LOCAL officials in Basilan province on Friday met with top officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) led by Gen. Gregorio Catapang and pledged their full support to the intensified military operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group.
“We want to support an all-out effort to decimate the Abu Sayyaf. They are sowing terror in my hometown..We will support you all throughout basta wala tayong iwanan,” said Mayor Durie Kalla-hal of Tuburan town.
Accompanied by Autnomous Region in Muslin Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Mujiv Hataman, Kahalal and 12 other mayors of Basilan trooped to the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) headquarters to attend a consultative meeting hosted by its commander Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero.
Catapang said the AFP will launch an all-out law enforcement operation against the Abu Sayyaf in coordination with the Philippine National Police. He added that the five battalions of various military units would be deployed to carry out the task.
After voicing out out their respective concerns on the terroristic activities of the bandits, the mayors handed Catapang a copy of a manifesto they all signed to express their support to the government’s effort to crush the terrorist group.
Besides terror threats, among the common complaints of the local officials, are the bandits’ extortion activities.
“One of my subordinates was asked by the Abu Sayyaf to pay P200,000.00 a month. Some of the mayors are demanded P50,000.00 monthly payment to the bandits. This is disrespect to the leaders who are elected by the people,” said Hataman.
The AFP chief assured them that the military has enough troops in the province.
“We have enough forces in Basilan right now. We can send forces to hunt down the bandits while at the same time, continue securing the Basilan Circumferential Road project,” Catapang told the local executives.
Besides neutralizing the bandits, Catapang told the officials that unit commanders have been directed to closely communicate with the people to help them solve community problems.
“We would like to help identify priority projects that must be funded by the government. We must partner with the leaders to claim peace and prosperity for their people,” he said.
For his part, Hataman said the concept of an “all-out offensive” the local executives are now pushing in their province to mobilize everything to solve the Abu Sayyaf problem.
“This is not like the all-out war during the time of President Erap (Joseph) Estrada during which all armaments were used against the armed threats. Actually, military action here is only secondary. They need to support in the law enforcement operations against the bandits who are threatening the peace in our communities,” he said.
Hataman was referring to the all-out war declared by the former president against the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Catapang played down the possibility of collateral damage in the military operations even as he assured that “our soldiers are well-trained and equipped to do their job.”
“I have always reminded my soldiers about our slogan “Kawal Disiplinado. Bawal Abusado. Dapat Asintado.” If they remember all of these, they would not commit unnecessary damage during our operations,” he said.