To eliminate the ASG, Amirah Lidasan, secretary-general of the Moro Christian Peoples’ Alliance, said the MNLF and the MILF need to muster the political will to put an end to the groups that perpetrate kidnappings. It would mean, she said, helping cut the warlords’ power over the communities, as well as their ties with the local government, the military, and the police. “The government will not do anything like that, since Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo even coddles known warlords in Mindanao,” Lidasan said.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
The kidnappings by the Abu Sayyaf (ASG) seem unstoppable.
A 2005 US Department of State report cites a number of major kidnappings by the ASG thus:
In April 2000, an ASG faction kidnapped 21 persons, including ten Western tourists, from a resort in Malaysia. In May 2001, the ASG kidnapped three US citizens and 17 Filipinos from a tourist resort in Palawan, Philippines. Several of the hostages, including US citizen Guillermo Sobero, were murdered. A Philippine military hostage rescue operation in June 2002 freed US hostage Gracia Burnham, but her husband Martin Burnham and Filipina Deborah Yap were killed.
The most recent victims of kidnapping by the Abu Sayyaf are International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) volunteers Andreas Notter of Switzerland, Mary Jean Lacaba of the Philippines (released April 2), and Eugenio Vagni took place near the headquarters of the Army’s 104th Infantry Brigade and the local police.
ASG: origins and development
Founded in 1991, the ASG was a split from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which was then engaged in peace talks with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP). It was formed in Basilan and operates in the said province, as well as in Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga, and, in recent years, in Cotabato City and Sultan Kudarat.
The group’s first leader was Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani, a proponent of Islamic jihad, who was killed in an encounter with the military in 1998.
A 2005 report by the US Department of State states that some of the ASG’s original leaders fought against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan during the 1980s.
“Because the US government was so supportive of the war, the original members of the ASG were said to be among the Central intelligence Agency (CIA) recruits to al-Qaeda and anti-Soviet groups,” said Amirah Lidasan, secretary-general of the Moro Christian Peoples’ Alliance (MCPA), in an interview. “But when they went home to Mindanao, original members like Abdurajak Janjalani recruited Moro youth who were disillusioned with MNLF senior leaders and with (Nur) Misuari.”
“For a while, they posed as the alternative against the MNLF, but their creation served more the plan of the government to infiltrate Moro groups, with the intention of ultimately stripping the MNLF as well as the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) of the legitimacy of their struggle,” Lidasan added.
The towns of Patikul, Indanan, and Talipao are known strongholds of the ASG. US troops also operate in these towns.
US troops have been present in Sulu since 2004. The US troops in Sulu are part of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P), which is reportedly based in Zamboanga City. Based on several news items from the Philippine Information Agency (PIA), the JSOTF-P is in Mindanao to train the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) Southern Command (Southcom) and to conduct civic actions.