|President Benigno S. Aquino III on Wednesday vowed that the government will not stop until the threat posed by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) is ended.
“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. 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,” he said in a statement.
The ASG beheaded Canadian mining executive John Ridsdel after the government failed to pay the P300 million ransom demanded by the bandits.
Ridsdel’s severed head, which was inside a plastic bag dropped by two men on a motorcycle, was found by residents in Jolo town, five hours after the expiry of the ransom deadline set at 3 p.m. last Monday (April 25).
Ridsdel was among the four hostages who were abducted by ASG bandits on September 21 last year from a resort on Samal Island, Davao del Norte. Also seized were Canadian Robert Hall, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, and Filipina Marithes Flor. According to reports, the group is also holding 14 Indonesians, four Malaysians, a Dutch, and a Japanese.
In his statement, the President said he had sent a letter to Ridsdel’s family on Tuesday to express his condolences.
“We are so appalled by this murder… 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. 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,” he said.
“I am ready to devote all my energies towards ensuring that, at the very least, this will be a very seriously degraded problem that I will pass on to my successor,” he added.
President Aquino explained that since its founding in the early 1990s, allegedly as an affiliate of Al-Qaeda, the Abu Sayyaf has committed atrocity upon atrocity. He cited as examples the sacking of Ipil in 1995, the bombing of the Davao International Airport in 2003, and multiple cases of kidnapping foreign tourists over the past decade and a half.
“Their actions speak for themselves. Even as it poses as a group of Islamic freedom fighters, the Abu Sayyaf has behaved as criminals focused on enriching themselves by taking hostages for ransom,” he said.
“ASG and various smaller terrorist groups and factions now want to align themselves with ISIS to gain access to the funds and resources of ISIS. From Day One of my administration, they have had aspirations to conduct bombings in Metro Manila to catch the attention of ISIS. May I emphasize that these have been, and remain, only aspirations,” the Chief Executive said.
He noted that as part of the group’s efforts to gain favor with ISIS, one of its leaders, Isnilon Hapilon, through his cohorts in prison, has tried to convert other prisoners in the New Bilibid Prison 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.
They allegedly even hatched plots to kidnap Manny Pacquiao or one of his children, as well as the President’s sister, Kris Aquino, or one of her children, “with the plan to use them in bargaining for the release of their cohorts”, he said.
“Threats against my own life have been investigated,” the President added.
He however emphasized that no improvised explosive device (IED) attributable to the group of Hapilon has been found.
“We have monitored their activities, unraveled their network, and arrested the key players, while some of the minor players who were already on the run are being hunted down. I credit our security services for putting these threats to bed with both professionalism and discretion. The public may rest assured that they may go about their daily lives without fear or unease,” he said.
President Aquino said the government wants “to seriously erode any ability of the ASG to continue to function” by conducting continuing operations in Basilan against Hapilon and his sub-leader, Furuji Indama.
On the current situation in Sulu, he said “our reports tell us that the captives are under the control of Radillon Sajiron, who has consolidated his forces around himself and the captives”.
He explained that this is both a problem and an opportunity — a problem because of the sizeable force surrounding Sajiron and the captives, but also an opportunity because “smashing these forces is within our grasp”.
“This is why intensive operations are ongoing against the ASG forces holding civilians captive in Sulu,” he said.
“Casualties are to be expected. But 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,” said the President.
“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. 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. We will not stop until the threat they pose to our communities is ended,” President Aquino said. PND (jm)
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