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Gov’t again vows no let-up in drive on Abu Sayyaf

A WEEK after the beheading of a Canadian kidnap victim by the Abu Sayyaf in Mindanao for alleged failure to pay ransom, the Abu Sayyaf was in the news again. It released 10 Indonesian seamen it had seized aboard a tugboat off Sabah last March 26. The Jolo police director said he did not know if ransom had been paid for the Indonesians, but said the Abu Sayyaf had earlier demanded P50 million for the sailors.

President Aquino had vowed there would be no letup in the government pursuit of the Abu Sayyaf after the beheading of Canadian John Ridsdel. He vowed to devote all his energy to crush the group before he steps down from office on June 30.

Judging from the record, however, it does not look like the government is close to crushing the Abu Sayyaf which has been operating since the 1970s in the mountains of Sulu and in Basilan and other nearby islands. In the 1990s, Osama bin Laden’s brother in law reportedly funneled money to the Abu Sayyaf which had split from the Moro National Liberation Front to continue fighting for increased autonomy for Muslims in the South.

In 1994, the Abu Sayyaf was blamed by the Philippine Army for bombings in Zamboanga City that killed 71. The next year, it raided Ipil, Sulu, killing 53. After its leader was killed in 1998, the militant group reportedly began kidnapping rich foreigners for ransom money to fund its operations. Around 2003, it appeared to have renewed its ideological fervor and took responsibility for the 2004 bombing of a ferry in Manila Bay that killed 116 people.

In 2006, the military launched a major offensive and three high-ranking leaders were killed. Running low on funds, the militant group is believed to have turned once again to kidnapping for ransom. Last September, 2015, the Abu Sayyaf kidnapped Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, Norwegian Khartan Sekkingstad, and Filipina Marites Flor from a resort on Samal island in Davao Gulf. It beheaded Ridsdel seven months later.

Aside from the three remaining Samal hostages, the Abu Sayyaf reportedly holds today a Dutch national, four Malaysians, a Chinese national, and six Filipinos. Foreign ministers of the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia are due to meet in Jakarta this week to seek ways to secure key shipping routes between the three countries. As for the kidnap victims, President Aquino has declared that the Abu Sayyaf has caused trouble in the country long enough and must now face the full force of the law.

It has been over four decades since Philippine military forces – at one time with the help of American Special Forces – sought to stop the Abu Sayyaf. They have not had much success, as seen in the continued reports of kidnappings, but we continue to hope that new government efforts, perhaps in coordination with our neighboring countries, will find the solution that will end the kidnappings, beheadings, and other atrocities.