ZAMBOANGA CITY: Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Gregorio Catapang inspected troops deployed in the southern Sulu province where security forces are battling Abu Sayyaf militants tied to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya.
Gazmin and Catapang arrived on Thursday and spoke with soldiers inside a military base in the capital town of Jolo. They were accompanied by Western Mindanao commander Gen. Rustico Guererro and Rear Admiral Reynaldo Yoma, who are in-charge of the operations against the Abu Sayyaf.
“It was routine visit by the Secretary of National Defense and our troops are in high morale because of the visit of Defense Secretary Gazmin and Chief of Staff Catapang and other high-ranking military officials, including Western Mindanao Command chief General Rustico Guererro and Rear Admiral Rey-naldo Yoma,” Western Mindanao naval forces spokesperson Ensign Chester Ian Ramos told The Manila Times on Friday.
Marine Capt. Maria Rowena Muyuela, a spokesperson for the Western Mindanao Command, also said that Gazmin and Catapang inspected the troops in Sulu without elaborating.
Gazmin was also briefed by military commanders on the ongoing operations against the militants who recently freed two German yachters Stefan Viktor Okonek, 71, and Henrike Diesen, 55, in exchange for P250 million ransom.
The duo was heading to Sabah in Malaysia on a private yacht from a holiday in Palawan province when militants who were returning to the southern Philippines from a failed kidnapping in Sabah spotted the Germans and seized them on April 25.
Now, the militants are also threatening to behead a kidnapped Malaysian fish breeder Chan Sai Chuin, 32, if ransom is not paid by his family this month. The militants are demanding 3 million ringgits (P41 million) for the safe release of the fish breeder, who was kidnapped along with a Filipino worker on June 16 this year from a fish farm in the town of Kunak in Tawau District in Sabah.
The Abu Sayyaf is also holding a Malaysian policeman Kons Zakiah Aleip, 26, who was seized on June 12 also this year following a clash in Sabah that killed another policeman. The militants are demanding 5 million ringgits (P68.3 million).
Aside from the Malaysians, the militants are still holding hostage a 64-year old Japanese treasure hunter Katayama Mamaito, who was kidnapped from Pangutaran Island in July 2010; and two European wildlife photographers Ewold Horn, 52, from Holland; and Lorenzo Vinciguerre, 47, from Switzerland, who were taken captive in the coastal village of Parangan in Panglima Sugala town in the southern Tawi-Tawi province in 2012.