Gibo leads humanitarian mission in Basilan

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. led a humanitarian mission in this southern town Thursday, and vowed full government action to rebuild the area through continuing peace and development programs.

Days after the military overran the stronghold of the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group in the areas around Tipo-Tipo, Teodoro headed a feeding program for children and a medical outreach program for the sick even as the Armed Forces kept its hot pursuit of the ASG.

Teodoro arrived here towards noon with a delegation that included the military’s major commanders in Western Mindanao.

During his visit, Teodoro appealed for full civilian cooperation in a 90-minute dialogue with local officials to help the government crush the terrorist group and enforce the rule of law in this province.

“There are two important things the government must do after capturing the stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf in the areas around TipoTipo,” Teodoro said. “It must enforce the rule of law in Basilan, and the government must now rebuild this area by giving priority to the internally displaced persons (IDPs).”

Teodoro announced the start of construction of the circumferential road, considered a vital artery that will pass through the towns of Sumisip, Tipo-Tipo, Maluso, Lamitan and Lantawan. The circumferential road is a key development project of the government in the poverty-stricken island.

Local officials led by Governor Jum Akbar assured Teodoro they would work to gather information to help weed out the ASG and lawless elements in the area.

Akbar thanked the defense chief and said the humanitarian mission showed the government’s sincerity in its efforts to put an end to the fighting and pursue much-needed peace and development in the province.

Akbar led the delegation of local officials that included Vice-Gov. Al-Rasheed Sakkalahu, Tipo-Tipo Mayor Ingatun Istarul, and Ungkaya Pukan Mayor Joel Maturan.

Teodoro was accompanied by military officers led by Western Mindanao Command chief Maj. Gen. Mohammad Benjamin Dolorfino, Naval Force Western Mindanao Command chief Admiral Alexander Pama, 1st Marine Brigade chief commanding officer Brig. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, PNP-Directorate for Integrated Police Operation Western Mindanao police director Felizardo Serapio.

He said military operations against the Abu Sayyaf will continue even through the Muslim month of Ramadan, which starts today. The AFP, however, will maintain a community kitchen and a clinic to be stationed in Tipo-Tipo under the Philippine Marines for the benefit of Muslims.

The Marine Battalion Landing Team 10, headed by Col. Omar Tonsay, will provide food from 6 p.m. onward during the Ramadan.

During the dialogue, Tipo-Tipo Mayor Ingatun Istarul dispelled claims by MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu that it was the military which initiated the firefight with the MILF lost command that left 23 government troops dead and 26 others wounded.

Ingatun said the AFP never violated the ceasefire agreement with the MILF and the MILF lost command initiated the encounter.