President Duterte on Thursday appealed for an end to violence, ahead of his first address to Congress in which he said he would call for an end to conflicts.
“I don’t see anything good coming out of this war. For the sake of our children, we have to stop this war,” the President told a gathering of government troops, policemen, people displaced by conflict and local officials.
It was Mr. Duterte’s first visit to a province in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) since assuming the presidency on June 30.
“We have to stop this war. If we cannot stop it, this one I will repeat in my [State of the Nation Address], do not hate more,” Mr. Duterte said.
Mr. Duterte will address Congress for the first time next Monday.
“Do not add to the hatred in your heart. If we cannot stop fighting, do not hate more,” he told the residents of Basilan.
“I know the problem here, and I assure you that I will find a way to end the conflict here,” the President said.
Mr. Duterte arrived aboard a helicopter at the 104th Army Brigade headquarters in Tabiawan village here in the afternoon.
Security was tight and journalists were not allowed to cover the presidential visit.
But the Inquirer got hold of an audio recording from one of the people who attended the meeting with the President.
In his speech, Mr. Duterte did not make clear to whom he was addressing his call for an end to the war and which war he was referring to.
The military and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are observing a ceasefire after the government and the largest Moro secessionist group signed a peace agreement in 2014.
“I am pleading for peace, including to the Abu Sayyaf—they have committed so many crimes, killing people,” Mr. Duterte said, referring to the bandit group blamed for extortion, kidnapping of foreigners and beheading hostages whose governments refuse to pay ransom.
“Troops come here because there are people being kidnapped, killed. It’s just the reaction of the government,” Mr. Duterte said.
Basilan is known as the home of the Abu Sayyaf, which has come under heavy military attack since the bandits beheaded two Canadian hostages earlier this year.
The bandits beheaded John Ridsdel on April 25 and Robert Hall on June 13 after they failed to get the P600 million in ransom they had demanded from the Canadian government.
They seized Ridsdel, Hall, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and Filipino Maritess Flor from a marina on the resort island of Samal in Davao del Norte province in September last year and took them to Basilan.
The bandits released Flor on June 24. They are still holding Sekkingstad, whose execution they have suspended after Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza intervened to make way for negotiations, according to a well-placed source.
In May, the Abu Sayyaf attacked an Indonesian vessel in the Sulu Sea and abducted 10 of its crew members. They released the hostages after receiving ransom payment from the vessel’s owner five weeks later.
The bandits are still holding about 10 hostages, including a Dutch bird watcher and a Japanese treasure hunter.
Some 60 kilometers from the 104th Army Brigade headquarters, in the towns of Tipo-Tipo, Unkaya Pukan and Al Barka, government forces are battling the Abu Sayyaf.
Al Barka Mayor Darussalam Ladjid said there was no fighting on Thursday, as the bandits had managed to occupy a hilly part of the town, gaining an advantage over the government troops pursuing them.
“That is the reason why we want to flush them out of that high ground,” Ladjid said.
The mayor said the military operation against the bandits had resulted in damage to the town’s mosque and the displacement of more than 4,000 residents.
Ladjid said two villages, Ginanta and Magkawa, had been abandoned.
“People are afraid to return because the Abu Sayyaf will kill them,” he said.
Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesperson for the military’s Western Mindanao Command, said 30 bandits had been killed in recent fighting.
A soldier had been killed and 18 others wounded in the fighting, he said.
In Tabiawan, President Duterte called on the residents of Basilan to remove hate from their hearts because “hate kills many.”
“Let’s talk instead,” he said.
Lt. Gen. Mayoralgo de la Cruz, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, said the President told military officials at a command conference to “just do your job.”
He said Mr. Duterte made no suggestions, just saying that he had “full trust and confidence” in the military’s job in Basilan.
Neither did Mr. Duterte give directives concerning the operation against the Abu Sayyaf, he said.
“He urged us to continue our normal operation. He said if we could finish it, that would be better,” he said.
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