COTABATO CITY – Officials of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) here have lauded the report of the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Western Mindanao Command (AFP-Westmincom) on the decreasing terror activities of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in the island-provinces of the region.
BARMM Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim said Wednesday that when the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), once the biggest Moro rebel group in Mindanao, signed the peace agreement with the national government, they knew that the region’s transition period would not be an easy path.
“We know that there are still splinter groups and extremist organizations that would provide challenges in the process,” Ebrahim, once the head of the MILF, said in a statement.
Following the signing into law of the Bangsamoro Organic Law by President Rodrigo Duterte in July 2018, he said the BARMM has been established to assure its constituents of well-deserved peace and sustainable development after decades of conflict and unrest.
“We are fortunate that in this journey, we have our dear partners from the security sector to help us out in maintaining order,” Ebrahim said.
He added: “The (government) troops whom we once faced at the other side of the fence is now working with us, side by side, in building a Bangsamoro that we can be proud of.”
Ebrahim’s statement came following a visit on Monday by Westmincom chief Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan Jr. to the BARMM government center in this city.
While here, Vinluan updated the BARMM officials on the security situation and development challenges in the BARMM island provinces of Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi, otherwise known as the BaSulTa area.
In particular, Vinluan focused on the current security situation in Sulu, specifically its densely vegetated forests, which the ASG terrorists use as a sanctuary against pursuing government forces.
A presentation from the military’s Joint Task Force (JTF) Sulu showed that from July 1, 2020 to May 2, 2021, the task force had 38 encounters with the ASG and has neutralized 260 of its members; 34 of whom were killed, 42 apprehended, and 184 surrendered.
In addition, Vinluan said the JTF Sulu has assessed that for the first quarter of 2021, the ASG now has only 132 combatants compared to the 282 and 145 fighters in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
He said the ASG’s firearms also significantly decreased this year with only 147 left when it used to possess 330 weapons in 2019 and 155 in 2020.
So far, he said there were no recorded terrorist acts perpetrated by the local group this year.
Vinluan said the ASG was involved in 22 atrocities in 2019 and five in 2020, the last of which was the twin explosions in Barangay Walled City in Jolo, Sulu on August 24 last year.
He pointed out that JTF Sulu adheres to its mission in conducting military operations to defeat the ASG and to support the government peace accords with the MILF and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to significantly contribute to the peace, security, and development efforts of the province.
Vinluan said military action is only a small factor in combatting terrorism in the region, with the major element depending on the assistance from the BARMM government.
“We need your help to finally end the conflict in Sulu,” Vinluan told the BARMM officials.
Brig. Gen. William Gonzales, JTF Sulu commander, together with four subordinate brigade commanders of the task force accompanied Vinluan during his recent visit here. (PNA)