President Aquino assesses military campaign against Abu Sayyaf

(JOLO, Sulu) President Benigno S. Aquino III visited Jolo, Sulu on Wednesday to assess the ongoing military operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), a few days after the bandits beheaded their Canadian hostage.

The President arrived at Camp Teodulfo Bautista at about noon and was immediately briefed by Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) officials on the military campaign against the Abu Sayyaf.

“Nandito ako ngayon para ma-review nga lahat ng operations na nangyayari puwera dun sa nire-report sa atin pagkatagal-tagal na,” the President said in an interview with the media.

“Gusto kong makapanayam dito ang ating mga ground commanders para makuha ang mas kumpletong larawan nang mga kaganapan dito. At ‘yun nga napagkasunduan ngayong hapon kung paano ire-refine, mula kaninang umaga, paano ire-refine ang ating operations para successfully nating ma-rescue lahat ng natitirang hostages.”

Aside from assessing the ongoing efforts in Sulu, which began several months ago, the President was also updated regarding the military operations in Central Mindanao, as well as in Basilan.

Asked to comment on the killing of the Canadian hostage, the second Canadian to be beheaded by the ASG since April, the President pointed out that the security concern in Sulu is complicated and difficult to address.

He said he has spoken with the respective prime ministers of Canada and Norway and discussed the hostage-taking issue.

According to President Aquino, he apologized to the Canadian prime minister for the death of the two Canadians.

He also expressed his gratitude to the Canadian government for sticking to the no-ransom policy, the same stance taken by the Philippine government.

Paying ransom would only encourage more people to join the Abu Sayyaf, the Chief Executive explained.

On the ongoing military campaign against the Abu Sayyaf, he said he understands the difficulty of fighting the bandits, especially due to the help of local communities, the Abu Sayyaf’s mastery of the terrain, and Sulu’s thick forest cover.

The support of the local population has made it more difficult for the military to gain intelligence from the ground, he said.

And despite the huge bounty for the Abu Sayyaf leaders, until now no informant has come forward, he added.

Noting that he could not divulge the military’s plan to rescue the remaining hostages, the President made an assurance, saying, “We hope we are more focused and therefore increase the chances of resolving the situation successfully.”

Wesmincom officials said a total of seven hostages are still being held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf — five locals and two foreigners.

The military on Monday confirmed that the Abu Sayyaf had beheaded Canadian Robert Hall after ransom demands were not met.

In late April, John Ridsdel, another Canadian, was killed by the Abu Sayyaf. His severed head was found in Sulu province.

The two Canadians, Hall’s Filipina girlfriend Marites Flor, and Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad were abducted by the Abu Sayyaf on September 21 last year from a resort on Samal Island. PND (as)