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ZAMBOANGA CITY, AUGUST 13, 2007 (STAR) By James Mananghaya - Army
commander Lt. Gen. Romeo Tolentino vowed yesterday that “significant
developments” would occur in the military campaign in Sulu before he
retires on Aug. 24.

“I will see what I can do within 10 days… after that I still have
to go back to Manila to prepare for my retirement,” he said.

Army spokesman Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres said the Army headquarters was
temporarily moved to Zamboanga City so Tolentino could personally
supervise the military operations in Sulu against the Abu Sayyaf,
particularly the band of Radullan Sahiron, Albader Parad and Abu Pula.

“We would like to assure the family of our comrades who died in
Sulu recently that they should not worry, we will not let their sacrifices
go to waste, we will continue to pursue the Abu Sayyaf and the rogue MNLF
(Moro National Liberation Front) bandits so that we can end
terrorism,” Torres said.

Tolentino, who will reach the mandatory retirement age of 56 on Aug.
24, said the 10-day period is not a self-imposed deadline.

“It is not practical to have deadlines in our operations,” he
said. “There would be significant results in 10 days.”

President Arroyo ordered Tolentino to temporarily move the Army
headquarters from Fort Bonifacio in Makati to Zamboanga City.

Torres said Mrs. Arroyo ordered the Army to give priority to the
logistics, administrative and personnel support to front-line troops in
Basilan and Sulu.

“There can be slight changes in the normal functions of the Army
headquarters,” he said.

“As I earlier said, his experience, his knowledge and assets of our
commanding general may be used because he has been in the area for a
long time so that the solution of the problem against terrorism in the area
would be hastened.”

Torres said Tolentino and some members of his staff have already
flown to Jolo yesterday to supervise operations against the terrorists.

Tolentino will oversee the theater of operations in Basilan and Sulu
in place of area commanders, he added.

Torres said with Tolentino in Mindanao, provisions for the troops
would be immediate, instead of having to pass through the usual channels.

“It will go direct to the commanding general whatever it is, in
terms of personnel, logistics or anything to support the operations there and at

the same time because our commanding general has long operated there
since he was junior officer, and when he became brigade commander in the
province of Sulu, his experience, knowledge and his assets can be used
so that we can hasten the solution to the problem and run after the
terrorists,” he said.

Torres said the Army will focus on field operations to easily
identify the enemy.

“We know that they are elusive, it’s just like we are fighting a
faceless enemy because our enemy here, the face that we only know are
their senior leaders referring to the Abu Sayyaf members, but their men
in rank, none, we don’t have their faces so they easily blend with the
populace, with the community, so now that we have initiated contact, we
have to sustain the operations so that there will be an end, we are
hoping, we are doing our best to finish off the Abu Sayyaf,” he said.

Teodoro, Esperon arrive in Jolo

Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro and Armed Forces chief Gen.
Hermogenes Esperon landed in Jolo at dawn yesterday to meet military field
commanders to plan a bigger offensive against the Moro National Liberation Front
(MNLF) and the Abu Sayyaf.

Speaking to troops upon his arrival, Esperon warned the rebels to
surrender or face punitive action.

Esperon and Teodoro visited wounded soldiers and attended the funeral
of 19 of the 25 slain soldiers under the 33rd Infantry Battalion at Armed
Forces Western Mindanao Command headquarters in Camp Don Basilio
Navarro, Zamboanga City.

Armed Forces public information chief Lt. Col. Bartolome Bacarro said
Teodoro, Esperon and Tolentino later flew to Basilan.

Esperon confirmed yesterday that a “rogue MNLF faction” are
“colluding” with the Abu Sayyaf and the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) in fighting the
military in Sulu.

“We have seen some proof that there is collusion (with) the other
breakaway elements of the MNLF,” he said.

Esperon said the military is looking at the extent of the
collaboration between the Abu Sayyaf and the rogue MNLF faction.

However, as a whole, the AFP maintains the peace agreement with the
MNLF, he added.

In a report to Malacañang, Esperon said wanted JI bombers Dulmatin
and Umar Patek have been sighted in four clashes with the MNLF in Parang,
Indanan and Maimbung towns in Sulu. between Aug. 7 and 9.

“The terrorists are in the territory of the MNLF,” he said.
“The Abu Sayyaf and Dulmatin and Umar Patek. They were sighted in that area.”

MNLF seeks truce

As 1,000 more troops arrived in Jolo to reinforce 5,000 on the front,
the MNLF called on Malacañang yesterday to suspend all military
offensives in Sulu and pursue the long-stalled tripartite meeting in Jeddah, Saudi
on security problems besetting the areas covered by the Sept. 2,
1996 peace agreement.

Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema, MNLF secretary-general, said
discussing the security issues and concerns in Sulu, MNLF’s
birthplace, is less costly and far from being bloody.

