By JOCELYN MONTEMA
Publish in Malaya.com
PRESIDENT Aquino said he wants the Presidential Security Group to double its efforts when it secures Pope Francis during his visit to the Philippines in January.
“We’re not going into details. Kung ano iyung ina-afford sa akin ng PSG na effort, I want to see them double the effort, especially for the head of the Holy Mother Church. There shouldn’t be any incident while he’s in our country,” the President said in an interview in New York Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) before flying back to Manila. The President was expected to be back last night.
The PSG is securing the Pope as Vatican head of state.
The President made the assurance following reported threats from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).
Aquino said the Philippine government is also coordinating with the United States government about the threats from ISIS particularly after some local Muslim groups claimed to have links with the Islamic State.
He said while the local groups Abu Sayyaf and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters are claiming to have joined the ISIS, it does not mean they are actually part of the group.
“It’s still the same groups na pino-problema natin: Abu Sayyaf, baka ‘yung BIFF are doing basically the same things but now attributing it to their joining ISIS, which doesn’t necessarily mean that they are ISIS,” he said.
The Abu Sayyaf is known for kidnapping for ransom and beheading its captives. The BIFF is led by a former commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, who is opposed to peace talks between government and the MILF.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin dismissed the reported threat of the Abu Sayyaf to behead one of two Germans seized by the bandit group off Palawan last April.
“What the Abu Sayyaf is doing is propaganda to force the government to give in to their demands. We (government) will not be intimidated by these gestures and actions. We will continue to contain them,” said Gazmin.
The Abu Sayyaf has reportedly demanded a P250-million ransom in exchange for the release of Stephan Viktor Okonek, 71, and his wife, Herike Diesen, 55, who were intercepted by Abu Sayyaf men while island-hopping in their yacht near Sabah.
The group also demanded the German government stop supporting the campaign of the United States against “our Muslim brothers in Iraq and the Levant, and the Mujahideen of the Islamic State in particular.”
A copy of the supposed demand letter, dated September 23, was posted by the “World Analysis” which provides “non-partisan open-source information resource for geopolitical events worldwide”, on its website.
It also posted photographs of the couple. One of the photos showed one of their captors holding a bolo while holding the back of Okonek, the same tack taken by the ISIL when it announced recently that it was beheading its American and British captives.
In another photo, the Germans can be seen with several fully-armed suspects.
The military said the Abu Sayyaf is merely riding on the ISIS issue.
“They are taking advantage of the international attention ISIS is getting so that the ransom would increase. All their activities are criminal in nature,” said Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, chief of the AFP Western Mindanao Command.
Guerrero would not say the general area where the Germans are being kept but sources said the two are being held in the Abu Sayyaf bailiwick in Sulu province, along with several other foreign and local hostages.
Guerrero also said government troops are conducting operations to secure the freedom of the German couple.
The Abu Sayyaf, a group of about 300 to 400 men, set an October 10 deadline for the ransom demand. Otherwise, it said, it will behead one of their hostages.
“We do not negotiate with terrorists,” said Gazmin, while confirming that the couple is indeed being held by the Abu Sayyaf. “We will not be intimidated (by their threat).”
“They are being held in captivity for a while already. We understand that there are negotiations that are happening. It’s not through us, but through other parties,” Gazmin said without elaborating on the negotiations.
“The order of the President is to once and for all stop the Abu Sayyaf. We’re moving into that direction. We will have reshuffling of forces there in Sulu,” said Gazmin.
On the claim of Mayor Joel Maturan of Ungkaya Pukan town in Basilan that ISIS has already recruited at least a hundred members in Basilan, Gazmin said, “The report of mayor Maturan is very disturbing but we have not had any confirmation on this.”