ZAMBOANGA CITY: At least 10 battalions or 5,000 government troops have been deployed to Sulu to go after the Abu Sayyaf group that beheaded two Canadian nationals in the last two months.
Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command, said all resources from land, sea and air have been made available for Sulu operations.
He said troops from all the service commands like the Philippine Marines, Army, Air Force and Navy, and the different support commands like the Scout Rangers and Special Force have been operating in Sulu.
But even at 5,000 troops, Tan refused to call it a â€œwide-scaleâ€ operation.
â€œWe focus on areas known to be supportive of the Abu Sayyaf Group. We will go to the communities known to provide refuge to bandits,â€ he said.
â€œThere are selected target areas. These bandits have relatives and they hide in the populace,â€ he said.
He refused to give the exact number of soldiers or the units deployed in Sulu. He also would not say where the operations will be.
â€œJust imagine our operation maps are filled with pins,â€ he said.
Pins indicate deployment of troops on the ground.
But Abu Raami, spokesperson of the Abu Sayyaf, said they would make it hard for the government troops to locate them.
â€œWe know the terrain,â€ Raami said in a phone interview Thursday morning.
Raami said every time a military aircraft hovered around them, â€œwe run for cover, we put off all communications and we hide.â€
Raamiâ€™s group on Monday beheaded Canadian national Robert Hall after when their demand for ransom was refused. On April 25, the group also beheaded another Canadian hostage, John Ridsdel. The group is still holding Filipina Maritess Flor and Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad.
Ridsdel, Hall, Flor and Sekkingstad were kidnapped in an exclusive marina in the Island Garden City of Samal in Davao del Norte on Sept. 21, 2015.
On Wednesday, President Aquino visited Jolo, Sulu, to check on the operations of the military against the Abu Sayyaf, two days after Hall was beheaded.
Sulu Vice Governor Abdusakur Tan said he deliberately snubbed the Presidentâ€™s visit â€œbecause he is responsible for all these problems besetting our place.â€
Tan said Mr. Aquino did not consider their earlier recommendation to involve the communities in the campaign against the Abu Sayyaf.
â€œInstead of considering our suggestions, he poured more troops and changed the police officers and replaced them with officers who were not functioning,â€ he said.
As for his visit, Tan said: â€œWho do you think will listen to him? Coming down here when he only got 15 days left (as president).â€
â€œThat is what we call â€˜too late to play a hero.â€™ Lives have been wasted, resources reportedly poured but we never saw it, never felt it,â€ Tan added.
Meanwhile, four Malaysians were reportedly abducted in Sabah, Malaysia on Wednesday night, according to Senior Supt. Joselito Salido, the provincial police director of Tawi-Tawi.
Salido said he received â€œan intelligence advisory from the higher officeâ€ to alert ground units about four Malaysians being abducted in Sabah at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
â€œSo we dispatched this intel report to the ground, to verify if the report is true. So far, no confirmation,â€ Salido told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone on Wednesday.
Tan, the spokesperson of the Wesmincom, also said the reported abduction of Malaysians was still for validation.
â€œWe have communicated for verification with our counterparts in the East Sabah Command, and apparently there was no report about it,â€ he said. â€“ Philippines Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network