“The MNLF has never turned its back (on) the GRP-MNLF peace accord,
despite the seemingly recurring MNLF-military encounters, so it is
sensible to iron out the peace and order problems in Sulu and other
parts of Mindanao through peaceful dialogue,” he said.

On the other hand, Sulu Rep. Yusoph Jikiri, MNLF military wing chief,
appealed to the Armed Forces to exhaust all peaceful means before
embarking on extensive tactical maneuvers that could displace thousands
of civilians.

In an e-mail to media in Central Mindanao, MNLF founder Nur Misuari,
who is under house arrest in Quezon City for rebellion, said he is sending
a seven-man team to Jakarta, Indonesia to convince Indonesian President
Susilo “Bambang” Yudhoyono to help facilitate the tripartite
meeting at the Organization of Islamic Conference’s (OIC) headquarters in

Indonesia is a member of the OIC’s Ministerial Committee of the
Eight, a group of Muslim countries that helped implement the Sept. 2, 1996 peace
agreement between the Ramos administration and the MNLF.

Misuari had earlier asked OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ishanuglo
to hold the tripartite meeting in Jeddah and not give in to Indonesia’s
offer to host the event in Jakarta.

Sema, Jikiri, and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Assemblyman
Hatimal Hassan have asked the OIC to intervene on the Sulu conflict.

The OIC, a pan-Islamic group of 58 countries, including the
petroleum-exporting Arab nations in the Middle East, helped broker the
government-MNLF peace pact.

‘MNLF, Abu Sayyaf are allies’

Col. Anthony Supnet, Army brigade commander in Jolo, said the MNLF is
giving refuge to the Abu Sayyaf.

“The terrorists are in the territory of the MNLF: the Abu Sayyaf
and Dulmatin and Umar Patek,” he said. “They were sighted in that

Supnet said among the rebels hiding with the MNLF forces were
Dulmatin —who goes by one name —and Patek

“Our troops would continue to hunt the terrorists even though the
MNLF and Abu Sayyaf had broken up into smaller groups and scattered into the
hinterlands,” he said.

Supnet said the military operation would continue despite the deaths
of the soldiers.

“We have a price to pay and we cannot hide our casualties, unlike
the opposition,” he said. “We won’t stop until we get these high
value targets.”

Dulmatin and Patek are accused of involvement in the 2002 Bali
bombings that killed 202 people.

The Abu Sayyaf and the JI have been linked by Philippine and foreign
intelligence services to the al-Qaeda terrorist network of Osama bin

The military estimates the Abu Sayyaf, which has been blamed for some
of the country’s worst terrorist attacks, has no more than 400 well
armed guerrillas.

Some Abu Sayyaf leaders are acting as right-hand men of rogue MNLF
commanders while rogue MNLF fighters are acting as henchmen of Abu
Sayyaf leaders, Supnet said.

Thousands fleeing Jolo

More than 10,000 people had fled their homes in the towns of
Maimbung, Indanan and Parang in Sulu, for fear of getting caught in the
crossfire, said Amilhabar Amilasan, presidential assistant for Sulu.

Government evacuation centers had been set up to house those who
fled, he added.

Jolo, part of the Sulu archipelago, has been the scene of some of the
worst fighting in decades between the military and the MNLF.

Joker: Stop hitting AFP

Meanwhile, Sen. Joker Arroyo criticized his colleagues over the
weekend for hitting the military offensive against the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu.

“If they want an inquiry, it should not be done now when the
operations are ongoing,” he said. “Even in other countries like the United
States, they don’t meddle in the middle of the war.”

Arroyo said senators should support rather than attack military
officials and soldiers who are trying to solve the security problem in

He issued the statement a few days after Sen. Francis Pangilinan
lashed out at the military operations in Sulu, where 25 soldiers had died in
the fighting.

Gordon concerned about Sulu fighting

On the other hand, Sen. Richard Gordon has expressed concern over the
latest developments in Mindanao, particularly after 20 soldiers were
killed in fighting the Abu Sayyaf last week.

“While we offer our sympathies to the families of the fallen, we
have to look more closely into why our troops are suffering this high level of
casualties,” he said.

“I believe Congress and the public deserve to know more about the
real situation in the South so that appropriate adjustments —whether in
policy or program or materiel or logistics —can be made, and better support
to our troops can be provided.

“If I may offer an unsolicited advice, I suggest that the
Commander- in-Chief, joined by leaders of the Senate and the House of
Representatives, call for a top-level briefing on the situation from
the AFP high command and commanders in the field.”

Gordon said Malacañang officials and members of Congress should be
briefed on know how the government’s policy is really faring in
Mindanao and Sulu.

“This is not a question of assigning blame or pointing fingers,”
he said. “This is just a matter of how we can all pull together for the
improvement of the situation in the South.” —with Roel Pareño,
John Unson, Paolo Romero, Christina Mendez, AFP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved


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