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Duterte visits Basilan, Zambo

ZAMBOANGA CITY – Advancing peace and security in Mindanao was the main agenda of President Rodrigo Duterte when he visited two military camps in Basilan and Zamboanga on Thursday.

Under heavy security, the President first traveled to Basilan to hold a flurry of meetings with the top military and police officials on the security situation in the province, a known stronghold of the notorious Abu Sayyaf Group.

At the closed-door meeting with the 104th Army Brigade in Isabela City, the commander-in-chief was expected to get updates on the military offensives against the Abu Sayyaf group which has been implicated in several atrocities in the south.

Duterte earlier refused to call the Abu Sayyaf group as criminals despite involvement in kidnapping and beheading of hostage victims. He claimed that the group, which recently beheaded two Canadian hostages, has resorted to violence out of desperation. Palace officials later clarified that the Abu Sayyaf will still be held accountable for their offenses under the rule of law.

From Basilan, the President was expected fly to nearby Zamboanga City for another security briefing at the the Western Mindanao Command headquarters. Security concerns affecting the region were expected to be tackled in the assembly.

This was the first visit of the new Philippine leader in two Mindanao provinces since he assumed office last June 30.

Apart from promoting peace and security, Duterte had said he wanted to tap the military to assist law enforcement authorities in the intensified campaign against illegal drugs and other crimes.

In his visits to the two military camps, the President also seized the opportunity to address the soldiers and boost their morale after his meetings with top military and police brass. He also paid a visit to soldiers wounded in action at the hospital in Zamboanga City.

Meetings with local government executives in Basilan and Zamboanga were also held separately by the President on Thursday afternoon. (GENALYN KABILING)