don’t have schools there. There is no government there. They have not felt the presence of government. We should also address that, not only the terrorists there,” he added.
Dureza declined to reveal other information provided by Flor as some of them might have tactical value to the military and the police.
“They should be isolated from these bad guys. ‘That should be our entry point. While you deal with an iron fist with the bad guys, you have to deal with the community out there,” he said.
The Abu Sayyaf released Flor, a native of
Bukidnon, after months of captivity after she and her companions were snatched
from a resort on in Davao del Norte
in September 2015. Samal
Earlier, Duterte said the Abu Sayyaf must be clear if it wants to be treated as an enemy, and said he was open to a dialogue with the group.
“The Abu Sayyaf, they are not my enemies. I know that is connected with the issue of
Mindanao. I would like to clear. Would they? Are they
willing to talk? Or just fight it out?” Duterte told his Cebuano supporters.
Duterte also vowed a “day of reckoning” for the Abu Sayyaf, after they beheaded two Canadian hostages when the deadline for their ransom passed.
Duterte said that they are still negotiating for the release of Sekkingstad.
Dureza said the government couldn’t simply launch an attack because innocent lives were at stake.
“We have to talk to them [Abu Sayyaf] to save lives, but it’s not in the context of peace... The full force of the law will have to be applied here,” he said.
He added that the administration cannot take a single approach in dealing with the bandit group because the situation on the ground is complex.
“The situation is complicated. You cannot put it in one box,” he said when asked whether the Duterte administration’s policy regarding the Abu Sayyaf will be negotiation or launching an offensive.
“It has to be a calibrated approach,” Dureza added.
But incoming Armed Forces chief Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya pledged a “24x7 fight” to neutralize the Abu Sayyaf.
“We are planning to fight the ASG 24/7. We would like to defeat the ASG the fastest way,” he said.
Even as the Abu Sayyaf released Flor, it abducted seven Indonesian sailors in the
Sulu Sea, eight days after Hall was beheaded.
Visaya added that the Armed Forces has more than enough resources as the military has 11 battalions deployed in Sulu alone hunting these terrorists.
“There will be some procurement, and there will be realignment of resources also,” he said.
The incoming AFP chief also said civilian support and cooperation are needed in addressing the ASG threat.
“We have more than enough forces to match them but they are very hard to locate on the ground, so it is essential for civilians to cooperate,” he added.
“In our military operations, we have to separate the terrorists from the civilian communities in order to cut off their logistics and contain them in areas conducive for battle where there would be no civilian collateral [damage]. Once that separation is done we have to build safety measures to make sure these terrorists don’t have a chance to return and mingle or blend into the community again for cover,” Visaya said.
Visaya said the use of force was still the most viable approach to eliminate an armed threat such as the Abu Sayyaf.
“For example in Sulu, we’ve have enough soldiers already deployed there and we don’t have to deploy more. As of now, up to 11 battalions or roughly 5,500 soldiers are already there, more than enough against the ASG, which according to the latest report, has only 500 or 1,000 maybe. All we’ve to do is craft a practical and doable plan in a comprehensive manner on how to deal with the Abu Sayyaf problem, and we already have that plan,” he said.