MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang said on Thursday that authorities would eventually intervene to stop sporadic fighting between the Moro National Liberation Front and Abu Sayyaf bandits in Sulu but only after securing the civilians.
Strategic Communication Secretary Ricky Carandang gave this statement, even as he stressed the Philippine government would not endorse the MNLF’s request for arms from the US in fighting the Abu Sayyaf.
Speaking about the end to the fighting between the MNLF and the Abu Sayyaf, Carandang said, “Well, ultimately that’s what we want to happen. But first things first. I think it’s more important at this point to ensure the safety of civilians and then the other issues such as putting an end to this, I think, will come after we’ve done the primary task.’’
And authorities’ primary task would be to secure civilians from being caught in the crossfire, Carandang said.
“We also want to make sure that any hostages that may be held remain safe. Those are the priorities of our security forces—particularly making sure that the civilians remain unaffected as much as possible or not harmed by the fighting that’s happening between the MNLF fighters and the Abu Sayyaf,’’ he added.
Col. Orlando de Leon, commander of the 2nd Marine Brigade stationed in Sulu, said he would deploy troops to the area to contain the fighting by encircling it.
Eight MNLF fighters were killed and beheaded by the ASG while 18 of the bandits were confirmed dead in the fighting that broke out hours after the bandit group freed two Filipino TV crewmen Saturday night, after MNLF tried to help in negotiating for their release.
Rolando Letrero and Ramelito Vale, Filipino crewmen of Jordanian journalist Baker Abdulla Atyani, were freed in Patikul town, Sulu, Saturday night.
MNLF commander Khabir Malik tried to negotiate for the release of Atyani and his Filipino crewmen with Abu Sayyaf commander Jul-Asman Sawadjaan. The bandit group rejected this, and instead released the two to unknown negotiators, angering the MNLF.
Meanwhile, Carandang said they could not confirm reports that the MNLF had rescued three foreign hostages.
“We have not verified this. According to our AFP, there’s no definite information about the claims of the MNLF at this point,’’ he said.
Carandang also ruled out a government endorsement of MNLF’s “appeal’’ for outside help against the bandit group.
“Not at this time,’’ Carandang said, reacting to a blog on the bangsamoromnlf.blogspot.com appealing for donation of ammunition from the US Embassy in Manila to the MNLF.”I believe that the Americans will act in accordance to the statements and the policies of the government and they will take the lead based on what we say.’’
Speaking in Davao City last Tuesday, President Aquino declared that the MNLF operation against the bandits was not sanctioned by the government.