ZAMBOANGA CITY: Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gregorio Catapang has vowed to work and coordinate with the officials of Sulu provincial government as soldiers continue their hot pursuit operations against the members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).
Catapang and other military officials flew to Sulu over the weekend and attended a public dialogue led by Gov. Abdusakur “Toto” Tan 2nd along with representatives of various civil society groups and different sectors.
During the dialogue, Catapang expressed willingness to enter into a possible ceasefire with the ASG but on the condition that they must first release all their hostages unconditionally and that they refrain from undertaking criminal activities in the future.
“That [ceasefire]is possible, but they need to release all hostages first. They [the ASG members]are wasting their lives. Let us help each other so that we can help them lead better lives,” he said.
He was responding to a question by a Muslim teacher who asked him whether the military is open to a truce with the ASG.
Jolo Mayor Hussin Amin suggested that Sulu province hold a peace summit to be participated by local and national officials to tackle various issues and further unite development efforts here.
Catapang used the occasion to apologize to local officials for not coordinating with the peace and order council relative to the recent release of two German nationals who were held hostage by the ASG.
“We would like to apologize to the people of Sulu for any shortcomings during the law enforcement operations in pursuit of the Abu Sayyaf group to retrieve the Germans and other hostages,” Catapang said.
Tan praised Catapang for his humility, saying it was the first time that a top military official has apologized to the people of Sulu.
The Abu Sayyaf freed Stefan Viktor Okonek, 71, and Henrike Diesen, 55, on October 17 purportedly in exchange for a P250 million ransom.
Catapang however insisted that no ransom was paid for the release of the hostages and even dared anyone to come up with the evidence that ransom had been paid to the ASG.