MANILA: A senior military officer on Sunday confirmed that about 50 cells of the Daesh extremists have been operating in restive Mindanao through terror groups that have pledged allegiance to them.
Major General Carlito Galvez, the military’s Western Mindanao Command chief, said the Daesh cells were monitored to have been active in the province of Lanao del Sur and Central Mindanao but assured government forces are determined to contain their operation.
Earlier, the military disclosed that three notorious terror groups – the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf militants, the Maute Group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) that seceded from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MIFF) – have pledged allegiance to the Daesh extremists.
The military also said Daesh had assigned Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, who carries a $5,000 bounty offered by the US government, to leave his base in Basilan and co-ordinate with leaders of Maute Group and the BIFF in Central Mindanao.
Governor Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) agreed with Galvez on the existence of the Daesh cells but expressed optimism they would not succeed in their expansion plans.
“They are just a very few people. The larger majority wants peace through self governance,” Hataman said.
Hataman added: “With a stronger Bangsamoro government, the Moro people can nip in the bud this misguided kind of militancy.”
He was referring to the proposed establishment of a new Bangsamoro political entity to be set up and replace the ARMM composed of the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi as well as Marawi City.
The new entity is in line with the historic agreement signed in March 2014 between the government of then President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino and the MILF aimed at bringing just and lasting peace to restive Mindanao.
Aquino set up a 15-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission to draft a new law creating the new Bangsamoro entity.
However, President Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte increased the commission’s membership to 21 as he called on them to craft a workable peace agreement with the Moro groups in Mindanao.
“Craft one that is good for the entire Filipino nation. I want a just and lasting peace...but it must be as one country, one nation and one flag,” Duterte emphasised.
Meanwhile, the Philippine military said troops are pressing efforts to eradicate Abu Sayyaf militants, who have threatened to behead a German hostage by a ransom deadline that has lapsed.
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said on Sunday that troops were continuing operations to rescue foreign and local hostages, including German hostage Jurgen Gustav Kantner, believed to be held by the militants in the jungles of southern Sulu province.
Kantner said in a video that circulated online earlier this month that the militants have threatened to behead him by mid-afternoon of Sunday if a ransom were not paid.
There was no immediate sign whether the militants pushed through with their threat to kill him.
Duterte’s adviser, Jesus Dureza, made a last-minute appeal to the militants to spare Kantner.
Also during the dya, thirteen detainees facing drug charges escaped from jail, the latest in a series of prison breaks in the Philippines, authorities said.
The 13 slipped out of the jail in a police camp in San Fernando city north of Manila before dawn, said Derrick Arnold Carreon, spokesman for the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.