THE elusiveness of the kidnap-for-ransom Abu Sayyaf Group (ASSG) is getting into the nerves of the military operatives who, for more than a week now, have been running after them without any positive results.
Col. Allan Arojado, commander, Joint Task Group Sulu, admitted on Sunday that his men were getting “impatient” and “frustrated” for their failure to catch up and engage the rebels despite a continuous pursuit operation since the bandits released their two German hostages 10 days ago.
“Kasama na yan (frustration and impatience). Malaki ang expectation, lahat buong bansa, buong madla,” Arojado said.
But Arrojado assured that it would only be a matter of time, stressing that they would not stop with their relentless pursuit operation until they would be able to secure the safe release of the other hostages and bring the bandits to the bar of justice.
“Let’s just wait. If you’re getting impatient, much more on me as the commander. We will really plan how we can (get them),” he added.
Arrojado explained that that bandits knew the terrain well, while his troops, most of whom were newly-assigned in Sulu, were just starting to familiarize and coordinate with the existing Marine contingent in the province.
Arrojado said the Army troops that were supposed to augment the Marines have yet to establish their base in Sulu.
“So it’s not that easy. I also lack the staff officers who can help me. The staff (officers) that we need have yet to arrive, thus we have to make do with what is available,” he said.
“We have enough forces but when it comes to planning, I still lack the needed staff officers who can assist me. That’s one handicap, but let’s just be patient and there would be an incident soon,” he further said.
He also pointed out that aside from their law enforcement operation, they were also in close coordination with the stakeholders, from the barangay level up to the highest provincial official and as well as with the private sector.
As per directive the AFP chief, Arrojado added, they were tasked to help the local communities and provide funding, if necessary, to whatever projects that would improve the lives of the residents.
Earlier, Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, chief, Public Affairs Office, AFP said the bigger challenge of the operating forces on the ground is how to differentiate the bandits from innocent civilians.
Cabunoc explained that the ASG camps overran by the soldiers were not really camps similar to that of the military, but were actually communities or villages populated by civilians.
“There are houses there, and part of the challenge there is the blending of the bandits with the innocent civilians. We cannot judge them all (as bandits) because of the misdoings of the few,” he pointed.
“We are reminded to protect the rights of the people. We are not suppose to harm them, we are not supposed to cause collateral damage if there are skirmishes right inside these communities, and that’s the reason why we also enlisted the help of these former MNLF rebels who are now in the Army to identify plain civilians because they know exactly who are identified with the Abu Sayyaf,” Cabunoc added.
The AFP has claimed that there were less than a hundred ASG operating in Sulu, Basilan and the Zamboanga Peninsula.