INCOMING Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Ricardo Visaya on Thursday said he may recommend to President-elect Rodrigo Duterte the imposition of martial law in Jolo (Sulu) and Basilan if a study conducted by the military deemed it necessary in crushing the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).
“That is an option. As far as I am concerned that is an option,” Visaya disclosed a day after some legislators said they are open to a proposal to declare martial law in certain areas in Mindanao to stop the jihadists from sowing terror.
But Visaya said a study should be conducted on whether martial law should be declared .
“Pwedeng pag-aralan natin yan yung pag-declare ng martial law dun sa Jolo and Basilan dahil nakita naman natin na parang there is a failure of governance. So perhaps that is one option that can be undertaken para ma-establish ang order sa Jolo at Basilan, kasi nakita natin na yung Abu Sayyaf nagko-conduct sila ng [kidnapping], dinadala dyan sa Jolo so perhaps yung martial law can be also an answer to prevent the Abu Sayyaf from continuing their kidnapping activities [The declaration of martial law in Jolo and Basilan can be studied because we have seen that there seems to be a failure of governance. So perhaps that is one option that can be undertaken to establish order in Jolo and Basilan because we have witnessed how the Abu Sayyaf in the previous months took their hostages to Jolo, so perhaps martial law can be the answer to prevent the Abu Sayyaf from continuing their kidnapping activities],” he explained.
Visaya noted that 11 battalions of soldiers have been deployed to Jolo but government troops are having a difficult time in pursuing the rebels because of the rugged terrain.
A battalion consists of four or more companies or approximately 400 to 1,000 soldiers.
According to Visaya, if martial law is declared, security forces can control the movements of the militants who would mix with the civilians whenever government forces are closing in on them.
Also on Thursday, AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. said the military is doing all it can to crush the ASG and safely rescue remaining hostages that the group still holds.
Padilla issued the statement amid fresh threats from the jihadists to behead two more hostages after the executions of Canadians Robert Hall and John Ridsdel on June 13 and April 25, 2016, respectively.
He said security forces have not ceased their operations against the terror group.
“Your Armed Forces continues to work to secure the safety of the hostages. We have not stopped, we have not let up on ongoing operations and will not cease on doing this until we are able to make these personalities or these bandits and criminals accountable for their actions,” Padilla added.
Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), however, opposed the proposal to declare martial law in Basilan and Sulu.
Hataman said he supports all efforts to cripple the ASG but not martial law.
“There are better options that will not trigger human rights abuses. It’s not necessary. The martial law experienced by Moros in Mindanao has been traumatic,” he noted.
Instead, Hataman proposed “well-coordinated, intensified and participative” law enforcement operations.
“Why don’t we try it first, at least three to six months. I am willing to issue an Executive Order where we can bring out the civilians from their homes and put them in one evacuation area then let the government attend to their needs while military operations against the ASG are going on,” the governor said.
His proposal was supported by Sheik Jamil Usman, a Muslim leader from Tawi-Tawi province.
“The residents of Sulu and Basilan provinces especially the local government units should support the idea of ARMM Regional Governor Hataman in bringing to safety the civilians who are living in the perimeter of the Abu Sayyaf lair. Then massive all-out war operations by the military can be launched in full swing without resulting in collateral damage on the innocent civilians,” Usman said.
Hataman warned that local officials suspected to be supporting the Abu Sayyaf will be dealt with accordingly.
“If these village and town officials cannot act or will not cooperate, then it’s time for the government to hold them responsible and accountable for their actions or inaction,” he said.
“We really have to put an end to this vicious cycle of ASG violence because they destroy the image of Muslims,” he said.