Abu Sayyaf kidnaps 13 in Duterte's first months
MANILA, Philippines – Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said there are plans to transfer an entire military division to Sulu, one of the options mulled as the government works to meet a self-imposed deadline to crush local terrorist group Abu Sayyaf.
The kidnapping has gotten worse in the first months of President Rodrigo Duterte. There were 18 hostages when he assumed office on June 30. Now there are 31, mostly foreigners.
"The problem in the southern Philippines is piracy and kidnapping. It's actually... it's giving me, personally, headache sometimes. I couldn't sleep at night thinking about how to solve the problem there," Lorenzana said in a forum on Thursday, March 9.
"Kidnapping has not abated. When the President was inaugurated on June 30, there were only 18 hostages being held by the Abu sayyaf. Now there are 31. It's very embarrassing," he said.
Residents are asking for a more permanent military presence in Sulu, he said.
The Joint Sulu Task Force has been responsible for the island that hosts the terrorist group that has established links with Islamic State.
Because it is a task force, the number soldiers deployed to serve it varies depending on instructions from headquarters.
After Duterte assumed power in June 2016, the military has sent 8,000 men – more than the average number of a Philippine armed forces division – to the task force.
The transfer of an entire division there, however, would provide a less ad hoc structure and tighter command and control from headquarters. A military division in the Philippines usually consists of 5,000 men.
"Maybe we will transfer one division there in Jolo so that it's always there. Because one of the concerns of the Joloanos was they (soldiers) stay here for a couple of years and then we'll leave. So after you leave, the bandits crop up. They want us to establish a permanent presence in Jolo and also in Basilan," Lorenzana said.
Lorenzana said a task force may also be established in Bongao in Tawi-Taiwi, the country's southermost island which has reportedly become a transit point for the terrorist group.
The country's top security officials on Tuesday, March 7, met with local leaders in Sulu to discuss how they're going to stop the atrocities of the Abu Sayyaf. Lorenzana said he believes the military is dealing with about 400 Abu Sayyaf armed men.
Lorenzana said the government is determined to crush the Abu Sayyaf. "I believe we can solve this problem by maybe end of June. Or we'll give them another couple of months maybe," he said.
The Duterte administration is also working with neighboring countries Malaysia and Indonesia to conduct joint patrols in the piracy-plagued waters.
The President on Thursday went to the extent of warning that he'd impose martial law in Mindanao if the situation gets worse. – Rappler.com