President Benigno Aquino 3rd led a top-level meeting of security officials in Jolo, Sulu on Wednesday to “refine” a military strategy to rescue all the remaining hostages from the hands of the militant Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).
The Commander-in-Chief flew to the south on Wednesday and presided over the security meeting with officials led by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Interior Secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento.
In a news conference after the meeting, Aquino said he went to Jolo to get a “complete picture” of the situation.
“Napagkasunduan ngayong hapon kung paano ire-refine ‘yung ating operations para successful nating ma-rescue ‘yung lahat ng mga natitirang hostages [We agreed this afternoon how to refine the operations to successfully rescue all the remaining hostages],” he told reporters.
“We hope we are more focused and, therefore, increase the chances of resolving the situation successfully,” Aquino said.
The President, however, refused to disclose details of the operations.
“I’m very limited with what I can say. I’m sure they have sympathizers who will watch you and will give them tips,” Aquino said.
The President admitted that he considered the possibility of declaring martial law in Sulu three weeks ago as part of the government’s intensified efforts to rescue the remaining hostages.
He, however, decided to drop the idea because it may earn public sympathy for the Abu Sayyaf.
“Yes. In Sulu in particular,” Aquino also told reporters when asked if he considered declaring martial law in areas where the Abu Sayyaf is known to operate.
“May assessment na ang daming puwersa gagamitin just to implement martial law here.
Walang guarantee na magkakaron ng positive results. Baka magkaron pa ng negative results. Baka magkaron pa dagdag simpatya sa mga kalaban [There was an assessment that we need to use a substantial number of forces just to implement martial law here that would not guarantee positive results. There could even be negative results. The enemy may also gain sympathy],” he said.
Aquino, who will step down on June 30, had given a standing order for the military forces in Sulu to pursue Abu Sayyaf rebels and safely recover all the hostages.
The ASG is holding at least seven hostages — Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and Robert Hall’s Filipina girlfriend Marites Flor, Dutch Ewold Horn, and locals Joshua Bani, Araji Maani, Antonio Tan and Ronnie Bangcale.
Hall was executed by the rebels on Tuesday.
Another Canadian, John Ridsdel, was beheaded on April 25 after his family and the Canadian government refused to pay P300-million ransom.
Hall, Ridsdel, Sekkingstad and Flor were taken from Samal Island resort off Davao del Norte on September 21, 2015 and brought to Sulu.
Horn was abducted on February 1, 2012 in Tawi-Tawi.
The other local captives were separately abducted in the Zamboanga peninsula.