As soon as newly designated AFP Chief-of-Staff Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya declared that the government will exert all means to crush the Abu Sayyaf menace in Mindanao once and for all, the previously unrelenting terrorist group sent feelers to the just installed Duterte administration for a possible dialogue.
Upon assuming command recently, Visaya said the Armed Forces of the Philippines will employ a “shock and awe” strategy in defeating the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and its terrorist cells in Basilan and Sulu.
The shock-and-awe strategy is a military doctrine characterized by the use of overwhelming power and spectacular display of force aimed at paralyzing the enemy’s perception of the battlefield and thus destroying its will to fight. Visaya said this strategy, which is practically a scorched-earth policy studiously avoided by the previous Aquino administration, will be applied 24/7 until the ASG is brought down.
“We will be unrelenting in our focused military operations against terrorist groups like the ASG and all its allied terrorist cells. We will realign military resources to their identified bailiwicks and sanctuaries and apply our military strength to suppress them, hunt them down and finish them,” Visaya stressed. He added: “We will continue to apply the full force of the law 24/7 to go after these criminals and profit-seeking elements which operate under the guise of religious fervor and holy war,” he added.
That same day the government got word that a spokesman for the Abu Sayyaf, Abu Rami, reached out to talk about the hostages the group still holds in captivity for possible ransom.
Jesus Dureza, the earliest appointee of President Rodrigo Duterte as Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, confirmed in a statement that someone in Zamboanga City informed him that indeed an Abu Rami wanted to talk to him about the ASG’s remaining captives.
Dureza said he would take up the Abu Sayyaf offer of dialogue if it’s not about ransom. “I told the person that I was ready and willing to talk with anyone for the release of the hostages and save lives provided that it would not be about ransom. I gave a secure phone number for him to contact me. I am still waiting,” Dureza said.
The Abu Sayyaf beheaded Canadian captives Robert Hall and John Ridsel one after the other within a space of two months after its ransom demand went unheeded under the Aquino administration.
Last month, the rebels released Hall’s partner, Marites Flor, after negotiations with Sulu Vice Gov. Abdusakur Tan. This means that if Dureza’s dialogue with the ASG materializes, it is the first time there will be talks between the terrorist group talks between the terrorist group the national government.
In terms of making deals, Malacanang emphasized that the Duterte administration will never negotiate with the extremist ASG that has brutally decapitated hostages when its multi-million peso ransom demands were not met.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said holding talks with the Abu Sayyaf may be “part of a process, but we are not negotiating with the group” as a matter of policy set by President Duterte.”
Visaya said the AFP will have to boost its armament acquisition program to further beef up its capacity and capability to search and engage these rogue and lawless elements.
“Over and above our role to run after the terrorists, we will also intensify our support to law enforcement agencies, particularly the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in their mission to eliminate widespread criminality and the wanton destruction of lives brought about by the spread and use of illegal drugs,” he added.
“We will start the same advocacy within our ranks by continuously weeding out those scalawags who use drugs, who have links with illegal groups and activities. Then we will proceed to build alliances with our counterparts to bring down syndicates and other organized crime groups,” the AFP chief pointed out. (DANIEL LLANTO)