Military fights on 2 fronts: disease, terrorism
ZAMBOANGA CITY—As soldiers battle an unseen enemy in the fight against the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), their comrades in Mindanao grapple with the virulence of terrorism.
On March 14, a soldier was killed and two others were wounded in a land mine explosion in a remote village of Maluso town in Basilan. The bomb was planted to fortify a camp of the Islamic State (IS)-linked Abu Sayyaf.
At about this time, military troops were already called in to help enforce health regulations as President Duterte placed the country in a state of public health emergency. Soon, local governments would also impose community quarantine measures.
“We are presently battling against two different enemies,” said Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Western Mindanao Command.
The command has collaborated with local governments and health workers “to protect the people from COVID-19” and sent out soldiers in full battle gear to man street checkpoints and screen travelers for symptoms of infection in order to stop the spread of the disease.
Troops also enforce curfews and ensure that people stay home in the communities.
Sobejana said the military was also pursuing its offensives against terrorists who could “take advantage of the current situation to create havoc in our area of operation.” Dedicated troops
The pace of the campaign, according to Sobejana, “would be affected because we shifted some of our forces to help the different agencies and local governments in addressing the challenges brought about by COVID-19.”
Even then, he gave assurance that the fight against COVID-19 had not been relegated to second priority to the battle against terrorists. “We have dedicated troops for both endeavors,” Sobejana said.
He described the Abu Sayyaf as “another form of virus [as] they brutally kill innocent people.”
A faction of the group is currently holding five Indonesian fishermen whom it kidnapped off Lahad Datu in Sabah in January. The bandits brought the captives to Sulu and demanded P30 million as ransom.
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