RESET. The Armed Forces of the Philippines has reset to March 31 this year the timeline to dismantle the Abu Sayyaf Group. Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, Western Mindanao Command chief (center), vows to deploy more troops to pursue the ASG bandits. Photo shows Sobejana visiting the troops in Marawi City on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of Westmincom Public Information Office)

ZAMBOANGA CITY -- The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has reset the timeline of its campaign to dismantle the terrorists Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), an official said.

Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief, said Thursday the new target date to dismantle the ASG has been reset to March 31, this year, from December 31, 2019.

Sobejana said the ASG has been "significantly decimated" in terms of firepower and manpower although they were not able to meet the December 31 deadline in completely dismantling the terrorist group.

Maj. Arvin John Encinas, Westmincom spokesperson, said the estimated strength of the ASG bandits is around 300 in the areas of Basilan and Sulu.

Sobejana expressed confidence they can meet the new deadline in dismantling the ASG since the bandit group has already lost mass-based support.

Sobejana said the residents realized that the campaign of the government is geared towards peace and development that is why they shifted their support to the troops.

“The challenge before was that the Abu Sayyaf was popular with their Robin Hood-style of sharing the bounty they get out of the ransom being paid,” he said.

Sobejana said they have deployed more troops to Sulu “without necessarily leaving vacuums in other areas of Westmincom.”

“There is a readjustment in our campaign plan,” the Westmincom chief said, without elaborating further.

In the fight against the Abu Sayyaf, he said the military is engaging the participation of other stakeholders “in our peace and security efforts to make the Executive Oder 70 works.”

President Rodrigo Duterte issued EO 70 in 2018, institutionalizing the "whole-of-nation" approach in attaining inclusive and sustainable peace, creating a national task force to end local communist armed conflict, and directing the adoption of a national peace framework. (PNA)