ZAMBOANGA CITY: Human rights group Suara Bangsamoro on Tuesday warned that a full offensive against the militant Abu Sayyaf Group in Basilan province could lead to civilian abuses and destruction of properties as well as massive displacement of people.
A battalion of Marines was sent to Basilan recently to reinforce army troops battling the Abu Sayyaf in the restive province.
Suara Bangsamoro made the warning after Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Mujiv Hataman on Monday recommended an all-out offensive against the Abu Sayyaf which was responsible for the deaths of six soldiers, including a young army officer, in a recent clash in Basilan’s Sumisip town, a known stronghold of the jihadist group and birthplace of the politician.
Amira Lidasan, the national president of Suara Bangsamoro, cautioned Hataman—the younger brother of Rep. Hadjiman Hataman-Salliman—in his all-out war announcement against the Abu Sayyaf fearing that civilians will be targeted in the military assault.
“Such policy is prone to abuse of power by the authorities and would lead to more cases of human rights violations such as massive displacement of residents, death due to strafing and indiscriminate firing, destruction of properties, exposing women and children to harm,” she explained.
Lindasan said previous wars against the Abu Sayyaf tied to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya had resulted in the exodus of civilians whose properties and livelihoods were affected by military operations. She said that in 2000, the government ordered a massive military assault, backed by United States military forces, against the Abu Sayyaf and the biggest casualties were the civilians while the Abu Sayyaf still continues its criminal activities.
Lidasan also accused Hataman of contradicting himself when two years ago he and the other governors in the autonomous region said “never again” to all-out war policy in dealing with rebels.
She reminded Hataman that in the previous military operations against the Abu Sayyaf, there were also reports of military clashes with Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels who are also in the mountainous area of Basilan.
Various Muslim groups also opposed a full-scale offensive against the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu province where security forces are pursuing the militants, saying, it would affect and displaced tens of thousands of innocent civilians.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd has ordered security forces to sustain the operations against the Abu Sayyaf and at the same time said the government is also trying to bring progress to the region by constructing infrastructure.
“Ina-assure tayo ng ating militar at kapulisan na supisiyente ang ating mga pwersa para malipol itong mga masasamang-loob na ito [The military and the police are assuring us that our security forces are sufficient to round these bad elements],” Aquino said.
He said the military has deployed several infantry battalions to sustain the operations against the Abu Sayyaf which is still holding more than a dozen Filipino and foreign hostages in Mindanao.
“Kapag several [battalions], hindi one or two, hindi three— several battalions composed of some of our most elite forces and the regular line infantry battalions, are going to all of these mountain lairs and very heavily wooded jungle and dense areas to precisely deprive them of [their]safe havens,” he added.