From the Philippine Star (Dec 26): Yearender: Defeating Abu Sayyaf remains a challenge — AFP
Even with the deployment of more soldiers, the military has admitted that neutralizing the Abu Sayyaf remains a tall order.
“It is still a tall challenge... to finish our fight against the Abu Sayyaf... The key... as we always said are the stakeholders in Sulu and Basilan,” Col. Gerry Besana, Western Mindanao Command spokesman, said.
“The Philippine National Police cannot do it alone. Community policing cannot be undertaken by the PNP alone... All the challenges... needs the concerted effort of all stakeholders,” Besana added.
With marching orders to wipe out the Abu Sayyaf before the end of this year, 10 Army battalions and several military units were placed under the control of the Joint Task Force Sulu this year.
Besana said around 300 bandits led by Radullan Sahiron and Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan are still holed out in Sulu. Another 200 led by Furuji Indama are in Basilan.
At least 57 bandits were killed, 202 surrendered and 39 others were arrested in military operations this year. A total of 231 firearms were recovered.
More soldiers will be involved in the campaign against the Abu Sayyaf next year, with the activation of a new Army unit, the 11th Infantry Division (ID), which President Duterte led during his visit to Jolo last week.
The 11th ID has three brigades and support units from the Navy and Air Force.
Besana said there is an ongoing enhancement of the organizational setup of the new Army division in Sulu.
“The setup will be much better to address the problem about the scourge of the Abu Sayyaf,” Besana said.
A Dutch man, a Vietnamese, an Indonesian and three Filipinos remain in the hands of the bandits.
Authorities are validating reports that a crewmember of an Indonesian fishing vessel snatched off Sabah earlier this month is also being held in Sulu.
Besana said the Abu Sayyaf continues to exist for economic reasons rather than ideological belief.
He said a number of surrenderees admitted that they were forced to join the group because they have no other means of livelihood.
“One of those we talked to was a drug addict and said he joined the group thinking that it was a religious organization. He said he was surprised to learn that what the group is doing is against Islam,” Besana said.