SAVE SULU MOVEMENT
May 8, 2017
Barely 10 months into office, the administration of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is yet to demonstrate and implement a new and effective strategy on how to finally wipe out the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Sulu and prevent its menace from spreading all over the country. Despite the declaration of State of Lawlessness and the augmentation of military and police forces to reach 10,000 in Sulu, the Abu Sayyaf is still on kidnapping rampage and even expanding its target to as far as peaceful and tourist-rich island of Bohol.
No less than Defense Chief Delfin Lorenzana acknowledges that he feels embarrassed that since President Duterte assumed office on June 30, 2016, the number of kidnapped victims has almost doubled from18 to 31. On February 17, 2017, the whole world was shocked when the ASG released a video showing a machete-wielding militant beheaded 70 year old Jurgen Kantner from Germany, after a deadline of Php30 million demand for ransom lapsed.
More than anyone, the people of Sulu are the most interested sector of our society that desperately wants to finish the Abu Sayyaf problem right at this very moment. We have constantly cooperated with the military and provided information in order to neutralize the Abu Sayyaf. We have repeatedly informed the authorities that the reason why the ASG is still active and even growing is because it is enjoying the protection of local officials who are protecting the Abu Sayyaf and receiving lion share in the ransom money. The ASG is also reported to be buying weapons from local politicians who can easily smuggle firearms or purchase it from the military itself.
Al Jazeera reported that “Former Armed Forces Chief Ricardo Visaya also said he believes local government officials in Sulu have been involved in kidnap-for-ransom operations. “Governors, vice-governors, down to village chiefs,” he said in a recent interview with a local journalist. Given the fact that the connivance between the LGU and ASG is publicly known as revealed by the AFP itself, why is it that no local official has ever been charged in court? Why is it that no Barangay Captain, Mayor or Governor for that matter has been arrested and charged for actually receiving ransom money in the guise of NEGOTIATION? If the connivance is no secret to the AFP and PNP what have they done to stop it?
The Save Sulu Movement highly welcomes President Duterte’s statement that he will “eat the Abu Sayyaf alive”. The new Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año also pronounced that the ASG will be history by June. The problem with these statements is that these are only good for media sound-bites. The ground unfolds a totally different story of kidnapping becoming a cottage industry with local officials acting as promoters, brokers and protectors.
On behalf of the Save Sulu Movement, we call on the Senate to conduct an inquiry in aid of legislation on the palpable connivance between the local officials and the ASG. We also recommend to Congress to criminalize the giving and payment ransom and the receipt of ransom in the guise of negotiation. It is sickening to keep on hearing the NO-ransom policy when everyone knows too well that ransom is actually being paid and brokered by the local government officials thus perpetuating the business of ASG.
We also urge the kidnapped victims to cooperate with the authorities so that we can finally bring the kidnappers to the bar of justice. We also urge the Committee on Muslim Affairs in Congress to conduct public hearings in Sulu and personally listen to the stories of the people on the ground.
NOW is the time to achieve and fulfill the avowed promise of “Tunay na Pagbabago”. We expect no less from a President who comes from Mindanao and who truly understands the dynamics of the conflict in this region.
Mr. President, spare no holy cows and you will succeed in “eating the ASG alive”.