via CNN Philippines
Following the recent firefights between the government and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said it has “adequately addressed” the terror threats in Bohol.
“With the events that unfolded beginning Holy Week up to the last encounters last Saturday, we are confident that we have adequately addressed them,” AFP Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said in a press briefing on Tuesday.
Padilla added the last two suspects behind the Bohol attacks are being tracked down, but they are believed to be just “fighting for their survival…they don’t pose any serious threat anymore.”
He added that the offensives in the town of Inabanga resulted in a big blow to an “elite group” of the ASG, as it led to the death of Abu Rami, one of the groups leaders.
“We were able to foil their plans, and these plans are no joke…This group has been the one behind the long distance abductions. When I say long distance, they were part of those that may have hatched and been involved in the Sipadan case, in the Samal case, in the Dos Palmas case many years ago,” Padilla said.
While the government is still pursuing remnants of the terror group, Padilla stressed that reports of ASG sightings and threats in other parts of the Visayas were found “untrue.”
He said from a high of 500 members, the ASG force is now down to about 300, with most members located in Jolo, Sulu.
“These are part of disinformation as we see it to put a lot of worry on people’s minds so it will affect probably our key industry, which is tourism. So that’s why we make this announcement to assuage the fears and the worries of our citizens as well as those coming, wishing to come to our country that everything is well-monitored,” Padilla said.
The United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand issued travel advisories warning their citizens of the imminent threat in certain areas of the country.
The AFP Spokesperson said they aim to “significantly degrade” the capabilities of the ASG and the Maute Group, meaning to they “will not be able to launch significant activities that will bring harm to our population and create chaos in our communities.”
“We have set deadlines for ourselves to degrade their capacities and we by ourselves think that we are going to meet our targets by the end of July,” Padilla said.
Padilla also pointed out the “extensive installation” destroyed in Piagapo, Lanao del Sur on Saturday could house up to 200 personnel, and is believed to be a “training ground” for terrorists.
He also expressed gratitude to the local government units and all the people who helped in the operations, and reminded people of the soldiers’ heroism, especially those killed in action.
“I’d like again to call and appeal to you to please do not forget the heroes who have come out from this event, namely 2nd Lieutenant Estelito Saldua Jr., the lieutenant who led the force that confronted these terrorists and at the first burst of fire was killed together with two enlisted personnel and a policeman namely Sergeant John Dexter Duero, Corporal Meljune Cajaban, and SPO2 Rey Anthony Nazareno, who gave up their lives in service of country and people,” Padilla said.
Padilla said 21 soldiers have died protecting the country from January to April 24, while 144 have been wounded in action.
CNN Philippines’ Digital Producer Ver Marcelo contributed to this report.