ASG a force to reckon with

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — The Abu Sayyaf Group is still a force to reckon with despite the death or arrest of many of its leaders.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita made this admission following President Macapagal-Arroyo’s directive to the Armed Forces to crush the remnants of the ASG, believed to be behind the kidnapping of broadcast journalist Ces Drilon and her two cameramen.

“As long as there are groups still existing there, they are a force to be reckoned with. Si Dulmatin is not yet accounted for, si (Umar) Patek not yet accounted for,” Ermita said.

The ASG is believed to be coddling Indonesians Dulmatin and Patek, the prime suspects in the deadly Bali bombing.

Ermita said there is strong reason to believe that the ASG is now run by the “sons of Abu organizers.”

“They are the younger people, probably sons of Abu organizers. They think they’re doing something to push forward tenets of Islam which everyone will tell you is not true,” he said.

Drilon, in relating her harrowing experience, said her captors included young armed boys aged 12 to 17.

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza, meanwhile blamed the “difficult situation” for the security problem in Mindanao.

“Maraming factors na dapat asikasuhin but one of these is of course sa security aspect. Kailangan ma-neutralize yung gumagawa ng ganoon pero napaka-remote yung area,” Dureza said.

He thus admitted that crushing the ASG is easier said than done. He also cited the culture of violence in the area which encouraged young boys to join the ASG.

“Nadatnan nila yung buhay na pag may baril ka madali ka kumita at hindi na kailangang kumayod. So malalim ang ugat nito so we have to address it in many ways,” he said.

This developed as Marines arrested two suspected Abu Sayyaf rebels and seized 2,500 blasting caps from them in Sulu early yesterday.

Maj. Gen. Juancho Sabban, head of Task Force Comet, said they are looking into the possibility that the two may be connected with Drilon’s kidnapping.

“These blasting caps were intercepted at one of our checkpoints and can be made into improvised explosive devices that can be used as land mines not only for vehicles but also for personnel,” Sabban said. He said the rebels were intercepted at the boundary of Jolo, Indanan and Talipao towns.