The military and police have intensified monitoring on the movement of the Abu Sayyaf group (ASG) and its cohorts with the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) to thwart any terror plot in southern Philippines that may divert attention from the visit of Pope Francis in the country.
Military forces in Central Mindanao also launched pursuit operations against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, commander of Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom), said troops have been tracking possible terror plans in light of the pontiff’s visit.
“We are also monitoring the movements of the threat groups here in relation with the visit of the Pope,” said Guerrero at the sidelines of the Wesmincom New Year’s call on all its unit and ground commanders.
Guerrero said any indirect terror action plot of the Abu Sayyaf group and its terror cohorts will dent the country’s security.
It will be recalled that during the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1995 for the World Youth Day, a plot which the Abu Sayyaf bared led to the discovery and arrest of the suspected terrorist bomber in one of the hotels along the street in Manila where the pope passed.
Chief Superintendent Edgar Basbas, Western Mindanao Police director, said they have also been on alert as part of the national directives of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and have placed on standby a company of combat force from the regional safety battalion.
Basbas said they have available augmentation force once the need arises.
Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, chief of the army’s 6th Division based in Central Mindanao, said they have also launched security operations against the BIFF and have initially succeeded in capturing the second stronghold of the group in Maguindanao last week.
“Our forces have pursuing on identifying the areas of concentration of the BIFF to ensure this BIFF will not discredit the AFP in its security campaign,” Pangilinan said.
Both senior military officials confirmed that they have not intercepted threats from the terror groups so far.
He said the national military headquarters and national government leadership have already placed the operation against the Abu Sayyaf group as a national priority, not just because on the presence of Pope Francis in the country.
“We will intensify the operation against the ASG. It is a high priority. Even the people upstairs are asking us. So it’s a national priority. Actually on my part I consider it as one of the highest priorities,” Guerrero said.
Guerrero said he will also give his marching order to his ground commanders in his command conference on Monday.
Guerrero initially reminded the ground commanders their operations against threat groups will keep them busy this year as he called on the military forces to continue its vigilance.
“Even if we will push to the limit our resources to ensure the daunting task of producing if not altogether eliminating all these threats,” Guerrero told his units and ground commanders during his New Year’s call.
The military forces were pursuing more than 400 core members of the Abu Sayyaf groups, excluding its supporters and sympathizers, Guerrero said.