ARMY chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana yesterday recommended the declaration of martial law in Sulu following the Monday bombings in Jolo town, perpetrated by the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf.
He also said the two explosions, which left 16 people dead and at least 75 injured, are both cases of suicide bombing that were carried out by wives of two Abu Sayyaf members.
Sobejana said martial rule should be declared in Sulu, bailiwick of the Abu Sayyaf, “to bring back normalcy” and to control the movement of terror groups.
“Otherwise, it (bombings) will be a repetitive thing,” he said.
Sobejana said he has yet to make a formal recommendation to President President to place Sulu under martial law.
The last time martial was declared was in May 2017, covering the whole of Mindanao, after members of the Maute Group attacked several barangays in Marawi City. The enforcement of martial rule in the region ended in December 2019, more than two years after the fighting in Marawi ended in October 2017.
Sobejana also said the Army is discussing the possibility of sending more elite troops to Sulu to intensify the campaign against the Abu Sayyaf.
Latest military estimates placed the strength of the Abu Sayyaf at about 300, mostly based in Sulu. The group is blamed for numerous atrocities, including bombings, kidnappings, and beheading of its kidnap victims.
On the explosions, Sobejana sought to clarify an earlier military pronouncement that first improvised explosive device (IED) that exploded in front of a grocery store before noon was attached to a parked motorcycle.
Military officials have said the second explosion, which occurred about a hundred meters from the site of the first blast an hour later, was caused by a female suicide bomber.
Citing initial results of investigations, Sobejana said the motorcycle initially reported to be bearing the IED was near the suicide bomber “based on testimonies of witnesses and CCTV footage.”
Sobejana said the suicide bombers are wives of Abu Sayyaf members Norman Lasuca and Talha Jumsah alias Abu Talha.
In June last year, Lasuca and a foreign suicide bomber blew themselves up in a suicide bombing at the headquarters of the 1st Brigade Combat Team in Indanan, Sulu. Three soldiers and two civilians also died in the attack.
Jumsah died in a firefight with government troops in Patikul, Sulu in November last year. Sobejana said Jumsah is the conduit of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to the Abu Sayyaf Group.
Sobejana named the two suicide bombers as alias Nanah from Basilan, wife of Norman Lasuca. and alias Inda Nay from Sulu, wife of Abu Talha.
“The two female suicide bombers are the same targets being tracked by the group of Maj. Indammog before they were killed by policemen on 29 June 2020,” said Sobejana.
Indammog and his three men were intercepted by policemen in Jolo and later shot dead near a police station.
Sobejana said the wives of Lasuca and Jumsah were “motivated” by Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Mundi Sawadjaan, the alleged mastermind of the latest bombings, to become suicide bombers.
On who first blew herself up, Sobejana said: “We are not yet certain if it’s the wife of Norman Lasuca or (Jumsah). We are withholding the name for the meantime, pending the confirmation of our SOCO (PNP scene of the crime operatives) because they’re gathering evidence.”
Brig. Gen. William Gonzales, commander of the military Joint Task Force Sulu, said the two attacks were suicide bombings based on initial investigation.
Gonzales said a female suicide bomber carried out the second attack but could not say if the first attacker was also a female.
“We can’t identify if it’s a female because the body is mangled unlike in the second explosion where we determined she’s a female based on her scalp and two feet recovered. But on the first one, our experts are having difficulty (establishing the gender),” said Gonzales.
The first explosion resulted in the death of 13 people — six soldiers, six civilians and the bomber – and wounding of 21 soldiers and 48 civilians. The soldiers were aboard a truck and were on marketing.
The second blast killed a soldier, a policeman, and the bomber and wounded three soldiers and six policemen. The slain soldier was trying to prevent the bomber from entering the cordoned site of the first explosion.
Gonzales bowed to get the other Abu Sayyaf members behind the two attacks — the fifth and sixth suicide bombings that occurred in Sulu and Basilan in a span of two years.
Gonzales said the military has stepped up operations against the Abu Sayyaf in the province.
“We also intensified our intelligence monitoring and we also beefed up our security protocols, checkpoints, identification of vulnerable targets (to prevent similar attacks),” said Gonzales.
Sobejana said the military is going to step up its “convergence” with other stakeholders to prevent similar attacks.
Sobejana said Jolo is on a “total lockdown” and nobody can exit or enter the municipality for the time being until such time we get the perpetrators.”
“Hopefully, they have yet to get out,” said Sobejana, adding with the people’s support, the military will be able to apprehend the suspects.
Gonzales dismissed reports about ISIS claiming responsibility for the bombings, saying it is ISIS’ “strategy” to claim responsibility for terrorist acts.
“Yung ganyang report, propaganda lang yan. Alam mo naman yung ISIS, mahilig sila sa mga propaganda para sumikat sila. (Reports like that are mere propaganda. You know the ISIS, they are fond of propaganda to gain popularity),” he said.
Gonzales said the attacks were perpetrated by the Abu Sayyaf.
Though admitting that the Abu Sayyaf is an ISIS-leaning group, Gonzales said the attacks were “not directly” done by the ISIS.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said it is too early to say whether Sulu should be placed under martial law.
“If its a terrorist act, the government will enforce the anti-terrorism law to the extent that it can be implemented without the implementing rules and regulation which is still being prepared,” he said.
If investigations showed the bombings to be an act of lawless violence, President Duterte may use his “calling out power” to suppress violence under Section 18, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution.
“If it’s an act of rebellion and the public safety requires it, the President may declare martial law in that part of Mindanao,” Guevarra said.
United States Ambassador Sung Kim condemned the bombings and said Washington will continue to help Manila in strengthening its security.
“I offer my sincerest condolences to the family and friends of the victims of yesterday’s bombings in Jolo. We join the Philippine government in condemning these attacks and will continue to support our Filipino partners to strengthen national security,”Kim said in a tweet.
The Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs of the US State Department also condemned the bombings.
“Assistant Secretary David Stilwell offers his condolences to those affected by the bombings in Jolo,Philippines. We condemn this senseless attack and stand by the people of the Philippines,” the bureau said in its official Twitter account. – With Ashzel Hachero