PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino 3rd on Wednesday disclosed that the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) had also planned to abduct his youngest sister Kris and Sarangani Rep. Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao or his children.
In a statement released by Malacañang in the wake of the beheading of Canadian John Ridsdel by the ASG, Aquino said such high-profile attacks were hatched by the bandit group “to gain favor with ISIS [Islamic State oinIraq and Syria] and gain leverage for the release of their jailed cohorts.
“As part of their effort to gain favor with ISIS, one of the ASG leaders, Isnilon Hapilon, through his cohorts in prison, has tried to convert other prisoners in New Bilibid Prisons to their cause and establish ties with remnants of the Rajah Sulayman Movement purportedly in an attempt to embark on a bombing campaign in Metro Manila,” the President added.
The New Bilibid Prisons or NBP is the national penitentiary located in Muntinlupa City in Metro Manila.
“They [ASG] allegedly even hatched plots to kidnap Manny Pacquiao or one of his children, as well as my sister Kris or one of her children, with the plan to use them in bargaining for the release of their cohorts. Threats against my own life have been investigated,” the President said.
He also claimed that the ASG had been planning to launch bomb attacks in Metro Manila but the group’s activities were being closely watched by the intelligence community so that no bombing could take place.
Aquino vowed to launch military operations that will neutralize the Abu Sayyaf.
“We have always been open to talks with those who desire peace but those who commit atrocities can expect the full might of the State. So, to the ASG, and whoever may aid or abet them, you have chosen only the language of force, and we will speak to you only in that language,” he said.
The President issued the statement after the severed head of John Ridsdel, a Canadian, was found in Sulu province in southern Mindanao.
“This murder was meant to terrorize our whole population. The Abu Sayyaf thought they could instill fear in us. Instead, they have galvanized us even further to ensure justice is meted out,” Aquino said.
“We will leave no stone unturned and are studying every instrument, both military and legal, to ensure success in our areas of operations and wherever else required.”
While “casualties are to be expected,” the President noted that “what has to be of utmost importance is neutralizing the criminal activities of the ASG.”
“The men and women in our Armed Forces are well-trained, well-equipped and resourceful. I have full trust and confidence in them. We have proven before that we will choose all-out justice over all-out war. We have always believed in the power of dialogue, development and positive engagement over arms. But we will always act from a position of strength,” Aquino said.
Remaining captives of the Abu Sayyaf, according to the President, are under the control of Radillon Sajiron, who has consolidated his forces around himself.
“This presents both a problem and an opportunity. It is a problem because of the sizeable force surrounding Sajiron and the captives, but it is also an opportunity because smashing these forces is within our grasp… The full resources of the State are being brought down on the ASG. Our primary objective is to rescue the hostages and ensure the safety of our civilian population,” he said.
Besides the ASG, there are various smaller terrorist groups and factions who want to align themselves with ISIS to gain access to the funds and resources of the group, Aquino explained.
Instead of allowing the group to prosper, he said, the government will work to “continue to seriously erode any ability of the ASG to continue to function.”
“We will not stop until the threat they pose to our communities is ended,” the President added.
The Abu Sayyaf militants, whose leaders have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, are holding more than 20 other foreigners captive.
These include another Canadian, a Norwegian man and a Filipina who were abducted at the same time as Ridsdel at a marina near Davao.
The Abu Sayyaf is also believed to be holding a Dutch bird watcher kidnapped from a southern Philippine island in 2012, as well as 18 Indonesian and Malaysian sailors abducted over the past month.