January 24, 2018, 1:23 am
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‘Sahiron’s surrender key to Sayyaf defeat’

A MILITARY commander yesterday said senior Abu Sayyaf leader Radullan Sahiron appears to be serious in his offer to surrender to the military.

“He is weak, he is tired and weary because they are moving from one place to another,” said Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the military’s Joint Task Force Sulu.

The Sulu-based Sahiron is now in his 70s. The US government is offering $1 million for information leading to Sahiron’s arrest.

Most of the estimated 300 to 400 Abu Sayyaf men are based in Sulu where military operations are continuing. The group’s areas of operations are Sulu and Basilan, but a small group was found last week in Bohol.

The small group of 10 to 12 Abu Sayyaf members was said to be targeting tourists and foreign delegates to events of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Sobejana said Sahiron is considered by Abu Sayyaf members as a “well-respected” leader. He said the Abu Sayyaf problem will be 60 to 70 percent solved if Sahiron will bring his followers with him if and when he surrenders.

If Sahiron will be the only one to surrender, “for a while, there will be a leadership vacuum, there will be a power struggle among the sub-leaders who will succeed him,” Sobejana said.

He said among the sub-leaders who can replace Sahiron if he surrenders are Yaser Igasan and Hatib Hadjan Sawadjaan. “They are the most likely successor if Radullan is killed or gone (in the ASG),” he said.

Government troops intensified the campaign against the Abu Sayyaf early this year, in keeping with military leadership’s timeline to defeat the group within the first six months of the year.

Sahiron’s intention to surrender was revealed last week by Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, chief of the AFP Western Mindanao Command. He said Sahiron wants to surrender due to old age, and his only condition is for the Philippine government not to turn him over to US authorities.

Sobejana said Sahiron sent his surrender feeler through an emissary. He did not identify the emissary but said he is “well-respected,” a “close friend” of Sahiron, and about the same age of the Abu Sayyaf leader.

“He is my contact (with Sahiron),” said Sobejana, adding the emissary did not say when Sahiron plans to surrender. “It’s still in the initial stage... We are still working on it,” he added.

He said the military is validating the sincerity of Sahiron to surrender. “We have yet to fully validate his plan. We have to get other sources to corroborate the report that is reaching us, through our contact,” he said.

Asked if Sahiron is serious in his offer to surrender, based on his initial military assessment, Sobejana answered on the affirmative.

“If you are going to look at their condition, they are on the run, they are running short of logistics, they are outside their comfort zones, they no longer enjoy the support coming from the community. So there’s probably truth to it,” he said.

Sobejana said the military told the emissary to tell Sahiron to surrender with his followers.

“We wanted to tell him that if he is really serious of giving up, he should bring with him his followers. Hopefully, his plan materializes and this may lead to the solution of the ASG problem,” he said.

Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Año vowed to neutralize the remnants of the Abu Sayyaf group who planned the kidnapping of foreign and Filipino tourists in Inabanga town in Bohol.

“They are running for their lives, including the wounded. Sooner, we’ll locate them. Sooner, we will get them. We have adopted additional actions there,” he said.

Año declined to elaborate on the adjustments made by the Armed Forces so as not to compromise the ongoing operations.

Año said the P1-million reward offered by President Duterte for information, leading to the neutralization of each of the Abu Sayyaf remnants in Bohol, will be a big help in finding the suspects.

“It will help to give incentives to the local populace of the community. They (people) might be afraid, or they simply do not want involved but sometimes fear is conquered by the incentives,” he said.

Around 12 Abu Sayyaf men arrived in Inabanga town, from Sulu, last April 10. Government troops clashed with the group in the early morning of April 11, leading the killing of four of them and an elderly couple believed to have provided sanctuary to the group.

The military has said the encounter effectively foiled the plan of the Abu Sayyaf to kidnap tourists in Bohol. However, officials said the eight remnants can still harm civilians because they are armed.

The Philippines is “definitely safe,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said following numerous travel advisories and warnings against the country and recent cancellation of trips by foreign tourists.

Abella and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said the issuance of travel advisories and warnings are normal especially if certain incidents happen.

Abella said he remains optimistic the tourism industry would not suffer despite the cancellation of travel plans to the Philippines. “On the whole, the tourist interest in the Philippines continues to surge. So it will all even up,” he said. – With Jocelyn Montemayor
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