The Armed Forces chief of staff on Friday said he was willing to stop a military offensive against the Abu Sayyaf if the terrorist group would set free its remaining hostages.
The halt to the offensive “is possible but they need to release all hostages first. Then we can reform them [Abu Sayyaf bandits] and help them change their ways,” Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. said in response to a query by a teacher during his visit to Sulu.
Catapang was in Sulu for a general assembly organized by Gov. Sakur Tan 2nd to find a solution to the Abu Sayyaf problem.
The meeting was attended by 15 local chief executives including Jolo Mayor Hussin Amin.
“We will help identify development projects and other social interventions that will address directly the problems,” Catapang said.
The Armed Forces earlier deployed 1,200 more Army troops to beef up the Philippine Marines already in Sulu, the Zamboanga Peninsula and nearby island provinces.
The Marines are spearheading the hunt for the Abu Sayyaf, which Friday last week freed two Germans it had abducted off Palawan in western Philippines.
The group said it released Stefan Viktor Okonek and Henrike Dielen after a P250-million ransom was paid.
The military said the Abu Sayyaf is holding at least 10 more hostages.
Last month, the group kidnapped 18-year-old Korean Li Pei Zhel in Kabansalan town in Zamboanga Sibugay.
The Abu Sayyaf is also responsible for the kidnapping of Australian Richard Warrane Rodwell in Barangay Pangi, Ipil, Zamboanga, on December 4, 2011; birdwatchers Swiss Lorenzo Vinciguerra and Dutchman Ewold Horn in Panglima Sugala, Tawi-Tawi, on February 1, 2012; Japanese Toshio Ito, in Pangutaran, Sulu, on July 16, 2010, and Indian Biju Koara Veettil in Patikul, Sulu.
In 2000, the Abu Sayyaf abducted 21 foreign tourists in Sabah and brought them to Jolo.
In 2001, it abducted 20 people at the Dos Palmas Resort in Palawan.
At least five hostages, including two Americans—Guillermo Sobero and Martin Burnham—were subsequently killed.
In April, the Abu Sayyaf snatched a Chinese tourist and a Filipino hotel receptionist during a raid on a holiday resort also in Sabah. The victims have since been released.